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The prince of wails has arrived

He’s the boy without a name but with a gilded destiny.

The one baby to rule them all -- at least the people of Britain -- was born to Prince William and his wife, the former Catherine Middleton, on Monday afternoon, setting off celebrations among the royal couple’s future subjects over the arrival of a new heir to the throne.

Barring tragedy -- or revolution -- the infant is bound to reign over Britain and the 15 other nations, including Australia and Canada, that recognize the British monarch as head of state. The baby is third in the line of succession after his grandfather, Prince Charles, and father, William, muscling aside Prince Harry, who has been demoted to fourth.

William said he and his wife “could not be happier” over the new arrival, who weighed in at 8 pounds, 6 ounces, at St. Mary’s Hospital, an exclusive medical facility in central London. British politicians and leaders the world over, including President Obama, sent their congratulations. London Mayor Boris Johnson announced that the fountains of Trafalgar Square would run with blue water for the next week to mark the event.

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In a sign of the new century that the royal baby has been born into, announcement of the birth was made to the world first via email and social media networks such as Twitter, ahead of the traditional method of posting the news on a piece of paper mounted on an easel at Buckingham Palace.

The language, though, was still archaic, almost biblical, with its proclamation that Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, “was safely delivered of a son” at 4:24 p.m.

“It is an incredibly special moment for William and Catherine, and we are so thrilled for them on the birth of their baby boy,” Prince Charles, the heir apparent to Queen Elizabeth II, said in a statement. “I am enormously proud and happy to be a grandfather for the first time, and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing the baby in the near future.”

Word of the birth capped weeks of an international media frenzy, with photographers and journalists staking out the hospital round the clock for even the briefest of glimpses of the pregnant duchess being whisked inside. Some of the most breathless news organizations were American ones, whose fawning reporters seemed not to understand that their country cut its umbilical cord to the British monarchy in 1776.

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Speculation surrounding the unborn baby’s gender now shifts to his name. It took a week for William’s name to be unveiled after his birth in 1982. The bookmakers’ favorite choices for the new “Prince of Cambridge,” the child’s official title, are George and James, with 500-1 odds on the name Hashtag.

The royal household is now riding a wave of popularity not seen since the heyday of Princess Diana, William’s late mother. The queen’s Diamond Jubilee last year and William and Catherine’s wedding in 2011 have allowed the monarchy to promote itself as both something old and something new, an ancient institution with a modern, youthful, extremely good-looking face.

A few public missteps and naked Harry photos notwithstanding, the dark days that descended on the monarchy after the shocking death of Diana in a 1997 car crash are mostly a distant memory.

“This is the first time we’ve had a new king or queen born in our generation,” said Holly Appleton, 27, a music publicist who joined the crowds of people thronging the plaza in front of Buckingham Palace after the birth was announced. “It adds something to the party.”

The national hoopla over what is, for most Britons, the child of total strangers offered a distraction from their fitful economy, their political scandals and their own screaming kids. Already buoyed by the triumphs of their countrymen in the Tour de France and at Wimbledon, many here raised a glass Monday evening to toast the new monarch-to-be, or perhaps just to beat the heat on the hottest day of the year, with the mercury soaring past 90 degrees in parts of London.

The Sun, Britain’s bestselling scandal sheet, changed its front-page masthead in Tuesday’s editions to read, “The Son.”

There are now three generations of direct heirs to the throne, ages 64 (Charles), 31 (William) and 0 (the newborn), a rare pileup in the annals of British royalty. The last time the country experienced such an heir supply was during Queen Victoria’s reign more than 100 years ago.

Exactly when the oldest of them, Charles, will finally become king is anyone’s guess, since his 87-year-old mother regards her queenship as a divine appointment to be curtailed only by death or incapacitation, not voluntary abdication.

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A baby girl would have made an extra bit of history by being the first one to be guaranteed succession even if she had brothers. A new rule being ratified by the 16 “realms” removes the automatic right of male offspring to leapfrog over older sisters onto the throne, a discriminatory formula that held for centuries.

“I was really hoping it would be a girl ... because then it would be our next queen,” said a slightly disappointed Charissa Coulthard, 27, who is crossing her fingers for a less conventional name for the boy.

The duchess, 31, was attended by the queen’s gynecologist, part of her top-notch medical team at St. Mary’s Hospital. Fortunately for Catherine’s privacy, the royal family no longer submits to the traditional indignity of having the archbishop of Canterbury and a government Cabinet secretary present for the birth to attest that the baby is a genuine heir and not an impostor smuggled in.

William was by his wife’s side, palace officials said, just as his father was in the room when he was born. By contrast, Prince Philip was off playing squash when Charles was delivered in Buckingham Palace.

In another up-to-date touch, William will take two weeks of paternity leave from his job as a military helicopter pilot. He and Catherine are expected to be more involved in their child’s upbringing than previous generations of royals were.

“This is going to be the first royal child that’s going to be raised without a team of nannies, without royal footmen,” said Ingrid Seward, editor of the magazine Majesty. “People all over the world will be watching as to how they raise this child, because they’re celebrities, aren’t they? They have a following.”

How intrusive the paparazzi will be remains to be seen. Mindful of his mother’s difficult relationship with the media, whom he blames for chasing her to her death in a Paris tunnel, Prince William has been protective of his wife, especially during her pregnancy, when her public appearances were considerably reduced.

They were able to do an end run around the media Monday, entering the hospital through a side entrance, away from the cameras, about 6 a.m. after the duchess had gone into labor. Official confirmation of her presence inside came more than an hour later. Likewise, the palace announced the birth four hours after the fact, following notification of the queen and senior members of the royal household.

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Outside the hospital, broadcasters grew increasingly desperate as the hours wore on, interviewing obstetricians, midwives, passersby and finally each other as the palace stayed mum.

“We’re going to be exhausted by the time this baby arrives,” a British news anchor said, somehow comparing his wait to the duchess’ labor.

The most pitiful morsel of information was gratefully seized upon by the world’s media, and especially Britain’s tabloids, as if it were an imperial banquet. From William and Catherine’s choice of stroller to the question of whether she would opt for natural childbirth or was “too posh to push,” no detail was too small.

The wait seemed so interminable that one wag wondered whether the baby was being delivered by the notoriously slow Royal Mail.

Merchants are rubbing their hands over another mass-marketing opportunity, with estimates that the royal birth could add more than $350 million to Britain’s economy. That could help compensate for the lost productivity from the national holidays declared for the queen’s jubilee and William and Catherine’s wedding.

A 41-gun salute in Green Park, next to Buckingham Palace, and a 62-gun salute at the Tower of London are scheduled for Tuesday. Fans of the royal family must now wait again for the moment when the new parents emerge at the hospital holding their newborn.

Susan and Chuck Johnson, retired teachers visiting England for the first time from South Carolina, rushed over to the palace when they heard the news of the birth. Susan could relate: On Monday, she turned 65.

“It’s my birthday today so I’m really the princess,” she said with a laugh.

“We thought it’d be fun to be here. You can say, ‘I was here when,’ ” her husband added, watching appreciatively as the guards in their red uniforms and bushy black hats performed in the palace forecourt. “They do ceremony well.”

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henry.chu@latimes.com


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