By Louise Lague
Updated November 23, 1981 12:00 PM

It seemed as though the rice had hardly been swept off the steps of St. Paul’s before Britain was proudly atwitter over a new royal announcement: The newlywed Diana, Princess of Wales, is expecting to deliver an heir to the throne sometime in June. After a brief pause during which “the nation’s mums counted on their fingers,” as one wry observer put it, the Buckingham Palace switchboard was jammed with congratulatory calls, hundreds of well-wishers gathered at the gates, and Fleet Street hailed the “WONDERFUL NEWS” in banner headlines.

The blessed event, if all goes well, will occur a prompt if perfectly proper 11 months after the July 29 wedding. Still, Diana and Prince Charles won’t be setting any royal speed record: Princess Alexandra and the future King Edward VII had their first child just 10 months after their 1863 wedding. But the present-day couple’s announcement did set a new mark for informality. Charles’ own impending birth in November 1948 was officially heralded by a cryptic communiqué stating only that his mother would “undertake no public engagements after the end of June.” By contrast, Charles and Diana’s chatty message described all concerned as “delighted” and even named the attending physician. He is George Pinker, 56, the Queen’s gynecologist, who previously delivered the children of Princess Anne, the Duchess of Gloucester and Princess Michael of Kent.

The child will be second in line to the throne after Charles, thus displacing his brother Andrew, though a female would be shunted aside if a boy were to arrive later. Other official intelligence: The baby will be known as “for example, His Royal Highness Prince David of Wales or Her Royal Highness Princess Mary of Wales.” Actually, the most likely names for a male are George, Edward, Philip (in honor of Charles’ father) and Louis (the name of his favorite great-uncle, the late Lord Mountbatten). For a girl, the top contenders are the names of the parents’ mothers, Frances and Elizabeth. Inevitably, bookmakers began taking odds—10-11 on a boy, evens on a girl, and 50-1 on twins, who run in the mother-to-be’s family.

Charles and Diana were being a lot jollier about the prospects of parenthood than other British royals. Charles’ sometimes sulfurous sister Princess Anne, the mother of two, has been heard to grumble that impending motherhood is “very boring.” Queen Victoria, who loved parties and traveling, was “most displeased” when she first became pregnant by Prince Albert in 1840. When the child turned out to be a girl, she snapped, “Never mind, the next will be a prince.” (Indeed, a year later she gave birth to the future Edward VII.) Even if the realm is rooting for a male successor, Charles and Diana, or so her father, Earl Spencer, insists, “don’t mind whether it’s a boy or a girl. They’re just pleased.”

So are most Britons, who immediately began speculating about who knew and when. With the child due in June, it most probably got under way when the honeymooners had left the yacht Britannia and hied off to Balmoral, the royal estate in Scotland. The Princess presumably was not aware of her condition in early October, when she rode a horse for the first time since a bad fall in 1970. She might have found out soon after, because on Oct. 14 she took an unannounced one-day trip to London, ostensibly to shop and later to inspect redecoration at Highgrove House, the couple’s country estate.

If she did fly to London for a pregnancy test that day, calculates a New York physician, the chances are she got suspicious about Oct. 10, waited four days to be sure the test would be accurate, and learned the results the same day. If so, the baby would be due in mid-June.

By the end of October Diana joined Charles on a three-day visit to Wales, her first official tour. She appeared thinner (a not unusual side effect of the queasiness of early pregnancy) and noticeably glowing (ditto). Another tip-off came on the couple’s visit to a maternity ward on their last day in Wales. Pausing at the doorsill, the Princess cried, “Oh, babies!” and rushed forward to question the new mothers on their experiences. The Prince, meanwhile, asked one woman if her husband had been present for the delivery. Shyly, she said yes, and he pronounced it “a very good thing.”

Still guarding their secret, Charles and Diana moved into Highgrove on Halloween. Then they started November with a busy week in London. One night they saw Gallipoli at the premiere of a film festival. Next morning it was the opening of Parliament, where Diana stole the show in white chiffon and mink, six strands of pearls and a new diamond tiara. (One paper ran a breathless report on “Diana…in all her majesty” and barely even mentioned the Queen’s speech.) That evening the two turned up at a do at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but Diana begged off from a subsequent concert and dinner with the Italian ambassador.

The Palace made its announcement the next morning. At a luncheon the same day, Col. Sir Ronald Gardner-Thorpe, the Lord Mayor of London, hastily included in his speech of welcome to Charles and Di a sentimental definition of babies as “bits of Stardust blown from the hand of God.” Even the staid London Times reported that the buttonless tweed coat she wore that day had “plenty of room for expansion.”

Diana’s schedule has been cut back. Charles will ski alone this winter, and their planned 1982 tour of Australia, New Zealand and Canada almost certainly will be canceled. Still, Di won’t have to go into hiding; Princess Margaret long ago broke the royal convention of not appearing publicly while visibly gravid.

At 20, Diana is too young to be a candidate for amniocentesis, a test for mongolism and spina bifida often done on pregnant women over 35. But she will probably undergo several sonograms to see that things are going well. She may also break the tradition of bearing royal heirs in Buckingham Palace and be delivered in nearby St. Mary’s Hospital. Her doctor is a natural childbirth advocate who approves of anesthesia when appropriate and likes to have fathers in the delivery room. (Prince Philip was playing squash and swimming in the Palace pool when Charles arrived.) Princess Anne, who has had both her babies under his supervision, delivered with the help of an epidural anesthesia (an injection in the lower back that suppresses labor pains). Her husband, Mark Phillips, was at her side.

If tradition holds, the new arrival will be greeted (as was Charles) with bells, cannon and bonfires. The nursery at Highgrove has already been finished in royal blue and gold. So has the adjoining nanny’s room, which may be occupied by Mabel Anderson, 55, who tended Charles 30 years ago. Diana is expected to breast-feed for a short time, and modern disposable diapers will probably be eschewed for the traditional cloth “nappies” favored by British nannies.

Though Diana’s talent with kids is well established—she taught kindergarten in a London private school—so are the problems of bringing up potential heirs to the throne. In a new book Royal Children (Stein & Day, $12.95) British author Celia Clear notes that royal parents “have to teach their children to be public figures, as well as civilized human beings, and they have to achieve both these ends in the unnatural surroundings of a royal court.” The author says British princes are taught humility through a routine of “sensible clothes, few parties, not too many toys and very dull meals.” (Charles’ favorite was boiled chicken and rice.) A royal child cannot be allowed to be either overly shy or assertive. The once notably diffident Charles was pushed off at age 8 to his father’s Spartan boarding school, Cheam, where he was miserable. As Prince Philip once observed, royal children “soon discover that it’s much safer to unburden yourself to a member of the family rather than to just a friend. You see, you’re never quite sure…a small indiscretion can lead to all sorts of difficulties.”

As a mum, Diana is expected to be more hands-on than the average royal. Queen Victoria supervised the bathing of her nine offspring, but took care never to touch them. Queen Elizabeth, by contrast, bathed and tucked in her children as often as she could. Diana-watchers predict that she will (horrors!) keep the baby in stretch suits between formal photos in the family christening dresses and trot it around in a stroller instead of the traditional Silver Cross pram.

And what maternity fashions will she favor as time goes on? The British fashion world is counting on Diana to put smocks on the map, just as she has the ostrich-plumed hat, the high ruffled collar and very low-heeled shoes. At a healthy 5’10”, Diana should carry the baby well and continue to look spectacular. In fact, if the Princess’s influence on the nation continues as it has, every young woman in the Commonwealth may soon want to be—or at least look—royally expectant.