Woman Has Baby
That was the headline in Private Eye, a UK Newspaper with a sense of humour about such things. It's kind of how I felt about the whole thing, being a non-militant republican (supporter of an Australian republic, not a supporter of George W. Bush) and general cynic when it comes to all things regal.
It's not to say I don't appreciate a good royal event. I covered Prince Wiliam's pre-wedding trip to New Zealand and then the Royal Wedding itself. I managed to skip the conception, but was posted to London ready for the world's most talked about birth.
Will Kate have a water birth?
I doubted she would, although there was always a slim chance she would fall in The Serpentine on the way to St Mary's Hospital. The speculation pre-birth was delightfully absurd. British tabloids, as they often do, started the fun. Would Kate use aromatherapy oil during the birth? Possibly, more likely than using canola oil. Just how pregnant is Kate? Sixty-five per cent, next question. Is the world's media camped outside the wrong hospital? God, I hope not.
The Lindo Wing became a temporary home for half of the journalists in Europe (and a fair few ring-ins) for three or so weeks. The Palace confirmed it would be Kate's hospital of choice at the start of July. "What a wonderful choice," exclaimed many royal pundits. "It's where Diana gave birth to William." I just liked the name Lindo Wing, it sounds like a side you order from Nandos. "Yeah, I'll have a fillet burger, large peri peri chips and a couple of Lindo Wings. And can I get water instead of a coke?"
Within a few hours of the announcement, there were a dozen ladders shimmering in the sun outside the maternity ward. That day, I popped down to do a piece to camera for my News at Five story. I met the friendly hospital media manager who had no problem with 'a bit of media' outside the joint. Oh, what was to come...
The due date was supposed to be July 13. Apparently someone heard someone mention that date at a garden party. Having never been invited to a garden party, I couldn't say if that's the sort of thing discussed at such an event. But it sounded good and made some degree of sense, according to people who have given birth.
As we waited, we did story after story 'previewing' the birth. I find these sorts of big yarns an interesting challenge; after a while you have to get creative, and creativity is often lacking in daily news. We spoke to merchandise sellers; We spoke to economic experts who said the baby would make hundreds of millions of pounds for Britain; And in my favourite story, we spoke to a couple who had cruised the canals from Liverpool to London for the birth - all at four miles per hour. You may think these people a tad crazy, but their wonderfully positive attitude even won me over.
Latey Katey... when will she drop?
July 13 came and went. Oh dear. What on earth do we talk about now? The occasional royal appearance was a godsend. Camilla, everyone's favourite Aunt-who-has-had-too-much-champers-at-the-BBQ blabbed about when the bub was expected. Even the Queen had her say, although her motivation seemed to be her upcoming holiday rather than the spiraling costs media organisations were incurring as we waited for her great-grandchild to be born.
Much of the spiraling cost was due to the hiring of royal commentators. I'm not entirely sure what royal commentators do when there's no royal event happening. Perhaps they all live in a big house watching old episodes of It's a Royal Knockout.
Anyway, some of these guys are ex-newspaper reporters, some worked at a Palace of some kind, others seem to just have a British accent. An interview with one might cost 500 pounds or so, live commitments even more. But here's the secret: no one really knows anything. No commentators, no experts. They can give context and history, but really the Palace doesn't leak anymore. Journalists are given statements and briefings - that's it. The US networks signed up half of England as 'royal experts'. My cab driver in Bucklebury once gave Pippa a lift home from the pub. Sign me up as 'royal transportation insider'.
Nation on edge as we wait for Kate
I must confess, I didn't see anyone on edge as we waited for Kate. The bloke who wore all the Union Jack clothing outside the hospital seemed slightly on edge, but sleeping on a bench in London for a fortnight will probably do that.
Apparently Reuters had a 'live shot' of the Lindo Wing available to broadcasters. So if they chose, they could cut to a fixed camera showing a door with no one going through it or a few cameramen coming up with funny slogans to put on their ladders.
How best to describe 'baby-watch'? You know that feeling when you're waiting at the doctor's for a blood sample to be taken? It's a bit like that. Each morning I'd wander down to the Lindo Wing (and later Buckingham Palace) and sit. In a cafe, in a McDonald's, occasionally in a sheltered gutter - anywhere close enough to the cameras so that if a baby was born during news time, I'd be ready to go. As you may have guessed, baby George came when he was good and ready...