Britain’s royal family announced the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton, putting her in line to become the first commoner to be queen in modern times.
William, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II and son of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, will marry Middleton “in the spring or summer of 2011 in London,” William’s father, Prince Charles, said in a statement issued by his office in London. The announcement ends years of speculation about whether the second in line to the throne would propose to his girlfriend.
In a pooled television interview this evening, William said he took so long to ask her to marry him because he wanted to make sure Kate was fully aware of what it meant to join the royal family.
“We’ve talked about today for a while,” William said. “I wanted to give her a chance to back out if she wanted to.”
Royal consorts have traditionally come from the ranks of Britain’s aristocracy or other European royal houses. Middleton, the daughter of self-made millionaires, met the prince when they were students at St. Andrews University in Scotland, and they’ve been dating since 2003. Both are 28 years old.
“It’s quite a daunting prospect but hopefully I’ll take it in my stride,” Kate said earlier today, as they posed for the cameras in London, showing off the engagement ring William gave her, which was his mother’s. “He has been very, very supportive of me in good times and also through the bad times and that’s very special to me.”
“Kate is a formidable character; she’s an intelligent, modern, middle-class girl who is not easily fazed,” Robert Jobson, author of the book “William’s Princess,” said in an interview. “She has captured the heart of a prince, which is a difficult thing to do, and in doing so has shown she is dignified. The royal family is a difficult thing to come into if you are middle class.”
William and Kate got engaged three weeks ago during a holiday in Kenya, they said in the TV interview. William said he’d been carrying the ring -- a sapphire surrounded by diamonds -- around in his rucksack for about three weeks before the proposal.
“It’s my mother’s engagement ring so I thought it was quite nice because obviously she’s not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all,” William said. “This was my way of keeping her close to it all.”
“It was very romantic,” Kate said. “There’s a true romantic in there.”
Once they’re married, the couple will live in north Wales, where William will continue to serve with the Royal Air Force as a helicopter pilot.
Speculation about a royal wedding has grown since the pair rekindled their relationship after a brief split in April 2007. By July the same year, they were reunited, with Middleton accompanying William at a memorial concert for Diana at London’s Wembley Stadium. In October 2007, she was photographed with William’s father deer-stalking in Scotland.
“They’ve been practicing long enough,” Charles told reporters in Dorset today. He said he was “obviously thrilled.”
William -- blond, blue-eyed and 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 meters) tall -- is a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. With a fortune of 28 million pounds ($45 million), according to the Sunday Times Rich List, he was one of the world’s most eligible bachelors.
Kate -- baptized Catherine Elizabeth -- is the eldest child of Michael and Carole Middleton, who own Party Pieces, a website supplying party accessories. Carole once worked as an airline cabin-crew member. After leaving university, Kate worked as a junior buyer for the women’s fashion chain Jigsaw and later took photographs for her parents’ website.
By contrast, William’s mother Diana was a member of the aristocratic Spencer family. The first Lord Spencer was ennobled by King James I at the start of the 17th century. Other British-born royal consorts in recent centuries, such as Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, who married the future George VI, had parents who were members of the nobility.
“It’s great to have a piece of unadulterated good news that everyone can celebrate,” Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters outside his official residence at 10 Downing Street.
Cameron said he spoke to Prince William today. “He was obviously extremely excited about the news and thrilled about what lies in store,” Cameron said. “I said the government stood ready to do anything we could to help make sure that what I know will be a great day of national celebration will be a great success.”
Cameron said ministers cheered and banged the table when he told them the news during this morning’s Cabinet meeting. There’s been no decision on whether the wedding day will be a public holiday, the prime minister’s spokesman, Steve Field, told reporters in London.
The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Ed Miliband, said he was “delighted for Prince William and Kate Middleton” and that “the whole country will be wishing them every happiness.”
Miliband and his partner Justine, who gave birth to their second son on Nov. 7, are unmarried.
“I’m so disappointed” that Prince William is getting married, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde joked to reporters in London as she arrived to speak at the Financial Times’s “Women at the Top” conference.
‘Three of Us’
Charles married Diana in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in July 1981. William was born in June 1982 and his brother Harry in September 1984. In December 1992, Prime Minister John Major announced that the couple would be separating and the marriage was dissolved in 1996.
Diana said that Charles had kept up a relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles during the marriage, telling BBC television’s “Panorama” program in 1995 that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” when she was asked if the relationship had been a factor in the split. Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 and Prince Charles married Parker Bowles in 2005.
Of the queen’s four children, only Prince Edward, who married Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, has not divorced.
Prince Andrew’s 1986 marriage to Sarah Ferguson ended in 1996 and Princess Anne’s to Mark Phillips in 1973 was dissolved in 1992. Princess Anne married Tim Laurence the same year. Andrew, Edward and Anne are behind William and Harry in the line of succession.
“I think it’s absolutely thrilling,” Sophie, now known as the Countess of Wessex, told reporters today when asked about the engagement. “Couldn’t be more excited.”