LONDON – The global media are on high alert as the due date for the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton's baby approaches.
Middleton, to whom media here typically refer as the Duchess of Cambridge, last made an official public appearance at the naming ceremony for a cruise ship June 13.
Two days later, she was seen with a very visible bump at Queen Elizabeth II's official annual birthday parade, known here as Trooping the Color. Since then though, she conspicuously has been absent from British newspapers and mainstream media.
But it is expected to be simply the calm before the storm. Middleton's spokespeople have told the British press and the interested global media that her schedule has been cleared until the birth "sometime in mid-July." A representative told THR on Wednesday that there would be no firmer date announced for the expected birth.
The rep added that there is "no reason" why the age-old tradition of the royal couple and baby posing for pictures after the birth outside the hospital should not be continued this year.
The expectant couple certainly has enjoyed a good deal of sensible behavior from the typically rabid British tabloid press, with few pictures of the mother-to-be published since her official duties were put on hold. One tabloid reporter said there was a gentlemen's agreement of sorts in place to give the popular royals a bit of breathing space before the baby's arrival. "It's amazing just how few pictures of her [Kate Middleton] there have been," said one media observer.
Prince William widely is regarded by media observers as having enjoyed one of the best relationships of any royal with the British press. It stems from the death of his mother Princess Diana when he was just 15 years old. The royals called on the press, particularly the tabloids, to back off and give Prince William and Prince Harry, only just 13 himself, space and time to grieve. The paparazzi and tabloids backed off.
But this week saw the first signs of the media frenzy that is expected to erupt when Prince William and his wife do finally make an appearance with their newborn.
Expectation has intensified amid speculation across the media that Middleton may be delivering the heir to the British throne a little earlier than mid-July.
The world's media began assembling at the beginning of this week outside the Lindo Wing (where Prince William was born) of St. Mary's Hospital in the Western London neighborhood of Paddington where Kate is expected to give birth -- just in case. A palace spokesperson declined to confirm that is where the birth will take
But according to a report in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, a notice by the main entrance of St. Mary's has appeared booking four parking spaces for the entire month for an unspecified "event." The hospital's taxi waiting area has also been suspended, although only until July 15.
Online bookies have reacted to the possible earlier-than-expected birth. Paddy Power, for example, has slashed odds on a birth this week from 8-1 to 4-1.
The royals previously told media that Middleton intends to give birth naturally rather than opting for a Caesarean, which makes pinpointing the due date more difficult.
But unnamed paparazzi told the Telegraph that some U.S. networks have hired 24/7 security guards to secure their camera positions outside the hospital.
Others are rumored to have booked taxis to park permanently in the spaces they want for their satellite trucks as representatives of the world's media await the royal birth with bated breath.