London - The wait is almost over for the patient royal watchers and journalists who have been sleeping outside St Mary's Hospital for the past two weeks.
Kate, the duchess of Cambridge, has gone into labour and was admitted on Monday morning to the private Lindo wing of the hospital in central London, Kensington Palace said, bringing what bored journalists have dubbed the “Great Kate Wait” almost to an end.
The duchess's labour was “progressing as normal,” the palace said earlier, adding that she was accompanied by her husband, Prince William. The child is the first for the couple, who married in April 2011, and will be the third in line to the throne after Prince Charles, the baby's grandfather, and the duke of Cambridge.
The palace was not expected to make any further announcements until the baby is born. Rumours that Kate had arrived at the hospital early Monday were confirmed by the palace at 7.30am (0630 GMT).
Hundreds of reporters, cameramen, photographers and fans have been camped outside its doorway since the beginning of the month.
“I'm so excited. I'm like a washing machine - I'm on full spin,” said 58-year-old royal fan John Loughrey, who has been camped outside the hospital for a week. He was the first member of the public to claim a spot outside Westminster Abbey for the couple's wedding.
“I have lost my voice with all the excitement,” added Terry Hutt, a 78-year-old former soldier who said fans had been watching the hospital in two-hour shifts “like the army.”
Since the duchess has cut back on her royal duties, media outlets have been clamouring for position outside of the hospital in anticipation of the birth, jockeying to secure the best vantage point for filming William and Kate emerging, babe in arms.
At Buckingham Palace, where the birth will be announced, tourists packed near the front gate, peering through the black iron bars to catch of a glimpse of any action.
Two New York teachers, Maddalena Buffalino, 29, and Michael Savino, 32, were quizzing a pair of passing police officers about where the easel would be placed.
“Just being here is very cool,” said Buffalino, who said she'd been following royal baby news intently.
She said the tradition and glamour of the royal household was what attracted Americans like her to the palace.
“It's the history,” the social studies teacher said. “We don't have it.”
The excitement among South African Twitter users was also evident as #RoyalBaby as well as terms “Duchess” and “Cambridge” began trending just minutes after the news broke.
“Dear William and Kate, when your baby arrives please re-enact the scene from the Lion King #RoyalBaby”, tweeted radio presenter Darren Simpson. His tweet was accompanied by a picture of Rafiki holding aloft a newborn Simba in the film.
“Kate Middleton in the early stages of labour! Don’t know why but I’m excited haha! #RoyalBaby” tweeted @earina123.
Model Lee-Ann Liebenberg went as far as to guess the name of the future king or queen this morning. “Little Princess Alexandra, or Charlotte, or Elizabeth, or Victoria, or Grace or maybe Prince James? #RoyalBaby” she tweeted.
Former Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela – who was suspended for a tweet about convicted murderer Molemo “Jub-Jub” Maarohanye – responded to a tweet asking if anybody cared about the news. “I do. British subjects paid for my education,” he tweeted, probably referring to his scholarship from the London School of Economics to study a Masters in media and communication.
Kate was intending to have a natural birth and was being attended to by a top medical team, including Queen Elizabeth II's former gynaecologist Marcus Setchell.
The couple do not know the sex of the baby, according to the palace although most punters have put their money on a princess.
After recent changes in the succession laws, a girl would be the first to automatically succeed to the throne even if she later gets a younger brother.
Bookmakers reported the name Alexandra as a clear favourite for a girl while George and James were among those favoured for a boy.
Although the baby's birth is also to be announced via the more modern press release, the palace is keen to stick to tradition.
When the baby is born, a notice signed by Setchell and other medics is to be taken under police escort to Buckingham Palace and placed on an easel just inside the gates for the public to see.
The queen, other senior members of the royal family and Prime Minister David Cameron are to be among the handful of people to be informed before the announcement is displayed.
However, the public is likely to be kept waiting for news of the baby's name. William's parents took a week to announce his while Charles' name was not known for a month.
“Prince William can choose any name he likes, but I suspect the names will be fairly traditional because this is going to be a future king or queen,” royal biographer Hugo Vickers said.
Cameron sent the couple his “best wishes” and said the “whole country is excited with them.”
The 31-year-old duke was expected to take two weeks paternity leave from his job as an air force search and rescue pilot in Anglesey, North Wales, while it is not known how much time Kate would take off from her royal duties.
The baby is to be the queen's third great-grandchild and, all going well, would be Britain's 43rd sovereign since William the Conquerer took the throne in 1066.
Sapa-dpa, AP and The Star