London: The media frenzy over the birth of Prince William and his wife Catherine’s baby reached fever pitch on Saturday as the reported due date came and went with no sign of the royal heir.
A rumour that the Duchess of Cambridge had gone into labour on Thursday spread like wildfire on Twitter and reportedly caused Prime Minister David Cameron’s office to call Buckingham Palace to check on it.
It was another false alarm, but the dozens of international journalists camped outside the private London hospital where Kate is giving birth are on tenterhooks, knowing that it could happen any day now.
The palace has said the baby was due in “mid-July” and many editors have had this weekend in the diary for weeks - even though any parent knows that babies rarely arrive on time.
William’s father, Prince Charles, revealed that it is not just royal observers waiting for the baby, as they attended a festival celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation on Friday.
Charles, the heir to the throne who will become a grandfather for the first time, said “it won’t be long now” as he surveyed a range of commemorative china to mark the new arrival.
His second wife Camilla, who is already a grandmother, added in conversation: “We are very excited. Immensely looking forward to it and waiting for the phone call.”
The popularity of William and Kate, who married in a glittering wedding at Westminster Abbey in 2011, has turned the birth of their first child into a global event.
Media organisations have been installed outside St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington for almost two weeks now, and in the absence of news, time has been passing slowly.
For the television networks, the top priority is to hold their positions around the clock, working 12-hour shifts in baking summer heat.
That means fiercely defending their territory, never yielding an inch of space to a rival station, and woe betide anyone touching the gaffer tape marking out an organisation’s patch.
A ‘RIGHT ROYAL FREE-FOR-ALL’
The main British news broadcasters - BBC, ITN and Sky News - have got the prime spots, lined up in front of the major US networks, which have maximised their space with some mammoth pieces of broadcasting hardware.
Behind them, it is a scramble to get a decent angle to shoot the doorway where William himself first saw daylight in 1982, carried out of the Lindo Wing by his parents Prince Charles and Diana.
International correspondents pad out the time by interviewing passers-by and, as a last resort, one another.
Shipped in from Belgium, Christophe Giltay, a senior reporter from RTL-TVI, is “following it all from a distance”.
“You take in the ambience and see how your colleagues are getting along. It’s a right royal free-for-all,” he said.
He drew parallels with the media scrum outside the Pretoria hospital where the frail former South African president Nelson Mandela is being treated.
In the knowledge that “the world has pretty much covered it all already”, the Belgian tries to “find original angles”.
“We’re looking. Maybe something on the name. Yes, we’re looking,” he said, before scaling a metal ladder to deliver his report.
From high up in a forest of aluminium, he has a good view of his Polish colleague trying for the 10th time to secure a moving shot in front of the hospital.
After nearly being run over by a passing car, the Pole finally captures it and can loosen his tie in the heat. “What a mess! But we did it,” he said.
A hundred metres away, the satellite vans are parked up, ready to whirr into life at any moment.
The cameramen hang about there to recharge their batteries or those of their equipment, before heading back, cameras aloft on their shoulders once more.
For the time being, the door is guarded by a police officer who is rapidly becoming the most filmed man on the planet.
Occasionally he breaks his vigil to let a pregnant woman into the building, as the hospital busies itself with a regular flow of ordinary patients.