Never mind the upcoming Summer Olympics in London. Right now the biggest sport in the U.K. is Princess Bumpwatch 2012. There’s Princess Kate, strategically holding a purse in front of her tummy at a December concert. (She’s got a royal bun in the oven!) There she is on March 17, sipping sherry at a St. Patrick’s Day event honoring the Irish Guards. (On second thought …) And-hang on-would a pregnant woman fly down the slopes in the French Alps, tucked into a fitted jacket and skinny pants, no less? “She is a tidy little skier and really slim,” says Pete Davies, who was working at the Courcheval resort in France’s famed Three Valleys when Kate and William vacationed there with her family at the end of March. (For the record, some obstetricians caution against skiing during pregnancy.) But while the baby drumbeat has increased to a fever pitch around them, the couple themselves appeared blissfully at ease, squeezing in romantic one-on-one time as well as cross-generational bonding with Kate’s parents, Mike and Carole Middleton, and her siblings Pippa and James. “William likes normality, and he likes nothing better than spending a bit of time with her family,” says a friend of the prince’s, who recently reunited with his wife after a seven-week military stint on the Falkland Islands. “Especially if it makes his wife happy.”
Happy wife, happy life … happy parents-to-be? Nearly one year after William, 29, and Kate, 30, exchanged “I dos” in the epic April 29 wedding that charmed the world, family, friends and royal watchers alike are holding their collective breath for the announcement of a future prince or princess on the way. This is, after all, a couple who tied the knot just five months after revealing their engagement in November 2010; back then Kate talked openly of her hope to “have a happy family ourselves,” and William said they “obviously” wanted kids. The historic precedent for a prompt pregnancy is strong: Both Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana had welcomed their firstborns before hitting their first wedding anniversaries. After all, “continuity of the monarchy depends on William producing an heir,” says veteran royal watcher Judy Wade. “And a baby would put a seal on William and Kate’s happiness.”
Characteristically, the Palace is remaining mum, though it’s recently shown an increased sensitivity to speculation on the subject. And there may be reason to look forward to royal pitter-patter sooner rather than later: For starters, a Palace source confirms that the couple quietly “shelved” a hoped-for trip to Africa in the spring. While a busy calendar may have been the culprit-in addition to the Olympics, the pair also will participate in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in June-medical experts note that several recommended vaccinations for Africa travel can be harmful to a fetus. Most significantly, a royal insider points to a major factor that could influence the couple’s decision: friends with kids. Just as they walked down the aisle after attending a string of close pals’ weddings, William and Kate have now cooed over the babies of many in their ultratight private circle, including Lily Meade (daughter of Harry and Rosie, friends from their days at the University of St. Andrews), Lily Cheape (daughter of Henry and Louisa, another St. Andrews couple) and Isla Phillips (daughter of William’s cousin Peter and his wife, Autumn). Watching their friends become parents “does help” boost William and Kate’s decision to follow suit, a family insider tells PEOPLE. Taking note, British bookmaking firm Ladbrokes saw a spike in bets at the start of the year but recently shut down betting that a baby will arrive in 2012 because “time is running out” for one to be born before year’s end, says Jessica Bridge of Ladbrokes. (The odds of an announcement are currently 3-1.)
But as the couple continue to ready their nest at Kensington Palace, Wade and other longtime royal watchers doubt that the ever-savvy Kate-who enjoys a remarkably close bond with the Queen-would overshadow Her Majesty’s jubilee with a pregnancy announcement. And yet there is no question that when the time is right, the couple will prove themselves natural parents. Like Diana, a onetime kindergarten aide, Kate has an easy manner with children, whether coaxing an anxious youngster out of a bathroom at London’s Royal Marsden Hospital, as she did last fall, or teaching Scouts to tie knots at the troop meetings she quietly attends near William’s military base in Anglesey, Wales. Attending an event at the Dulwich Picture Gallery on March 15, “she was just adorable because she got right down with the children,” says the gallery’s Gillian Wolfe. “She spoke so kindly to them.”
When she’s not dazzling her littlest fans, the princess has been delighting in her first year of wedded bliss. “They are very, very much in love,” says a family friend. “Kate is a great supporter of her husband, and he is fantastically protective of her.” From the princess buying briefs for her man in anticipation of Valentine’s Day to the couple’s flirty chemistry while out on a date night to see Bridesmaids last summer, it’s clear that for the world’s most famous newlyweds, the honeymoon is far from over. The key, say sources close to them, is the duo’s ability to balance their public duties with their scrupulously guarded private lives. “They’ve got various compartments,” says a well-placed insider. “There’s the royal duties, the royal family, the Middleton family and their close team of friends.” From couples’ tennis matches to evenings spent at the homes of longtime pals, “their friends help keep them ‘normal,'” adds the insider. Likewise, the pair have savored their quiet life in Anglesey, where William continues to serve in the Royal Air Force. Whether walking the beach with their cocker spaniel puppy Lupo or stopping by the local pub, “they don’t get hassled here,” says one resident. The prince often plays in a pickup soccer league by the bay on Friday nights, while Kate is spotted grocery shopping at Tesco. “We wave and she waves back and says ‘hello,’ ” says a resident. “It’s like she’s one of us.”
With their anniversary fast approaching, a Palace source says the couple will mark the occasion in a “low-key” manner. Yes, they did save the top of their magnificent white-frosted wedding fruitcake-not to be eaten on their first anniversary, but rather to be served at their first child’s christening, per British tradition. When will that be? “Like any couple, they will let nature and life take its course,” says a royal insider. “It will be a joint decision, and they will make it when they’re ready.” Translation: There’s still time to knit a congratulatory baby blanket. But you may want to get started on it now.