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by Katy Lee

 

LONDON (AFP) - From spoof Twitter accounts to feverish speculation about names, the Internet went into a frenzy Tuesday over the unborn child of Prince William and his wife Catherine as the first royal baby of the online age.

News of the former Kate Middleton's pregnancy -- announced by the royal family on Twitter -- met with an explosion of posts on social networks, from joyous congratulations to those pleading for the media coverage to end already.

It is perhaps of little comfort to Catherine, in hospital for a second day on Tuesday with severe morning sickness, that within minutes of the announcement her baby already had a slew of spoof accounts "live-tweeting from the royal womb".

"CURRENT STATUS: DARK IN HERE, WILL UPDATE," tweeted @RoyalFoetus, which has 6,000 followers.

The rival @RoyalFetus, which has 9,000 followers, added: "I may not have bones yet, but I'm already more important than everyone reading this. #royalbaby #sorry".

The hashtag #royalbaby instantly rocketed to the top of Twitter's "trending topics" list on the announcement.

Interest was so great that the official website of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, as the couple are officially known, crashed due to high demand.

Meanwhile, online topics of royal baby-related conversation have ranged from likely names and godparents to the probability that the new third-in-line to the British throne will inherit the famous ginger locks of its uncle, Prince Harry.

Bookmakers predict that the couple will name the baby after a close relative, with William's late mother Diana among the early front-runners if it is a girl and John, George and Charles among the favourite boys' names.

But mischievous web-users have made their own helpful suggestions about what William and Catherine should call the baby.

One gleefully suggested "Austerity" to reflect the public mood in Britain as it struggles to climb out of recession, while others plumped for a down-to-earth name bringing the monarchy closer to the people, such as "Kevin".

Online chatter has also turned to reports that Catherine could be expecting twins -- potentially spelling constitutional double-trouble for the royal family.

"So if Kate has twins and a C-section," wrote one tweeter, echoing the thoughts of many, "does the doctor get to choose who will be the next in line for the throne?"

"What if there are twins and they're born by C section at the same time?" wrote another. "A pair of heirs?"

Others have been revelling in the array of computerised images, hastily put together by newspapers and websites, showing what the child may look like.

Some of the more sinister versions transpose William's thinning hairline onto pictures of the hypothetical toddler.

One thing is clear -- with Catherine believed to be less than 12 weeks pregnant and much more of this to come -- those already tiring of #royalbaby-talk may wish to flee the Internet for a few months.

Prince William visited his pregnant wife Kate in hospital on Tuesday where she was spending a second day being treated for acute morning sickness, as messages of congratulations poured in from around the world.

The announcement on Monday that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, both 30, are expecting their first child ended feverish speculation about a new royal heir that began immediately after their lavish wedding in April 2011.

The child will be third in line to the throne.

It will also be directly in line to become the monarch regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy, after a historic agreement among the 16 Commonwealth realms last year to end the practice of male primogeniture.

St James's Palace said Kate was still at the "very early stages" of pregnancy -- she is believed to be less than 12 weeks -- but it is thought the news was released because her admission to hospital would have made her condition public.

Kate has hyperemesis gravidarum, a very acute form of morning sickness which affects 3.5 in every 1,000 pregnant women.

Although it should not harm the baby if treated correctly, it can be highly unpleasant for the mother as it causes severe vomiting and carries a danger of dehydration and nutritional deficiencies.

William, the second in line to the throne after his father Prince Charles, was at his wife's bedside at the private King Edward VII Hospital in central London following her admission on Monday afternoon, before leaving at 8:20pm.

He returned again on Tuesday at about 11:30am (1130 GMT) although, like the night before, he did not acknowledge the waiting media outside.

Kate is expected to stay in hospital for several days and will then require a period of rest, a palace spokeswoman said, adding that her public engagements have been cancelled for the next week.

Officials said the couple only "recently" became aware that Kate was pregnant although there has been speculation for months, fuelled by images of the duchess sipping water instead of wine at official dinners.

She showed no sign of being ill at her most recent public engagement on Friday, when she displayed her hockey skills at her old primary school, wearing high-heeled boots and an Alexander McQueen tartan coat.

There was reportedly a rush to inform members of the royal family of the news before the public announcement, which came just after 4:00pm (1600 GMT) on Monday.

Queen Elizabeth II, her husband Prince Philip, Charles -- for whom this is his first grandchild -- and his wife Camilla were said by the palace to be "delighted", as were Kate's parents, Carole and Michael Middleton.

William's brother Prince Harry, 28, who will be bumped down to fourth in the line of succession by the new arrival, was reportedly informed by email in Afghanistan, where he is deployed as an Apache attack helicopter pilot.

News of the pregnancy sparked huge excitement in the British press as well as feverish Internet speculation about what the child will be called and what it will look like, with numerous bizarre mock-up photographs being circulated.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who had his fourth child in 2010, led the congratulations by saying the royal couple would make "wonderful parents".

US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle, who met William and Kate during a state visit to Britain last year, also sent their congratulations on the "welcome news", the White House said.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the news "is going to bring joy to many around the world", while her New Zealand counterpart John Key said it was "fabulous".

New Zealand had led a push for Commonwealth realms to scrap centuries-old laws barring first-born daughters from inheriting the throne and the countries agreed to the reform last year at a meeting in the Australian city of Perth.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed the government was putting "the finishing touches" to legislation enshrining the new rules of succession.

The Sun tabloid celebrated the news with the headline "Kate Expectations" while the Daily Mail ran the splash "A nation's joy, a husband's nerves".

Many commentators speculated on whether there may be two babies, because hyperemesis gravidarum is apparently more common in mothers carrying twins.

 

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