Media frenzy as 'Great Kate Wait' nears end

The London hospital hosting Prince William's wife Kate was the scene of a media frenzy Monday after weeks of waiting for the royal baby -- while tourists kept an eye out for a big announcement at Buckingham Palace.

For the dozens of weary international journalists who have camped for three weeks outside St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, central London, there was relief with the promise, finally, of some actual news to report.

Kate's admittance to the hospital's private Lindo Wing at around 6:00 am (0500 GMT) also brought joy for the handful of hardcore royalists who have camped outside the hospital for several days.

"I'm so excited, like I'm in a washing machine," said John Loughrey, who, resplendent in the red, white and blue of the British flag, has slept on a bench outside the hospital for seven nights.

"I've never been so high! It was such a long wait. I hope it's worth it. I hope it's a girl," he told AFP.

Since July 1, the forest of camera tripods and photographers' ladders that sprang up outside the hospital has been staffed by a handful of highly underworked cameramen sprawled in the sunshine on what has been dubbed the "Great Kate Wait".

But on Monday the sleepy mood vanished.

William and Kate's child is the first British royal baby born into the era of 24-hour news -- and despite a likely wait of several hours still to go before the actual birth, reporters were queueing up for endless live dispatches.

"We've been waiting for this for 10 days now," said Shanshan Yang from China's CCTV channel. "It was a long wait. We didn't show up every day, but now of course we'll stay here til the baby comes."

As the hours wore on without any news, however, the correspondents resorted to interviewing each other.

A large media camp has also sprung up at Queen Elizabeth II's London residence Buckingham Palace, where a formal notice of the birth is to be displayed on a gilded easel at the gates.

As on any glorious summer day in London, hundreds of tourists were gathered at the palace gates to watch the traditional Changing the Guard ceremony. Most were unaware that Kate had gone into labour, but expressed delight when they heard the news.

"We've been waiting for the baby for days!" said Jane Ku, who had come over from Singapore with a group of girlfriends. "We're going to buy all the baby souvenirs, baby dolls and things like that. I'm hoping it will be a boy."

Visitors from countries where the queen is head of state -- which along with Britain include 15 realms such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand -- were particularly enthusiastic.

"We've been getting updates every morning on Canadian TV and it's great to see that it's a worldwide affair, that everyone's curious about what's happening," said David Wyatt from Toronto, who was holidaying in London with his wife and three young daughters.

"We were wondering whether we were going to be here in London when it happened, and it's wonderful. My family were empire loyalists in Canada and my father's from England. We're proud Canadians."

Connie Sourlatzis, a 30-year-old from Melbourne, said William and Kate had "brought some life back into the royal family".

"I'm a lot more interested in them now than I used to be," she said. "They're really popular in Australia, especially Kate. She's a fashionista. Everyone loves her.

"I've been telling everyone back home that she was waiting for me to get here because she didn't want me to miss it, so I'm really pleased she's gone into labour."

Her boyfriend Josh Killoren was slightly less enthused.

"I'm hoping it's a boy, I'm sick of seeing a girl on the side of our coins," he said, earning a smack from Sourlatzis.