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.
A global frenzy over the arrival of a new generation of British royalty reached fever pitch as the couple, both 31, was driven from Kensington Palace to a plush London hospital suite at around 6:00am (0500 GMT).
They used a back entrance and travelled without police protection, meaning they were missed by the ranks of international media who have camped outside the private Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital for three weeks.
The baby will be born third in line to the throne and in the direct line of succession after head of state 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.
Kate has said the couple does not know the sex of the baby. Its title will be His/Her Royal Highness Prince/Princess (name) of Cambridge.
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.
Prime Minister David Cameron sent his best wishes to the couple and said he was confident the laws would be pushed through.
"A very exciting occasion and the whole country is excited with them. So everyone's hoping for the best," he said.
The birth is later than widely expected, adding to the sense of anticipation about a possible royal baby ever since William and the former Kate Middleton married with a huge fanfare in April 2011 after a decade-long romance.
The pregnancy was announced in December when Kate was admitted to hospital with severe morning sickness.
Kate is in the private Lindo Wing of St Mary's, where a standard room and normal delivery -- which she is hoping for -- costs £4,965 ($7,600, 5,800 euros) for the first 24 hours, plus consultants' fees which can reach around £6,000.
Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, said: "During her stay at the hospital, the duchess is being cared for by an expert team of consultants and midwives."
The duchess is being tended by a top medical team led by the queen's gynaecologist Alan Farthing and his predecessor Marcus Setchell.
William, at his wife's bedside, has been on annual leave and will take two weeks' paternity leave from his military job as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot.
The prince 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 his first wife Diana brought out the baby to show him off to the world.
On the hottest day of the year, roughly 100 media were buzzing about Monday, with around 30 presenters lined up in a row delivering live broadcasts and clips.
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 until the baby comes."
Around 20 police officers were also stationed outside the wing and royal fanatics clad in British flags were beside themselves with delight.
"I'm so excited. Like in a washing machine. Never been so high!" said John Loughrey, who has slept outside the hospital for seven nights.
Crowds were also gathering outside Buckingham Palace.
-- 'Do you know something I don't?' --
The new arrival will be Queen Elizabeth's third great-grandchild, and a first grandchild for Charles, and ensures that there are three generations of direct succession to the British throne.
Charles, the current heir, was visiting York in northern England, where members of the public shouted "Congratulations!".
A smiling Charles said: "Do you know something I don't?"
The birth is set to be formally announced when a document signed by the doctors is placed on a golden easel in the Buckingham Palace forecourt.
Outside Buckingham Palace, the queen's residence, Josh Killoren from Melbourne told AFP: "I'm hoping it's a boy. I'm sick of seeing a girl on the side of our coins."
Jane Ku from Singapore said: "We've been waiting for the baby for days! We're going to buy all the baby souvenirs."
There has been a betting frenzy on the name of the royal newborn.
"There is a clear view that the baby will be a girl so there is lots of activity around girls' names," a spokeswoman for bookmakers William Hill told AFP.
"Alexandra and Charlotte are the most popular."
Other favourites are Diana, Elizabeth and Victoria, with George and James the top boys' names.
© 2013 AFP