By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times
LONDON – A royal baby boy was born Monday to Prince William and his wife, the former Kate Middleton, after weeks of anticipation and excitement among fans of the royal family over the arrival of a new heir to the British throne.
The child was born at 4:24 p.m. London time, about 10-and-a-half hours after Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, entered St. Mary’s Hospital in central London in the early stages of labor. Palace officials said the infant weighed 8 pounds six ounces.
Barring tragedy – or revolution – he is destined one day to reign over Britain and the 15 other nations, including Australia and Canada, that recognize the British monarch as head of state. The child takes his place in the line of succession behind the heir apparent, Prince Charles, and his father, William.
In a historic change, the baby was guaranteed to be third in line regardless of whether it was a boy or girl. A new rule being ratified by the 16 “realms” removes the automatic right of male offspring to leapfrog over older sisters on to the throne, a formula that held for centuries.
The infant — no name has been announced yet– elbows aside William’s younger brother, Prince Harry, who has now been demoted to fourth in line.
The newborn is Queen Elizabeth II’s third great-grandchild. The queen, who celebrated 60 years on the throne last year, is Britain’s longest-serving monarch after Victoria, who died in 1901.
Following tradition, the public announcement of the House of Windsor’s newest arrival was withheld until the queen and senior members of the royal family were notified. It was then posted both on paper on an easel at Buckingham Palace and on social media networks worldwide.
The child’s name could take much longer to be unveiled. The world didn’t learn of William’s name until a week after his birth in 1982. Britain’s bookmakers have been taking bets for months as to the new royal moniker, the most popular choices for a boy being George and James. A very outside shot was given to the name Hashtag.
The birth gives another PR boost to a royal household already enjoying a surge in popularity, fueled in great part by the very modern romance between William and Kate, who were college sweethearts. A few public missteps and naked Harry photos notwithstanding, the dark days that descended on the monarchy after the shocking death of the baby’s grandmother, Princess Diana, in a 1997 car crash are mostly a distant memory.
Retailers are rubbing their hands over estimates that the royal birth could add more than $350 million to Britain’s sluggish economy through sales of memorabilia such as the mugs bearing the slogan “Born to Rule.” That could help compensate for lost productivity from the national holidays declared for the queen’s jubilee last year and William and Kate’s wedding in 2011.
Many Britons were expected to raise a glass in honor of the birth, or perhaps just to beat the unusual heat wave gripping the country. The mercury hit the high 80s in London on Monday, baking the hordes of reporters and photographers camping out in front of St. Mary’s Hospital, near Paddington Station.
The duchess was booked into the private hospital’s exclusive Lindo Wing, where delivery of a baby costs more than $7,500. Cameras have been trained on the entrance for weeks in hopes of catching a glimpse of the pregnant duchess being whisked inside. The royal couple avoided the media circus by reportedly entering through a side gate about 6 a.m. Monday.
But now the wait is for the couple to appear on the hospital steps holding their newborn, echoing the moment when William was first presented for public inspection outside the same hospital by Charles and Diana.