LONDON // Prince William, the second in line to the British throne, is to marry his university sweetheart Kate Middleton next year.
The prince, eldest son of Prince Charles and the late Diana, Princess of Wales, will tie the knot with the young woman he calls "Babykins" in spring or early summer - exactly 30 years after his parents were married.
He has given his fiancee the blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring that Diana was given by Prince Charles. "It's my mother's engagement ring so of course it's very special to me," William said. "It was my way of making sure that my mother didn't miss out on today."
Ms Middleton described the prospect of joining the British royal family as "daunting, but hopefully I'll take it my stride".
The prince admitted that he had waited a long time to propose marriage. "I don't remember how many years it's been, forgetful memory," he said.
Prince Charles said he was "thrilled" at the news. "They have been practising long enough," he said at his country home in the west of England.
After the wedding, the couple, who are both 28, are expected to live in north Wales, where William is serving as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot in the Royal Air Force.
David Cameron, the British prime minister, said it was “incredibly exciting news”. Jubilation erupted in 10 Downing Street after the news broke, he said.
“I was passed a piece of paper and announced the news in the middle of the cabinet meeting, and there was a great cheer that went up and a great banging of the table.” Mr Cameron added: “As well as this being a great moment for national celebration, I think we also have to remember that this is people who love each other, who’ve made this announcement, who are looking forward to their wedding.
"We must give them plenty of space to think about the future and what they're about to do.
"But it is a great day for our country, a great day for the royal family and obviously a great day for Prince William and for Kate."
The couple began dating seven years ago, when they shared a house with two friends while studying at St Andrews University in Scotland. They became engaged in October while on holiday in Kenya.
The announcement of the marriage came yesterday in a statement from Clarence House, Prince Charles’s official residence: “The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton. Prince William has informed the Queen and other close members of his family. Prince William has also sought the permission of Miss Middleton’s father.”
A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said later: “Both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are absolutely delighted for them both.”
Miss Middleton is a far cry from the European royals whom the British tabloids speculated a decade ago might make a suitable match as a “queen in waiting” for the prince. Her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, are self-made millionaires who run a mail-order business selling toys and party goods, and live in a modern, five-bedroom house in Berkshire.
Privately educated, she met the prince when the two began studying the history of art at university, although William later switched to geography. They started dating seriously around Christmas, 2003.
The course of their romance was not always smooth and they split up briefly in 2007 amid strains brought on by the prince’s military commitments. Within weeks, however, they were re-united.
She and the prince share a love of sport and the outdoor life. Both are accomplished skiers and Miss Middleton has recently been brushing up her skills as a marksman, joining royal hunting parties on grouse and pheasant shoots.
However, given the British royal yamily’s love of horses, one thing going against her is that she is, apparently, allergic to the animals.
Margaret Holder, an author and documentary-maker on the British royals, said she believed the marriage would give Prince William the warm family life he wanted.
“What he’s finding with the Middleton family is what he didn’t have as a child, and I think that’s very good for him,” she told the BBC.
“I think this is going to be a very, very good and successful marriage. And I think this will take the monarchy through well into the 21st century. I think Kate is very modern – she’s very relevant.”