Plenty of news events demand minute-by-minute coverage -- police car chases, a presidential inauguration, Nik Wallenda crossing the Grand Canyon on a wire without a net. But there's something particularly gruesome about the media waiting outside a London hospital while the Duchess of Cambridge is just inside, about to deliver a baby. There's something both modern and medieval about it at the same time, like Henry VIII waiting outside a castle door to find out if one of his wives had given him a live male heir. In this case, Prince William will be in the room, at his wife's side.
It’s tough to drum up any sympathy for over-pampered celebrities complaining about paparazzi following them to the grocery store. But it’s hard not to feel sympathy for a famous woman who knows there are people camped outside her hospital waiting for her to finish up one of the most painful -- and painfully long and usually private -- activities she can undergo: labor. Even Angelina Jolie didn't have TV reporters doing live stand-ups on the tally of her hours in labor when she gave birth to twins at a hospital in Nice, France, five years ago.
It’s probably good that whatever television is on in Kate Middleton's lushly appointed private suite in the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London can’t get the “Today” show, which featured its medical commentator standing outside that hospital explaining the ins and outs, so to speak, of vaginal births. It's good she probably missed the “Access Hollywood” interview with a British talking head musing on the possibility of Pippa Middleton being at her sister’s side: “Can you imagine having that glamorous younger sister in there when you’re looking like death in the bed?”
Obviously, this is a feel-good story (well, for Kate it will be feel good after the baby is born) and not some vulturous picking over of a tragedy or catastrophe. But it does show the insatiable appetite for all things royal, and the dexterity with which media outlets can now accommodate that. Although no one got a good shot of William and Kate’s car entering the hospital through a side entrance, news commentators have delineated the timetable of what will happen for the millions of viewers interested (and I confess to being one of those) with TV graphics tracing out the route that a car will take as it leaves the hospital carrying the birth announcement -- and the gender reveal! -- to Buckingham Palace.
What's even more interesting is how the British royal family has cooperated with all this. No one tried to throw reporters off the trail by saying the couple would go to one hospital, then sneaking off to another. (I might have gone for that if I were Kate.) The palace confirmed that she was in labor and doing well. Of course, for the Brits, this child is more than a celebrity: He or she (me, I'm hoping for the latter) will be third in line to the throne.
And there again, there's something very modern and very traditional about keeping the citizenry up on events. Let's hope the baby gets used to all the publicity.