Delivering royal baby news: Tradition vs. Twitter

Prince Charles and Princess Diana leave St. Mary's Hospital in London with their newborn son Prince William in June 1982. John Redman / AP, file

LONDON - If Britain's royal family has its way, the world will learn the gender of the future monarch the old-fashioned way: A medical bulletin announcing the birth will be rushed out of the private Lindo wing of St. Mary’s Hospital, where the Duchess of Cambridge is scheduled to give birth.

It will then be driven two-and-a-half miles away to Buckingham Palace, where a sheet of paper will be fixed to an easel by the palace gates. There the public, if they can fight through the crush of photographers, will read the baby’s sex, weight, eye color, and any details relating to the birth that are deemed newsworthy.


Prince William, whose birth was announced in this way 31 years ago, was described as having “cried lustily.”

However, today there’s Twitter. And the moment journalists become aware of the birth, and see the bulletin driven away from the hospital steps, they’ll go into full panic mode trying to get the scoop: boy or girl?

The only sure bet is: don’t believe gossip on Twitter. If we did, the Duchess of Cambridge would have been in labor a dozen times. For everyone involved with the birth has been sworn to secrecy until royal officials have made their official announcement. That will include the 70-year-old obstetrician, Marcus Setchell, who will deliver the future monarch, after he postponed his retirement to help Kate through the birth.

Setchell treated her for acute morning sickness in the first months of her pregnancy, when she spent three days in hospital.

A police officer speaks to representatives from a betting company wearing baby costumes and posing for the media beside a board detailing odds on different names for the royal baby outside St. Mary's Hospital in London on Friday. Matt Dunham / AP

As hundreds of photographers and cameramen have staked out their positions to record the big day, spare a thought also for the other non-royal moms and dads, known in British parlance as “commoners,” who are leaving the Lindo wing these days with their newborns.

Their bliss is not shared by the dozens of waiting photographers who ignore them.

One redheaded woman at a dinner party this week recounted that she left the same hospital on the same day that another redhead, Sarah, Duchess of York, better known as “Fergie,” was giving birth to one of her daughters.

When she emerged with her own bundle of joy, a dozen photographers pursued her along the street, until she heard one shout, “Forget it, it isn’t Fergie. It’s nobody.”

She said she is still traumatized.

Martin Fletcher is a longtime NBC News correspondent and author.