His Royal Highness of Nappies met the world Tuesday, his parents smiling above his bitty bald head. He had the lips of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. He had more hair, the joke went, than Prince William. The new parents loaded the car seat and drove away gingerly for baby's first ride in a sensible SUV.
"Any family knows how we feel," the duchess said.
Except, the couple drove away from cameras, reporters and screaming onlookers with smart phones, from tweets and sound bites and side-by-side pictures of hopeful Kate and tragic Diana, into the next chapter of a story so many people feel they know, but really can only imagine.
The public appetite for royal baby news is massive. The question is, why?
"The royals have been a reliable bestseller for us, and not just for us, for many publications, for many, many years," said Albert Lee, executive editor of US Weekly, who edited the royal baby collector's issue. "I think that when you have the birth of a royal baby, nothing else really seems relevant at that moment."
As soon as the birth was announced on a golden easel Monday, the kitsch began. Pizza Hut put a "Royal Cheasel" outside its Texas headquarters. On Twitter, a fake royal baby account had almost 50,000 followers. One tweet: "Not even got a name and I'm more famous than you. . . . Night peasants."
The Today show had interns standing around in crowns and crushed velvet capes. Spice Girl Melanie Brown guest-hosted, looking slightly baffled by the display. When host Willie Geist speculated Americans were more excited than Brits, she said, "I think you are, a little bit."
The two countries share customs, a language and a history, Lee said. But Americans have never had the British pageantry and want a taste of it.
"On one level, we're witnessing the birth of a very, very famous child to a very famous couple," Lee said. "Brad and Angelina have nothing on William and Kate. On another level, one of the reasons the public wants to take part in it is because this child will one day become the head of state, the constitutional monarch of not just the United Kingdom but of commonwealth countries around the world, of Canada, of Antigua, of Jamaica. It is, in a sense, a political event."
And there's the closeness people feel to the story.
Vanessa Wooding, owner of British Delicious tea house and deli in Dunedin, served free tea and cake shaped like a pram Tuesday. Her generation followed Diana's life, said Wooding, 39. She remembers growing up in England, racing to get HELLO! magazine, watching the princess dance with John Travolta. She admired her fashion sense, how Diana took her sons to homeless shelters.
"I grew up with her," she said.
But not everyone feels the connection, and in the era of social media, there's equal opportunity for naysayers. The Huffington Post offered steps to block royal baby news from your computer. Others tweeted anger at the worship of wealth, providing links to charities that help poor kids.
"We live in a polarized culture," said Andrew McAlister, a communication professor at the University of Tampa who studies pop culture and ideology in media. "Not only do we have a huge expectation of celebrity awareness and obsession, but we have a counterbalance of people thinking that kind of interest in celebrity is remarkably stupid, especially when it really has nothing to do with them."
A group of women sat at a sweltering bus stop Tuesday in downtown St. Petersburg. They wondered if the royal baby might be in danger of kidnapping. They wondered if Will and Kate might sit for an Oprah Winfrey interview.
But Shaunta Witchard had spent the day at the doctor with her own sick toddler, who sat in a stroller munching a cookie. She wasn't worried about a baby halfway across the world. She was worried about real life.
"That baby's going to eat well," she said of the royal baby. "It's already rich."
Her son started to cry. She gave him a big kiss on the head. His name is Solomon.
"I wanted to name him King Solomon," she said. "But I didn't want everyone calling him King."
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3394.
Baby's name still under consideration
William said the couple were still working on the baby's name. "We will have that as soon as we can. It's the first time we have seen him really, so we are having a proper chance to catch up."
Dad takes the wheel for short drive home
For the ride home, the infant was buckled into a car baby seat. With William driving, a royal security aide beside him and Kate with the infant in the back seat, they then set off in a black Range Rover. Their destination was Kensington Palace, a short drive away across Hyde Park, which is to be the couple's permanent London home.
Kate's dress kindles a memory of Diana
The Duchess of Cambridge wore a sky blue, empire-waisted Jenny Packham dress with a polka dot pattern, and her trusty Pied a Terre wedge heels. Comparisons to Princess Diana's polka-dot dress, worn for Prince Williams' debut in 1982, were immediate.
Grandmother: 'He's absolutely beautiful'
The family appeared before a waiting throng after Prince Charles and Camilla, duchess of Cornwall, visited the hospital late Tuesday afternoon. Earlier, the baby's maternal grandparents stopped by for a visit. "He's absolutely beautiful," Carole Middleton, Kate's mother, told reporters. Middleton said her first cuddle with the baby was "amazing."
Royal gun salutes, abbey bells ring out
At the same time Tuesday afternoon, a 41-gun salute went off in Green Park, next to Buckingham Palace; a 62-gun salute began at the Tower of London; and a peal of bells rang out at Westminster Abbey that lasted three hours. The number of rounds fired in a royal salute depends on the place and occasion. The basic royal salute is 21 rounds. An extra 20 rounds are added for a royal park. At the Tower of London, 62 rounds are fired on royal anniversaries (the basic 21, plus 20 because the Tower is a royal palace and fortress, plus another 21 for the city of London) and 41 on other occasions.