In April of 2011, everyone got a day off work to watch Prince William and Kate Middleton get married. Two years and a topless scandal later and the Duchess of Cambridge is in labour in St Mary's hospital in Paddington, London, waiting for her contractions to get closer and probably screaming quite a lot while the world's media lay in wait outside, salivating at the thought of capturing a shot of the slimy newborn king beast with their telephoto lenses.
However, before the paps and various international royal correspondents managed to plant themselves opposite the hospital, a load of royal fanatics (i.e. bored people who probably don't have jobs) had already beaten them to the best spots. Some had been camping out for several days.
We decided to go and meet some of the people for whom the birth of a child they'll likely never meet apparently warrants roasting inside a tent on a busy street in central London during Britain's hottest summer for seven years.
VICE: Hi Charlie. You say you’ve been here for seven days?
Charlie Louthrey, royal superfan: Yeah. I’m on the [Diana court] transcripts. I went to the inquest; I’m on the transcripts. I stood outside with Diana written in bold across my forehead and Dodi on my cheeks.
And you testified?
No, I went there every day as a fan and I was mentioned in the inquest.
Because I’m a big fan of the royal family. I have been for years.
And the coroner mentioned you just because you were providing a lot of support?
Yep. I was the first one at the royal wedding. I was on the front page of the Times – I was very touched. I also had my portrait painted. It took 60 hours. It’s going to the National Portrait Gallery. I've been sleeping on that bench [points to a bench] this whole time and I'll stay here until the baby is born.
What are you hoping for when it comes – a boy or a girl?
Well, I’m very excited. Last night I could hear thunder and lightning, and that’s got to be a good sign – the gods have been down, so the baby must be near. But the most important thing is that it is a healthy baby, and that the mum is a healthy. Then we can see if it's a boy or a girl. I'd like a girl, but whatever will be will be.
Okay. What made you love the royal family so much?
When I was a little boy, my mum gave me the wrong medicine. She gave me red, white and blue [pills]; the Union Jack colours. And that sparked it off.
Maria: We’ve [Maria was there with her daughter, Amy] been down from Newcastle for the royal wedding, for the Queen’s diamond jubilee and the coronation service at Westminster Abbey just recently.
Were you camping those times as well?
Yeah, yeah. There were three of us here before, but my friend's gone home now. And my partner is at home watching us on the TV.
What does he think of you coming down here to camp out?
He says just go and do what you love – just go and do it.
Ah, that's nice. Where are you all washing, and that sort of thing?
The hospital staff have been very good, letting us use the facilities. They’ve been absolutely fabulous.
Among all the radical royalists, paps and journalists crowding in front of the hospital, it was hard not to notice that access to the A&E department was being pretty much entirely obscured. We asked one of many police officers in the area if she thought all these people might hinder the smooth running of the emergency department.
She answered, "We're doing our best." Which didn't exactly fill us with confidence, considering their "best" seemed to roughly translate to "absolutely nothing at all". But whatever – as long as the front of a building is properly photographed from every possible angle, knife-wound and car crash victims can just fucking wait their turn, right?
At one point, this man started yelling that the child had been born and everyone got very excited. However, it soon transpired that he was just a performance artist carrying out some of the most tediously predictable performance art imaginable. Sadly, before he could tell everyone exactly what his art was about (presumably that monarchy = bad + royalists = sheep), the police instructed him to shut up.
The man then asked them what law he was breaking. The police told him that he was breaking the law of decency that says you don’t scream outside sick people’s windows with a megaphone. That seemed fair, so he took his medicine and walked over to the other side of the road.
With that little glimmer of excitement over, we had another walk around to chat to more of the assorted throng.
Vam: I've been here for seven days – I come in the morning and stay until 8 or 9 o'clock.
Wow. How long have you been a fan of the royal family?
Oh no, I’m not. I’ve come down to show people this [gets out a pamphlet for the Osho school of meditation].
Right. Is this your organisation?
No, no, he’s my master. All over the world. I tell people about him if someone asks.
So you’re spreading his word?
No, no – just here for the celebration. The celebration of the new child. Whether I will see the baby or not, I’m not sure. I can’t go in the hospital. But I can find out if it’s a boy or a girl.
Okay, I'm kind of confused now. What do you do when you're not doing this?
My family lives here. I am a tourist from Mumbai. My visa runs out in October.
Terry: I've been here for 12 days. I was the first here.
How did you know Kate was going to go into labour 12 days ago?
I just came down.
Fair enough. Where have you come from?
Cambridge. I got involved in all of this when I was four years old. We were in the war and the royal family were thinking of moving to America. They turned around and said, “We’re not going.” I think that’s why Hitler gave up when he did. He was probably frightened of them. One day, I met the Queen, and all she said was, “You look very nice.” Then I asked her where she lived and she said, “Just around the corner.” Then she said that it was her birthday and that I could go round to her house. But I got the dates mixed up and went a day too soon, so I camped out.
Okay, great. Do you think the baby is going to be a boy or a girl?
Well, the way we used to do it was that, if you had a little bump, you’ve got a little girl. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a girl. I’m not really worried because I know they’re going to have another baby later anyway. If it’s a boy, it should be called Terrence Norman. If it’s a girl, it should be named after my grand-daughter, Amber Tracey.
Cool. Thanks, Terry.
Hi. Did you just come down here today?
Kaya Mar, artist: No, I’ve been coming down here for a couple of weeks.
How long did it take to paint that?
This took two days.
Impressive. What’s the symbolism going on here?
Symbolism? She is an object of devotion, and the new baby is like a new saviour. The red sock has two holes in it because the baby is born at a time of austerity.
But the royal family aren’t poor, are they?
Yes, but it’s a metaphor.
I'm anti-royal. I think the royal family is a corrupt institution. It should have been left in history a long time ago and we should have a modern constitution to help us look forward. This country, England, went to war without asking Parliament, without asking people – that’s a corruption of an institution.
What’s that got to do with the royals?
No, it’s to do with an institution.
Alright. What made you paint this picture?
This is satire! England: lovely people, decent, compassionate. But too traditional. They are locked in the past.
After an hour or so of hanging around, we started to get bored. And, as it turned out, we weren't the only ones; all the journalists had entered a sweepstake to bet on when the royal foetus would pop out into its new world of shooting Scottish grouse and Nazi fancy dress gaffes.
We then weaved through the media snake pit to track down a few normos who'd had the gall to fall ill on the day the royal baby was being born. We asked them whether being surrounded by hundreds or excitable people was either adding or detracting to their overall experience of being sick at St Mary's hospital. They largely seemed to agree that it was an inconvenience.
The baby arrived at about 4.24PM that afternoon. It was a boy, but you already know that by now. Mother and child are fine and the weight no one will ever care about. What we don't know yet is its name – here's hoping one member of the gambling press pack has got a piece of paper somewhere with "Terrence Norman" written on it.
More stuff about the royals:
WATCH – Royal Wedding