LONDON — During a cabinet meeting Thursday at Chequers, the country retreat of elected British leaders, an aide stepped in with a note for Prime Minister David Cameron. A hush quickly fell over the room.
“Everyone, of course, thought it was the announcement about the royal baby,” Cameron told the BBC, “and there was a great intake of breath.” In the end, the deflated ministers exhaled. It was nothing more than a cricket score.
But it suggested the real labor for a world on royal baby watch — the wait.
Baby arrivals are rarely scripted. But the coming of the first child of Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has warped into an exercise of almost comic anticipation and rampant confusion.
Royal spokesmen have only ever confirmed a vague “mid-July” due date, but initial reports suggested a delivery on or around July 13. Since that day came and went, the royal-obsessed on both sides of the Atlantic — and particularly the horde of global media gathered at the Lindo Wing at St. Mary’s Hospital in London where Catherine is expected to give birth — have been desperately reading every tweet, every news report, every piece of idle gossip like so many tea leaves.
Even Queen Elizabeth II seems to be tapping her well-appointed feet in impatience. Asked during an official trip Wednesday whether she wanted a boy or a girl, the 87-year-old monarch, appearing to be only half-joking, replied: “I don’t think I mind. I would very much like it to arrive. I'm going on holiday.”
For the faithful on high baby alert, other members of the royal family have dropped a few miserly crumbs, suggesting, at least, that the baby is due imminently. On Monday, Prince Charles joked that his first grandchild was “hopefully” on the way. His wife, Camilla, added: “We are all just waiting by the telephone. I hope by the end of the week he, or she, will be here.”
On Twitter, the wait for the royal birth has been dubbed #GreatKateWait. For the sleep-deprived, overheated journalists on watch for weeks outside the Lindo Wing — now redubbed the Limbo Wing — a rumor-fueled paranoia is settling in.
Is it true? The queen is postponing her vacation?
Is Kate even in London?
Is her security detail on the move?
OMG, was that her doctor walking in just now?
“Spent some time outside the Lindo Wing today,” Richard Palmer, the royal correspondent for the Daily Express, tweeted Wednesday. “The veterans of the #GreatKateWait are starting to sound like guys who’ve been in ’Nam too long.”
The latest bombshell dropped Friday morning from Britain’s Telegraph newspaper, which cited “a well-placed source” as saying the due date was actually that day, July 19, and not July 13 as had been earlier reported by the British media. Then the paper went on to report that actually, the duchess’s mother, Carole Middleton, had told friends “she thinks the baby could be a Leo, meaning she does not think it will be born until at least July 24.”
That possibility “raises the intriguing — and, for those camped outside the hospital, agonizing — possibility that the Duchess could give birth as late as August 2,” the paper concluded.
Yet concern now is centering more on whether the news media is even waiting in the right place. Catherine is indeed expected to give birth in the same private wing of St. Mary’s where Diana, Princess of Wales, brought Prince William into the world 31 years ago. But this week, the duchess has reportedly been staying with her parents in Bucklebury, a scenic village about 55 miles west of London. Should she go into labor there, the palace has confirmed another possible option would be a delivery at Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading — a half-hour away from London by train.
By Friday afternoon, however, various British royal reporters were tweeting that Catherine’s security detail may have left Bucklebury, suggesting that she might be on her way back to London, but there was no official confirmation from the palace. Hedging their bets, a herd of international media organizations have dispatched reporters to “Site B” in Reading, leaving the locals stunned by the arrival of news crews and photographers to a place rarely on anyone’s radar.
Meanwhile, outside the Limbo Wing, a new normal is taking shape. Everyone from French toy companies to British betting houses are tapping the captive audience of bored journalists for a spot of free publicity. “They’re trying anything,” said John Harrison, the sound guy at NBC who has been camped out for 21 days in a rare English heat wave. “We’ve had three men who’ve come down and danced in baby heads. And oh yeah, we had a fake queen.”
Yet few in Limbo can match the serenity of Terry Hutt, a 78-year-old royal fanatic dressed head to toe in Union Jacks who has slept on a bench in front of the hospital for nine days and counting.
“The baby will come, and it’s not like you can rush these things,” he said. “Best to be patient.”
Karla Adam contributed to this report.