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Baby fever cleans up UK royal image stain

– Prince William, his wife, Kate, and their infant son, the Prince of Cambridge, emerged Tuesday from London's St. Mary's Hospital to start a new chapter in their lives – capping a remarkable turnaround for a monarchy that had ended the 20th century at a low point of popularity.

The outpouring of public and official enthusiasm showed that Britain's royal family is back in its subjects' affections, especially now that it has an adorable infant heir.

Pictures of William, Kate and their baby, whose given names have yet to be announced, echoed a similar image taken 31 years ago, when Prince Charles and Princess Diana left the same hospital with baby William.

William and Kate looked much more relaxed than the awkward Charles and Diana, and within a few years, the older couple's image of regal domestic bliss had been comprehensively trashed.

By the late 1980s and early '90s, the royal family was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. More often than not, the stories were about marital troubles among the children of Queen Elizabeth II, especially for Charles and his unhappy wife, Diana.

Then in 1997 came Diana's death in a car crash – a personal tragedy that also became a crisis for the monarchy. Warm, glamorous and unhappy in her royal marriage, Diana had – in the eyes of many – been badly treated by the royal family.

But that image has since been transformed, partly because of the dignified endurance of Queen Elizabeth II, now in her 62nd year on the throne. At 87, she is the only monarch most have ever known, a reassuring presence at the heart of national life who has in recent years given public hints of her private sense of humor.

The baby adds a new layer of stability to help the institution thrive.

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