From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Princess Kate was hoping for a little rest and relaxation. After all, it had been a busy week of royal engagements-and building baby buzz-during which her husband, Prince William, gratefully accepted a onesie labeled "Daddy's Little Co-Pilot" from a well-wisher on Nov. 28. Meanwhile Kate kept 'em guessing with a new hairstyle-feathered bangs: retro style whim or expert diversion tactic?-and a round of field hockey played in 3-in. heels during a visit to her old prep school St. Andrew's on Nov. 30. But soon after Kate arrived for a respite at the newly purchased $7.8 million home of her parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, in the quiet village of Bucklebury, she became violently ill. On Dec. 3 she and William raced in their Land Rover to London's King Edward VII Hospital, where Kate's admission forced the couple's hand, prompting them to prematurely reveal joyous news they'd been hoping to keep secret at least until Christmas: Yes, she's having a baby. "There is a real excitement," a royal source tells PEOPLE of the mood inside the palace. "We're really chuffed"-Brit-speak for giddy-"but obviously people are anxious about the duchess."

Diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), an acute and rare form of morning sickness, the expectant princess was struggling to keep down food and fluids and was joined at her hospital bedside by her husband of a year and a half. Palace sources say William, 30, informed the Queen, his dad, Prince Charles, and his brother Prince Harry-a British Army captain currently stationed in Afghanistan-before his wife, 30, was hospitalized, with friends only hearing the announcement when it went public. But don't expect the Queen to pay a bedside visit: "She doesn't normally go because it disrupts the running of the hospital," says the palace source. "The duchess just wants to recover and get out." If the dad-to-be was scared, he wasn't showing it. "He looked solemn, very calm and strong," an observer says of Will's exit from the hospital Dec. 3.

The hospitalization was a rare bump in the road for the otherwise charmed couple, whose April 29, 2011, wedding officially kicked off months of eager speculation, waistline watching and even high-stakes betting. The pregnancy is still "in its very early stages," according to a statement from the palace-around nine weeks or so, according to some estimates, given that the ever-cautious princess likely would not have become pregnant until after the couple headed home from their tour of Asia on Sept. 20 and stopped taking their antimalarial medication.

The announcement was greeted with widespread pride and joy by family, friends and fans alike. "This wonderful news tops off what's been quite a year for Britain, what with the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics," William's uncle Earl Charles Spencer tells PEOPLE. "I'm delighted for them both and can't wait to meet Diana's grandchild." The Queen herself "is just so happy," says a palace source. Capping her grand Diamond Jubilee celebration, "it has been a brilliant year and this has rounded it off. It has been incredible." To be sure, not since Princess Diana was expecting Will three decades ago has an expected heir-boy or girl, the baby will be third in line to the throne behind Prince Charles and Prince William-set off such global excitement. "It's terrific news," says a close family friend.

But concern also centered around Kate, who canceled her immediate upcoming engagements after her hospitalization for HG, which can last throughout the course of a pregnancy. The devastating disease, which affects up to 2 percent of pregnant women, is more likely to occur in those carrying multiples, spurring speculation that there may be two babies on the way. "I am sure Kate will cope with the challenge just as she has handled everything she has faced since becoming a duchess-with dignity, strength and courage," says fashion blogger Nikki Pennie, a longtime friend of the duchess and her sister Pippa. "She's a very maternal person."

Soon she'll be able to turn her nurturing skills to the "happy family" she has openly yearned for since her engagement to Prince William in November 2010. Not surprisingly, the hyper-diligent couple timed the pregnancy perfectly so as not to overshadow the Jubilee nor to disrupt a major foreign tour. "I don't think anything is left to chance," says Majesty editor Ingrid Seward. "Kate is probably one of the most organized [royal] women we've ever known." And yet in a departure from previous generations of royal mums-Diana and Queen Elizabeth had both borne their first children within 12 months of getting married-William and Kate, who famously dated for eight years before getting engaged, signaled from the start that they would be following their own timetable when it came to parenthood. "We'll sort of get over the marriage first and then maybe look at the kids," William said when the couple announced their engagement. "But obviously we want a family, so we'll have to start thinking about that."

