LONDON — Under dim skies illuminated by a blitz of camera flashes, Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, stepped out of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital on Tuesday and introduced their day-old prince to the glare of a media spotlight that he will probably never leave.
“He’s got her looks, thankfully,” a cheerful William told reporters as he held the baby in his arms. The press then set him up, asking the balding father whether his son had hair. “He’s got way more than me, thank God.”
Looking robust in a blue dress after giving birth a day earlier, Catherine cradled the baby in her arms and waved. As she did, a tiny hand emerged from the swaddling as if waving, too.
William, who is said to hate the news media — blaming them for his mother’s death in a 1997 Paris car crash — fielded most of the questions on inquiring minds, possibly, in the most winsome of ways, trying to draw the news media off his wife. Who had changed the first royal nappy? Well, he had. What about the name? They’re working on it. “It’s the first time we’ve seen him, so we are having a proper chance to catch up.”
As the little prince wailed, William joked that the baby had a “good set of lungs” and that he would one day remind the “big boy” of his tardiness — Catherine delivered after being some days overdue.
Such moments — the first photo op of a baby who stands to one day be the monarch — have the weight of history here. Images of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prince Charles walking out of the same wing of the same hospital with Prince William in their arms are remembered by some as vividly now as then. But if that moment 31 years ago had a hint of formal awkwardness about it, Tuesday’s 31 / 2-minute meet-and-greet will perhaps be remembered for the casualness of a young couple in love. The subtle, if not wholly accurate message: The monarchy is now not so different from you.
Some in the crowd of well-wishers, such as Andrea Dawkins, a 37-year-old from London, were immediately hooked (not that they needed much convincing).
“They looked very happy,” said Dawkins, who screamed “I love you” as the couple emerged with the baby. “Kate passed the baby over to William, and there was such passion between him and his son. You can’t forget that moment, ever.”
The baby unveiling, however, also hinted at the long road ahead for the littlest royal and the news media. In the most telling sign that William was gambling on the occasional photo op to slake the media’s thirst and buy his young family some privacy, he seemed to address the hundreds of journalists present when he said, “I know how long you’ve all been standing out here, so hopefully the hospital and you guys can all go back to normal now and we can look after him.”
Normal? Fat chance, some said. “Short of going into exile, the third in line to the throne cannot expect to enjoy the slightest privacy,” Simon Jenkins, a British journalist and author, observed in a column for the Guardian newspaper after Tuesday’s glimpse of the little prince. “He will spend his life with a media drone hovering overhead, listening, prying, revealing, proclaiming a global ‘public interest’ in intrusion.”
But, observers said, Tuesday’s moment was as much about duty, even for a day-old heir. In London, it was impossible to forget this was no normal baby. The bells of Westminster Abbey — the church where William and Catherine were married — tolled for three hours to honor the newborn. The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery rode past Buckingham Palace, offering a 41-gun salute to the baby prince, while the Army Reserve Regiment fired a 62-gun salute from the Tower of London’s Gun Wharf. British newspapers printed souvenir editions, and the cheeky, top-selling tabloid the Sun changed its masthead to read “The Son.”
Congratulations continued to pour in from foreign governments, suggesting the soft power the royal family lends Britain around the globe. Even Iran — which has dubbed Britain the “little Satan” — offered its congratulations to “Her Majesty, the Queen of England, and also the Crown Prince on the birth.”
“This is a source of happiness,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi told reporters in Teheran, according to Agence France-Presse.
Before the royal couple exited the hospital, they had visits from the cheerful grandparents. “He’s absolutely beautiful,” said Carole Middleton, Catherine’s mother, who seemed slightly dazed by the barking orders of photographers. Her first cuddle with the baby, she told reporters, was “amazing.” Asked whether she had offered any suggestions for the baby’s name, she demurred. “Absolutely not,” she said.
Next came Charles, and his second wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Charles smiled and waved to the photographers and well-wishers who had staked out space outside the hospital for weeks to await the public debut of the baby prince. The eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II, Charles is first in line to succeed her, followed by his own first-born, William, and then William’s newborn son.
“Everything’s marvelous. You’ll see in a minute,” Charles said while exiting the hospital with his wife, suggesting that the debut of the newest heir to the throne was imminent.
Interpreting William’s seemingly warm engagement with the news media Tuesday, Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty Magazine, said, “You embrace the enemy.”
“He did really well today,” she continued. “I think in his mind he has done the deal. He’s given the picture and now expects they leave him alone.”
Karla Adam in London and William Branigin in Washington contributed to this report.