LONDON -- Nineteen months after a modern fairy-tale wedding turned the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge into the world's most famous newlyweds, the royal juggernaut known as Will and Kate is officially expecting what may turn out to be the world's most famous baby.
Brits great and small toasted the eagerly anticipated arrival of a royal child and descendent of the late Diana, Princess of Wales. The baby will be third in line to the throne. But news of the pregnancy was immediately tempered by the hospitalization of the mother-to-be due to unusually acute morning sickness.
The duchess, known as Kate Middleton before her marriage, was suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, prompting her admission to London's exclusive King Edward VII Hospital for "several days" of medical care to ensure proper nutrition. Royal officials said the duchess would "require a period of rest" after her discharge.
The pregnancy announcement, which brought well-wishes from the White House and the crowned heads of Europe, heralds what would be a landmark birth in Britain of a 21st-century monarch-to-be. The child would be the rare product of a union between a celebrated British royal and a "commoner" who is the great-great-granddaughter of a coal miner. The royal couple's offspring would also be the first born after a historic change was set in motion last year to eliminate the tradition of male hereditary precedence to the throne in Britain and Commonwealth nations, where Queen Elizabeth is head of state. So, if the baby -- who would leapfrog William's brother, Prince Harry, upon birth -- were a girl, a younger brother would not be able to leapfrog her.
Nevertheless, a nation only just emerged from a double-dip recession and perhaps slouching toward a third cautiously celebrated the needed dose of good news before the holidays. Tabloids screamed the news in apocalyptic headline type. The BBC broke into regular programming with running coverage. A rash and swell of British and foreign media flocked to the entrance of King Edward VII Hospital for what appeared likely to be a round-the-clock campout.
Even Prime Minister David Cameron could not contain himself, saying he blurted the news out during an official meeting with aids after receiving a "little note."
"It's absolutely wonderful news, and I'm delighted for them and I'm sure they will make absolutely brilliant parents," Cameron said. "I'm sure people 'round the country will be celebrating with them tonight."
Speculation had grown in recent weeks that the couple might be expecting a child, though the rumour mill appeared driven more by desire and expectation than insider knowledge. Tabloids had taken to scouring every photo of the duchess for evidence of a "royal bump." On Wednesday, the saucy Daily Mail reported the duchess's chic new coiffure must surely be a harbinger of pregnancy: "If she is keeping a Very Important Secret, then that demure long fringe is perfect for hiding behind."
Yet, for the hawk-eyed, there were signs of royal fecundity. On a recent tour of Asia, the duchess eschewed wine for water during a state dinner, prompting torrid rounds of baby speculation. And as recently as last week, a young mother in Cambridge handed Prince William -- a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue pilot -- a handmade onesie with a helicopter and the words "Daddy's little co-pilot" embroidered on it. According to Britain's ITV television network, William promptly placed the suit in the care of an aide, quipping, "I'll keep that."
As the couple steamrolled toward their second wedding anniversary, royal-watchers pointedly noted Queen Elizabeth gave birth to Prince Charles almost a year to the day after her wedding. The late Diana, meanwhile, produced an heir -- the now expectant father -- after 11 months of marriage.
In the Queens Park neighbourhood of North London, known as the "Nappy Valley" due to its proliferation of families with babies, a parade of young couples wished Will and Kate well.
"It's perfect. Why wait?" said Miranda Little, 36, a full-time mother pushing her 10-month-old son in a stroller. "Get on with it; give the people what they want."
Yet in a country rich in gross national sarcasm, the blogosphere also rang out with priceless missives of the sort posted on the mothers' chat site Mumsnet: "Oh how lovely! Another little privileged sprite to ponce off the taxpayer! Joy to the world," posted someone going by the handle HullyEastergully.
-- Washington Post