LONDON - Prince William finally became engaged to longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton, giving her his late mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring, as Britain looked forward to its biggest royal wedding since Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer almost 30 years ago.
Royal officials announced Tuesday that the couple will marry next spring or summer in London, ending years of rumored splits, reconciliations and will-they, won’t-they speculation.
William is second in line to the British throne after Charles, his father. Kate and William’s first child would move ahead of his younger brother Prince Harry to become third in line to the throne.
William, speaking in a joint TV interview, discussed marriage with Middleton for more than a year before he proposed during a vacation in Kenya last month.
“As every guy out there will know, it takes time a certain amount of motivation to get yourself going,” William said. “It just felt really right out in Africa and was beautiful at the time.”
He gave Middleton the engagement ring once worn by his late mother, Diana — an oval blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds from the jeweler Garrard.
“This was my way of making sure that my mother didn’t miss out on today,” William said as the couple posed for photographers in the state apartments at St. James’ Palace.
Middleton acknowledged that being queen was “a daunting prospect.” She declined to say whether the prince had proposed on bended knee.
Clarence House said that while William’s bride-to-be is commonly known as Kate, her official name is Catherine Elizabeth — the style used by her close family. She will be named Queen Catherine if William, as expected, eventually takes the British throne.
Many in Britain welcomed the royal engagement as a rare piece of good news in a time of economic uncertainty and cutbacks — a time much like 1981, when millions watched Charles and Diana’s fairy-tale wedding. Their marriage eventually ended in divorce — but no one was dwelling on that detail Tuesday.
William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and her husband Prince Philip “are absolutely delighted for them both,” Buckingham Palace said. Prince Charles said he was “absolutely thrilled,” and his wife, Camilla, duchess of Cornwall, said her stepson’s engagement was “the most brilliant news.”
“It’s wicked,” said the duchess, who had just attended an event at the theater where the musical “Wicked” is playing.
Middleton’s parents, Carole and Michael, welcomed the prince to their family.
“We all think he’s wonderful, we’re extremely fond of him,” Michael Middleton said. “They make a lovely couple.”
Prime Minister David Cameron wished the couple “great joy in their life together,” and said when he announced the news during a Cabinet meeting it was greeted by cheers and “a great banging of the table.”