Kate's parents visit Britain's 'beautiful' royal baby

LONDON (AFP) - The parents of Prince William's wife Kate visited her in hospital on Tuesday, becoming the first family members to see the couple's new baby as the rest of the world awaited a glimpse of the future British king.

First-time grandparents Carole and Michael Middleton arrived in a humble black taxi at the private Lindo Wing of St Mary's Hospital in London to visit the unnamed little boy, the third in line to the throne.

"He's absolutely beautiful. They're both doing very well and we're so thrilled," a beaming Carole Middleton told the massed ranks of international media who have camped outside the hospital for weeks.

Asked if she had suggested a name for the baby, she replied: "Absolutely not!" Their arrival sparked hopes that the baby would soon be presented to the rest of the world, with palace officials saying William and Kate, both 31, could leave as early as Tuesday night.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge themselves earlier thanked hospital staff for their "tremendous care", in their first joint statement since the baby was born on Monday.

Congratulations have poured in from around the globe for the baby, a great-grandchild of Queen Elizabeth II who will one day reign over Britain and 15 other Commonwealth realms.

Cannon fire salutes rang out at Green Park and the Tower of London in celebration, while the bells at Westminster Abbey pealed across the capital for three hours.

The baby remains officially nameless, although bookmakers have picked George and James - traditional names that hark back to previous kings - as favourites.

"Mother, son and father are all doing well," a spokesman for Kensington Palace said on Tuesday morning.

By mid-afternoon, Kate was well enough for a visit from her parents, self-made millionaires who run a party paraphernalia business.

There have been no royal visitors so far. William's father, Prince Charles, has expressed his eagerness to meet his first grandchild but had a public engagement in Yorkshire in northern England on Tuesday morning.

As residents of the village of Bugthorpe offered Charles their congratulations on the new arrival, the 64-year-old heir to the throne said: "I'm thrilled and very excited." William, who is taking two weeks' paternity leave from his job as a Royal Air Force (RAF) search and rescue helicopter pilot, said he and his wife "couldn't be happier".

The baby was born at 4.24pm (11.24pm in Singapore) on Monday after at least 10 hours of labour, weighing a healthy eight pounds six ounces (3.8kg).

In a joint statement, the couple praised the staff at the hospital's private Lindo Wing, where William was born to the late Princess Diana in 1982.

"We would like to thank the staff at the Lindo Wing and the whole hospital for the tremendous care the three of us have received," William and Kate said.

"We know it has been a very busy period for the hospital and we would like to thank everyone - staff, patients and visitors - for their understanding during this time."

Hordes of journalists had camped outside the hospital for weeks waiting for the baby, testament to the enduring appeal of the British monarchy and particularly the glamorous William and Kate.

Well-wishers gathered there on Tuesday hoping to see the new prince, although royal officials said they did not expect the couple and their baby to leave before 6pm (1am Singapore time) - and they could even stay another night.

At Buckingham Palace, crowds straining for a glimpse of the official birth announcement on a gold easel in the forecourt were treated to a special edition of Changing the Guard.

The Queen's Guards, resplendent in red tunics and bearskin hats, performed Cliff Richard's "Congratulations", to cheers from well-wishers and tourists outside the gates.

The baby will be titled His Royal Highness, Prince (name) of Cambridge - the blank to be filled in when his name is announced.

William's name was not announced for a week, while the world had to wait one month after the birth of Charles, the queen's eldest son and direct heir.

William and Kate did not know the sex of their child until he was born, although the duchess reportedly told a soldier at a St Patrick's Day parade in March: "I'd like to have a boy and William would like a girl."

It is the first time since 1894 that three direct heirs to the throne have been alive at the same time, and the 87-year-old queen said she was "delighted" at the birth of her third great-grandchild.

William and Kate are hugely popular and have been widely credited with revitalising the British royals following decades of scandal and the death of William's mother Diana in a car crash in 1997.

More than 25,300 tweets a minute were sent immediately after news of the birth broke on Monday night, Twitter said, while the hashtag #RoyalBaby was used 900,000 times in the first 24 hours after Kate went into labour.

Prime Minister David Cameron said it was "an important moment in the life of our nation".

US President Barack Obama led the international messages of congratulations, which also poured in from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France, Israel, Japan and Singapore.

Even Iran set aside differences with Britain over Teheran's disputed nuclear programme to congratulate the queen and say the birth was "a source of happiness".

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