London: Waiting around for someone else to give birth can be a slow and tedious marathon of an experience. But for the photographers and cameramen on royal baby-watch outside St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, the monotony has entered another stratosphere entirely.
"At least when it's your wife, you don't go to the hospital until the wife's in labour," said Harry Rabbie, a BBC cameraman and father of two who spent much of Wednesday slumped inside the makeshift journalists' refugee camp on the street outside St. Mary's, passing the time with a romance novel titled "The Tycoon's Seductive Revenge."
"This could happen 15 to 20 days after the due date," he continued, speaking from experience, "even if we knew what the due date was."
Britain is in high baby-anticipation mode, and the stores are flooded with items like "Born to Rule" onesies. But the truth is murky. There has been no official announcement about what day the baby in question, the first child of Prince William and the duchess formerly known as Kate Middleton, is expected to arrive. Despite one tabloid's bold piece of information - B-Day is this Saturday, it declared - Buckingham Palace has said exactly one thing about the matter, and that was six months ago.
"Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted to confirm they are expecting a baby in July," the palace said.
The photographers and cameramen duly set up camp July 1, using masking tape to mark out territory for their stepladders. The month is one-third over, and there are no obvious signs that anything is happening. The duchess made her last scheduled public appearance June 15, when she and her in-laws took part in the annual ritual known as Trooping the Color, which involves a lot of pageantry, including a military flyover and the requisite royal family appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony. She wore a pink outfit and a pink hat, and she looked good.
It is unclear where she is now, but the main choices seem to be at her marital home in Kensington Palace or with her parents in the country. Meanwhile, William is reportedly still at work as a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue helicopter pilot in Anglesey, Wales, where he reportedly has a helicopter on permanent standby, ready to take off the moment his wife shows signs of labour.
We do know some things for sure, because Buckingham Palace has thrown us a few bones of information, maintaining its usual aura of semihelpful but distant majesty. We know that the baby will be known as the Prince (or Princess) of Cambridge. We know that, thanks to recent changes in the law of royal succession, she (or he) will be the third in line to the throne, after Prince Charles, 64, and William, 31, and that poor Prince Harry will be bounced down to fourth place. (It could take some time for this future monarch to become the current monarch. Queen Elizabeth is 87 years old, but she is not the abdicating kind, and there are longevity genes in the family; her own mother lived to be 102.)
We know that when the baby comes, the news will go out the old-fashioned way, by proclamation. A document signed by the medical team and revealing the sex of the child will be taken from the hospital and placed on an easel installed inside the Buckingham Palace gates, ready to be gaped at by tourists and other passers-by. Only then will the palace release the news on social media.
"There is no intention of announcing this first on Twitter," a palace spokeswoman said.
We know that the medical team will be led by Marcus Setchell, the royal household's official surgeon and gynaecologist. We know that William plans to take time off once his baby arrives.
"He will be working right up to the end, and then he will take two weeks standard paternity leave," the spokeswoman said.
We know that bookmakers, eager to capitalize on the British love of gambling, have been taking bets on anything and everything: length of labor, time of birth, sex of baby, name of baby. (The current favourite names, based on nothing but public opinion, are Elizabeth, Alexandra, Charlotte and Diana for girls, and George and James for boys.)
The rest of the things fall into the category of amusing but hazily sourced speculation. Will Kate's mother, Carole Middleton, be with her during her labour? Does Setchell have a specially encrypted cellphone on which he communicates with the royal family? Is the prime minister of Australia planning to give the royal couple a stuffed kangaroo as a baby present?
Will Kate and William ever use the items - diaper rash cream, a pacifier and a packet of condoms, among other things - in the box sent by the Finnish government and given as a matter of course to Finnish mothers-to-be? Is it true that Kate is not "too posh to push" and plans to have a natural birth, not a caesarean? What kind of post-baby exercise regime will her superfit sister, Pippa, subject her to?
Meanwhile, the wait continues. A small frisson of excitement shivered through the crowd outside St. Mary's on Wednesday, when a helicopter was spotted overhead, but it turned out to contain a regular citizen having a health emergency, not a duchess having a baby.
In truth, no one is even sure that people are in fact waiting in the correct place. The journalists' camp is set up at the front entrance to the Lindo Wing, a private ward of the hospital. This is where William - the first heir to the throne to be born in a hospital, rather than at home - was himself born, in 1982, and where the new baby is also reportedly to be born.
But is this the right entrance? The photographers said that they were waiting at the front door for one reason alone, to grab a shot of Kate as she makes the historic journey from vehicle to hospital. But the palace seemed to throw cold water on that plan.
"We will not be talking about how she will get there," the spokeswoman said. "Once she is safely inside, we will confirm that she is inside."
The police officers on duty had nothing useful to add.
"There's always a back entrance," noted one, "although I'm not privileged with that information."
Nor was the security guard stationed outside any the wiser. He sounded a little wistful.
"They don't tell me anything, I'm afraid," he said.
© 2013, The New York Times News Service