There have been signs that the couple were gearing up to welcome a baby. During their high-profile trip to Asia in September, William told an inquiring well-wisher who asked how many kids they planned to have that they were "thinking of two." The pair have started working on family-friendly renovations-including an upstairs nursery-to the home they will settle in at London's Kensington Palace, where William spent many of his happiest childhood years alongside his brother and their mum, Diana. (They plan to make it their London residence as early as fall of next year.) They've also been savoring their first year of marriage in Anglesey, Wales, where William has been stationed as a Royal Air Force pilot and Kate has embraced a life of cozy domesticity: grocery shopping, home-cooked dinners and walks on the beach with their first baby, royal cocker spaniel Lupo. "She has been making cakes for the crew and has thrown herself into the life of the wife of a serving officer," says an RAF source. And she continues to volunteer with the local Scout troop, even teaching kids how to gut fish during a summer party. "She enjoys being part of it," says a scouting source.

It's a fondness for simple pleasures that Kate developed in her own childhood, which was spent in Bucklebury alongside sister Pippa and brother James. Raised by dad Michael and hands-on mom Carole-a former airline attendant who started the family's lucrative party-planning business in part to spend more time at home with her children-Kate enjoyed a bucolic upbringing that she and William hope to provide for their own children. As for William's childhood, "Diana was completely instrumental in the upbringing of William," says Ken Wharfe, who served as Princess Diana's bodyguard throughout the princes' early years. "She wanted him home and not at a boarding school. She wanted to pick him and Harry up from school and drop them off. My guess is that William will follow exactly the same route." At the same time, he and Harry were placed under nannies' care from a very young age per royal tradition-but "under Charles and Diana, the nursery was more open to their parents," says Wharfe. William's nannies Olga Powell and Barbara Barnes "were both fairly strict due to the fact that this was an heir to the throne and you have to learn right from the beginning how to behave," says former royal chef Darren McGrady, who prepared William's first meals of pureed apples and carrots. At the same time, Powell "was wonderfully calm," says Wharfe. "She was there to look after the kids while their parents were working."

While the ecstatic grandparents-to-be can't wait to spoil their new grandchild, the expectant parents are focused on supporting each other throughout the pregnancy. "They're completely in love: You can tell by the glances, the reassuring smiles," says Emma Hyde of the homeless charity Jimmy's, which the couple visited on Nov. 28. Already fiercely protective of his wife, look for William to be by her side from her current hospitalization to delivery and diapers. "He will be the most wonderful father," says a family friend.

Until then, all eyes will be on the mum-to-be. Her trendsetting style will no doubt make an immediate splash in the world of maternity wear. "Kate will be a maternity style icon," declares British maternity-wear designer Rosie Pope. "Whatever she wears, the world will be watching, and no doubt pregnant women will be inspired everywhere."

While the world awaits the debut of the newest heir to the British throne, no one is more eager to meet the new arrival than the proud-and nervous-first-time royal parents. "[Knowing] they love and respect each other," says Wharfe, "there's no reason to think they will be anything but good parents."

PARENTS-TO-BE

"They will be caring and attentive parents," a friend says of William and Kate (at St George's Park in Staffordshire Oct. 9). Adds royal watcher Judy Wade: "She will be a doting mum. And he will be a besotted dad."

A HUSBAND'S FEARS AMID THE FRENZY

With Kate admitted to London's King Edward VII Hospital on Dec. 3, William spent the day by her side before leaving for the evening (top), while a media camp remained (below).

SUDDENLY SICK

Kate was relaxing at the Bucklebury home of her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton (above), when she fell ill and was rushed to King Edward VII Hospital (below).

  • Contributors:
  • Dimi Gaidatzi/London,
  • Phil Boucher/Bucklebury.