Britain's Kate in labour as world awaits royal baby
Prince William's wife Kate was admitted to hospital on Monday in the early stages of labour as the world awaited the birth of a baby directly in line to inherit the British throne.
After weeks of global anticipation over the arrival of a new generation of British royalty, the royal couple, both 31, were driven from Kensington Palace to a private London hospital wing at around 6:00am (0500 GMT).
Dozens of international media waited outside the Lindo wing of St Mary's Hospital in Paddington on a hot summer's day while royal fans waving Union Jacks were also starting to gather.
The baby will be born third in line to the throne and in the direct line of succession after Queen Elizabeth II's eldest son and heir Prince Charles, and then his eldest son William.
"Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge has been admitted this morning to St. Mary's Hospital, Paddington, London in the early stages of labour," Kensington Palace said in a statement.
"Things are progressing as normal," a spokesman added.
The couple say they do not know the sex of the baby.
If it is a girl, then new succession laws being brought in across the 16 Commonwealth realms would mean that she could no longer be overtaken by any future younger brothers.
The birth is later than widely expected, adding to the sense of anticipation around a saga that began when William and the former Kate Middleton married with a huge fanfare in April 2011.
The pregnancy was announced in December when Kate was admitted to hospital with severe morning sickness.
Her early morning arrival at the hospital on Monday coincided with thunder and lightning as a huge storm over London brought the first rain for weeks after a major heatwave in Britain.
Kate has been admitted to the private Lindo Wing of the hospital, where a standard room and normal delivery -- which she is hoping for -- costs £4,965 ($7,775, 5,800 euros) for the first 24 hours, plus consultant's fees which can reach around £6,000.
The duchess is being tended by a top medical team led by the queen's gynaecologist Alan Farthing and his predecessor Marcus Setchell.
William was born in the same hospital wing and media from across the globe are hoping for a repeat of the scene in 1982 when Charles and first wife Diana brought the baby prince out onto the steps to show him off to the world.
International press have been crammed cheek by jowl on the opposite side of the street for three weeks. Roughly 100 media were buzzing about Monday, with around 30 presenters lined up in a row delivering live broadcasts.
Yang Shanshan, from China's CCTV, told AFP: "We've been waiting for this for 10 days now. It was a long wait. We didn't show up every day but now of course we'll stay here till the baby comes.
"Hopefully the baby arrives at daytime."
Meanwhile around 20 police officers were also stationed outside the wing and royal fanatics clad in British flags were beside themselves with excitement.
Prime Minister David Cameron sent his best wishes to the couple.
"A very exciting occasion and the whole country is excited with them. So everyone's hoping for the best," he said.
The new arrival will be the monarch's third great-grandchild, and a first grandchild for Charles.
Dickie Arbiter, a former press secretary to Queen Elizabeth said the royal family were unlikely to visit once the new addition arrives.
Charles was pressing on with a visit to the National Railway Museum in York, northern England.
"The family will be waiting like any other family for news of the baby," Arbiter said.
"The queen will be the first to be informed because William will telephone her as soon as something happens."
According to the palace, the next statement will be issued when the baby is born.
The duchess made her final public appearance before giving birth on June 15, attending the queen's official birthday celebrations.
William and Kate live in a cottage at Kensington Palace when in London. In the last four weeks, the duchess has been splitting her time between there and her family's home in the Berkshire countryside, west of London.
Otherwise they are based on the rural island of Anglesey in northwest Wales, where William works as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot.
There has been a betting frenzy on the name of the royal baby.
"There is a clear view that the baby will be a girl so there are lots of activity around girls' names," a spokeswoman for William Hill told AFP.
"Alexandra and Charlotte are the most popular."
Other favoured names are Diana, Elizabeth and Victoria, with George and James picked by those who think the baby will be a boy.
Outside Buckingham Palace, the queen's residence, Josh Killoren from Melbourne, Australia told AFP: "I'm hoping it's a boy. I'm sick of seeing a girl on the side of our coins."
That earned him a smack from his girlfriend Connie Sourlatzis, 30, who was a lot more enthusiastic.
"These two have really brought some life back into the royal family. I'm a lot more interested in them now than I used to be," she said.
© 2013 AFP