January 08, 2001 12:00 PM

By all accounts Matt Lauer was stunned when he marched blindly into New York City’s posh Carlyle Hotel on Dec. 15. There, gathered (some two weeks early) to celebrate the Today co-host’s 43rd birthday, were 80 friends who had been secretly invited by his wife, Dutch-born model Annette Roque. “He thought he was going to an engagement party,” says pro golfer Ray Floyd, who was among the guests. “Everyone yelled ‘Happy Birthday’ and he realized it was for him. He really flushed.”

He wasn’t rattled for long though. Accustomed to thinking on his feet, Lauer soon turned the tables on his assembled pals—including Today’s Al Roker, CBS morning host Bryant Gumbel and golfer Greg Norman—with a surprise of his own: Roque, 34, was pregnant, Lauer announced, and expecting their first child in July. “Everyone cheered and had a glass of champagne,” says their friend, Boston Globe political cartoonist Paul Szep. “It was very emotional.”

Friends say Lauer has made no secret of his eagerness to have children since he and Roque, who met on a blind date in 1997, wed the following year. “It’s what they’ve been talking about,” says Szep. “It’s something he wants.” What’s more, Lauer, who often volunteers to interview children, will make “an amazing father,” says his friend, clothing designer Joseph Abboud. Meanwhile, MSNBC anchor Brian Williams, a father of two himself, has a word of s advice for his pal: “You’ve seen your last movie for a long time.”

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