How a military-style operation kept Kate safe from the prying eyes of a global media
The world's media had been camped outside for weeks in the hope of being first with the news of her hospital admission, but when Kate Middleton arrived at St Mary's Hospital shortly after 5.30am yesterday, she managed to give every one of them the slip.
The only person who caught sight of William and Kate was Jesal Parshotam, a freelance photographer, but by the time he realised which entrance they were heading for, they were already inside.
He had the consolation of being the first to publish the news, which came, with a certain inevitability, via Twitter, when he sent a tweet at 5.55am saying: "Kate Middleton has gone into hospital."
His tweet was treated with scepticism by newspapers and broadcasters who had already seen one too many false dawns.
They began calling Kensington Palace, who stonewalled for more than half an hour until Kate had been seen by her medical team and was "settled" in her private room at the Lindo Wing.
Only then, at 7.28am, did the Palace issue official confirmation that Kate was in labour and had been admitted.
In truth, aside from one little-noticed tweet, the final weeks and days of Kate's pregnancy had been a master-class in stage management, during which the media did not once manage to photograph her or second-guess her plans.
Kate (31) chose to spend almost all of last week with her parents at their Georgian manor house in Bucklebury, Berkshire, where she was joined last Monday by her husband.
The house, which the Middletons bought for £4.7m (€5.5m) last year, offers total seclusion from the outside world, as it is down a quiet country lane, with tall hedges protecting its gardens from prying eyes, and has 18 acres of land in which Kate could enjoy the blistering July weather.
In the middle of the afternoon on Friday, which was, according to one source, Kate's due date, she and William quietly slipped out of Bucklebury, unnoticed by locals or the handful of freelance photographers keeping an eye on the surrounding lanes, and returned to their London home at Kensington Palace.
The Palace, where extensive renovations are still being carried out to the large apartment which will become the couple's new family home, may not be as peaceful as rural Berkshire, but it is less than five minutes' drive from St Mary's.
It meant Kate could now be certain that her baby would be born in the Lindo Wing, rather than at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, which was "plan B" if there had been an emergency while she was staying with her parents.
The first sign that a birth might be imminent came at 10pm on Sunday night, when royalty protection officers reportedly drove around the entrances of St Mary's in a "dummy run" witnessed by photographers and television crews.
Whether they knew something the rest of us did not, or whether they were merely carrying out one of several drive-pasts to make sure everything was as it should be, was not being discussed by royal aides yesterday.
But shortly after 5.30am came the real thing. Once again, William and Kate's staff had thought out every detail, and chose a dark blue Ford Galaxy people carrier to drive Kate to the hospital, rather than the Range Rovers, Land Rover Discoveries and Jaguars they normally use.
An ageing Saab 95 was used as the police back-up car to further confuse anyone watching out for a motorcade of "royal" cars, and the couple were taken to a rear entrance of the Mary Stanford wing at St Mary's, which joins onto the Lindo Wing.
They were spotted by Jesal Parshotam, but he was not quick enough to get to the entrance before William and Kate were inside the hospital, meaning none of the photographers who had been staking out the building since the start of July managed to get a picture of Kate arriving.
Had they known their history, they would have been aware that Diana, Princess of Wales used exactly the same entrance when she was admitted to the Lindo Wing to give birth to Prince William in 1982.
With no pictures of Kate to sell, Jesal Parshotam used Twitter to make a virtue of his sighting of the couple.
His 5.55am tweet, sent several minutes after he had seen William and Kate's cars, was followed seconds later by his colleague Darren Sacks, with whom he had shared the news, who tweeted the rather less restrained: "World Exclusive Duchess of Cambridge is in labour!!!"
Luckily for Kensington Palace, the tweets were treated with a pinch of salt by the mainstream media, which had endured false alarms on an almost daily basis for weeks on end.
Mr Parshotam (24) said he and his friend Mr Sacks (30) had been at the hospital since 8pm the previous evening.
He said: "We were just standing outside chilling and talking and then it all happened. The cars showed up.
"They were very, very simple cars – it was very discreet ... the protection officers jumped out and they all rushed in.
"It was a very swift manoeuvre. The Duchess went in and the cars were gone very quickly – within a minute.
"That was it."
When Kate's staff began receiving phone calls asking if the tweets were correct, they merely batted away questions by saying, as they had done on previous occasions, that they "wouldn't comment on speculation".
One Palace insider said: "It was important to us that the couple were inside the hospital, that the Duchess was settled and that she had been seen by medical staff before we confirmed anything."
The waiting photographers had also missed another tell-tale sign that Kate was about to give birth: Marcus Setchell, the queen's former gynaecologist and the man chosen to supervise the birth, had arrived at the hospital shortly after Kate, having been woken at his home in north London to be told he was needed.
Kate was already in the early stages of labour by the time she arrived at the hospital, and 69-year-old Mr Setchell, who has abstained from alcohol since mid-June in expectation of the birth, was one of the first to be told.
He was joined at the hospital by Alan Farthing, the queen's current gynaecologist and his assistant for the royal birth, as well as midwives and other medical staff from St Mary's.
The best laid plans had gone like clockwork, but what neither they, nor anyone waiting outside, could control was the hour of the baby's arrival.
That came at 4.24pm, but it was four hours later before the waiting world got the news.
By Gordon Rayner