After 11 hours standing outside the Lindo Wing waiting for news of the royal baby yesterday, Buckingham Palace seemed like a welcome change of place.
It didn't remain that way for long.
Palace officials had broken with a longstanding tradition and first confirmed the royal baby's birth via press release. This news preempted not only the reveal of the official birth notice (displayed on that shiny gold easel at Buckingham Palace) but even came before a palace aide had left the Lindo Wing with that notice.
Most of the photographers at the Lindo Wing felt blindsided by the decision. They were not happy at all, though having spent hours if not days outside the hospital, that's maybe a given. One guy standing a little in front of me — on a much taller, wobblier stepladder than my own — called the PR move "horseshit." Others nodded in agreement, gingerly, so as to not risk knocking their cameras out of focus. After all, they'd only been given a few minutes warning to assemble on their ladders before the all-important palace aide exited the Lindo Wing (quite how such news travels, they'll never tell), just to have their moment scooped by just about anyone who happened to be checking Twitter at the right moment. The fervent royal fans who'd congregated around a corner were cheering the news a good few minutes before the photographers' pit had their photo opportunity.
And it was a moment, literally. Because once that aide with the notice (hidden safely in a chic maroon leather folder) had passed it off to the waiting black car, it was all over. At least for the day.
Here's the scene upon my arrival — about ten minutes after the notice had been delivered, but just prior to its placement in the palace forecourt.
And here are the crowds lining the Victoria Memorial. Many were paddling, because it had been disgustingly hot and humid all day long.
Critical mass: at Buckingham's gates. Photoshop in some pitchforks and flaming torches and it's the royal family's worst nightmare. (Well, that or more commoners marrying their way into the lineage.)
Discounting the occasional wide-eyed passerby and hospital patients caught up in the frenzy, just about everyone at the Lindo Wing knew why they were there and what they were waiting for. (Photos, news, and an excuse to wave little plastic Union Jack flags, basically.) The same could not be said for the crowds outside the palace however. Attendees seemed to fall into one of three categories: bemused tourists, tipsy British folk drinking wine out of plastic cups, and members of the media. Each group fed off the others in a clusterfuck of patriotic silliness that grew wilder and rowdier as the evening wore on.
Tourists asked face paint-wearing British patriots questions like when the Queen would make her appearance; in response, and in between swigs of wine, those proud patriots sang/shouted their way through some awful versions of "God Save the Queen." Those "musical" performances were repeated for the camera crews and roving reporters on the scene, who then turned to ask the milling tourists questions they didn't know the answers to. Pretty aimless, but fun and light-hearted all the same. Cycle, rinse, sweaty repeat.
Loud cheers and a little lightning storm of camera flashes soon marked the moment police officers stationed in the palace forecourt moved the now-famous easel-framed notice into place.
Though rendered wholly insignificant by that pesky press release, everyone still likes taking photos of ornate gold finery. So the crowds surged. (Also, the frame vaguely resembles that Princess Beatrice hat, a mark against which all things royal should now be judged.) In prime position were the photographers and journalists who'd scoped out their spots days earlier. They took their time getting their money shot, which led to lots of jeers from the crowd — "hurry up journos" and so on, except mostly ruder.
With the crowd six or seven people deep, the problem was that once you got to the gates to take your photos, you couldn't really get back out again.
After about a half hour, the police monitoring the notice started moving it up and down the forecourt. This was extremely frustrating.
In theory, a very helpful crowd-control measure: to stop everyone climbing over each to one central point.
In practise, not so much: you'd spend ten minutes squeezing your way to the railings for a glimpse, only for the easel to be moved just as you made it. This happened to me twice. By this point I had taken to wearing my backpack on my front, not to be that tourist but mainly to use it as a battering ram of sorts. (Also it made me feel a little bit like I was pregnant, and thus a little bit in solidarity with the Duchess on her big day.)
So that plan was scrapped, and the easel moved back to its spot behind the big, central palace gates.
It was now dark, and humid to the extent it was clear a big storm was brewing. Palace grounds officials tried suggesting folks leave and return the following day. (The notice remains displayed for 24 hours, and a shot during daylight is much prettier, after all.)
No such luck, though. The crowds continued to grow — now rowdy, and pushing towards that central point and that all-important photo. Being in the middle of it all was an extremely unpleasant experience, somewhere between a rugby scrum and a heavy metal concert so well attended that no-one can actually dance/flail/headbang properly but damn it they're going to try anyway.