Simon Perry and Michelle Tauber
August 05, 2013 12:00 PM

Before the 62-gun salute, before the cheers of hip-hip-hurrah, before the bells pealed, there was this: a mum and dad, enjoying four blissful hours together with their newborn son, marveling at the family they had just created. On July 22 Prince William and Princess Kate did just that, savoring those early, precious moments and phoning their families and close friends to deliver the news. Then, just one day later, they braved a gauntlet of flashbulbs and fans to present their son to the world outside London’s St. Mary’s Hospital. Beaming but also appearing slightly anxious—what first-time parent isn’t?—the couple spoke briefly to reporters. “He’s got a good pair of lungs!” shared William, adding, “We’re still working on a name.” But they have diaper duty figured out. “[William’s] done the first nappy already,” said Kate. Looking moved, she said, “It’s very emotional. Any parent will know what this feeling feels like.”

Pop the corks, raise a glass – or, like the locals at the Old Boot Inn in Kate’s hometown of Bucklebury, a pint – and cue the adoring coos: After nine months of eager anticipation and 11 hours of labor, the newest successor to the centuries-old British monarchy is finally here. At 4:24 p.m. on July 22, Princess Kate, 31, and Prince William, 31, welcomed their first child, a healthy 8 lb. 6 oz. son. Third in line to the throne behind William’s father, Prince Charles, and the proud new dad himself, the little prince is a “beautiful baby,” says Dr. Marcus Setchell, the obstetrician who delivered him in what the Palace termed a “natural birth.” With Mum and newborn thriving, William, who was by his wife’s side from the moment they arrived from Kensington Palace at 6 a.m. and spent the night in the hospital, said simply, “We could not be happier.”

When the time came to share the news, the couple did so with dual nods to tradition (a gilded easel bearing the announcement) and technology (a digital press release). Inside St. Mary’s, staffers celebrated with cheers and cake, while outside, a crowd of thousands broke into a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” As the well wishes poured in—President Obama! Snooki! – Queen Elizabeth was said to be “delighted,” and Prince Charles shared that he and wife Camilla were “thrilled.” (Uncle Harry received the news while stationed on a Royal Air Force base in southeast England.) Meanwhile, amid all the joyful noise, the morning after the delivery played out much like it does for new parents everywhere: a routine doctor’s follow-up, a visit from both sets of grandparents and gratitude from William and Kate for the hospital staff’s “tremendous care.” Of course, this was no ordinary birth: Not since Queen Victoria’s 19th-century reign has Britain had three living direct heirs to the present monarch. “This is the icing on the cake,” says a friend. Adds royal historian Robert Lacey: “You can see the monarchy’s future stretching into the next century.”

Still, for an ultradiligent princess who planned her 2011 wedding down to the 17 varieties of edible flowers atop the cake, the birth came with a daunting new challenge: uncertainty. And yet, even as her mid-July due date came and went, Kate was determined to let her little one call the shots. With William still handling various public engagements, the princess split her time between her family’s Bucklebury estate and the couple’s London home at Kensington Palace. Despite chatter that Kate would have her mother, Carole, and sister Pippa in the delivery room, only she and William—along with an assortment of doctors, nurses and midwives – were there for the baby’s first breaths. Had Carole been present, “she would find out before the Queen, and that would break tradition,” notes British baby expert Rosie Pope.

But as they have done since the start of their modern fairy-tale romance, the new parents are determined to put a contemporary spin on things. William is expected to retire from the Royal Air Force to become a full-time working royal, and “when he is not in uniform or on royal duty of some kind, I absolutely see him as a modern dad – yes, he will have a Baby Bjorn and push a pram,” says Prince Charles’s cousin India Hicks. If Princess Diana ushered in a new era of gentler, playful royal parenting – a stark contrast to Charles’s own highly regimented upbringing – look for William and Kate to take the approach even further. “They will be totally different from any other member of the family before,” says a friend. “They will be normal, modern parents – okay, in a rarefied existence, because of who they are and the facilities that they have. But they will be very much hands-on.”

Still, there will be royal duties to tend to, and paid help is a necessity. “They can’t operate without backup,” says royals author Ingrid Seward. At their vast spread in Kensington Palace, which Kate has been renovating with the help of a decorator in hopes of moving in by fall, “they will have a full staff,” says Seward, including a housekeeper whom they hired earlier this year. “They will want to experience parenthood,” says Claire Burgess of the famed “Norland Nannies” agency often chosen by the British upper crust, “and have someone in the background who can just support them in that.”

Also lending a hand will be both sides of the family, with Kate expected to lean heavily on her parents, Carole and Michael. And royal grandpa Prince Charles has been telling friends that the new parents “have got to be allowed some family time,” says Seward, “so maybe Prince Harry will step in to do more duties and William will step back a little bit just to give them some time. Charles is adamant about that.”

As for the most critical partnership of all, those close to the new parents continue to marvel at their seamless teamwork. With the eyes of the world now focused on the tiny bundle of joy set to someday wear the crown, the low-key days William and Kate cherished as college sweethearts in Scotland and later as newlyweds in Anglesey, Wales, are far behind them. As they drove away from the hospital with their new son safely fastened in a car seat, they were no longer “the university couple or the couple who lives in Anglesey,” says Sophia Money-Coutts of society glossy Tatler. “They are the parents of the third in line to the throne. It is a new beginning.”

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