Forget Brexit. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan announced on Monday they were expecting their first baby, setting off a media frenzy, debates over the royal name, and expressions of delight from the queen.
Kensington Palace said Queen Elizabeth II’s 34-year-old grandson and the 37-year-old U.S. actress, who had just arrived in Sydney ahead of a 16-day tour of the Pacific, would be having a child in the spring.
“The Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are very pleased to announce that the Duchess of Sussex is expecting a baby in the spring of 2019,” their Kensington Palace residence said in a statement. “Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public.”
The queen was said to be “delighted,” Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted her “warmest congratulations,” and Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland said she was “very happy about this lovely news.”
“Happy news to wake up to on a Monday morning,” U.S. Ambassador Woody Johnson said in his own tweet.
The big announcement came with the nation gloomily pondering the prospects of Britain crashing out of the European Union without an agreement, after feverish negotiations hit a weekend roadblock.
TV stations broke away from their Brexit coverage, banner headlines appeared on newspaper websites, and bookmakers began taking bets on the name of the future seventh in line to the British throne.
Google saw a spike in searches for “when is spring?”—the answer in Britain is March through May—while newspapers played up an intercontinental rivalry over what the baby, who will become either an earl or lady, will be called.
Meghan was a popular U.S. actress before becoming the Duchess of Sussex. Some U.K. media said the Los Angeles native would try to draw on her American roots, meeting possible resistance from the palace. The bookies’ instant pick was Diana—the name of the late princess who was mother to both Prince Harry and his older brother Prince William—along with Arthur and Alice.
Baby talk greeted the couple in Sydney, sparked by Meghan carrying two large purple folders over her stomach, which was further concealed in a loose all-black outfit. “Is the Duchess of Sussex hiding a Royal secret?” Sydney’s Daily Telegraph asked. It turned out that she was—although speculation about Britain’s next royal baby really began well before the couple celebrated a fairytale wedding at Windsor Castle on May 19.
Harry set off the rumor mill shortly after their November engagement, telling the BBC: “Hopefully we’ll start a family in the near future.”
Meghan made her name in acting as savvy para-legal Rachel Zane in the U.S. television legal drama Suits, a world far removed from Buckingham Palace. Her first steps as a British royal have therefore been cautious, immaculately scripted and very well received.
It is all but mandatory for a major royal to have a charity project, and Meghan’s choice addressed the biggest tragedy to befall Britain in the past years. The June 2017 Grenfell Tower fire in London killed 71 people and raised uncomfortable questions about the government’s approach to low income families who lived there. Meghan wrote the foreword to the recipe collection entitled Together: Our Community Cookbook, produced by women who suffered in the fatal blaze.
Britons also swooned after seeing Meghan nonchalantly closing her own car door at her first solo engagement last month in London. To many, it meant Meghan remained down-to-earth and without pretenses—a princess of the people.
The BBC’s royal correspondent said this scrutiny will only intensify in Australia, New Zealand and the islands of Fiji and Tonga, which the couple will visit despite a notice advising pregnant women to stay away because of the Zika virus.
The decision came after consultations with doctors, Kensington Palace said. “This is now the duchess’s pregnancy tour—every step of the way she will be greeted with a new level of excitement and with some degree of concern,” the BBC’s Jonny Dymond wrote.