The Prince &The Lady

By Leonard Downie Jr.; Special correspondent Emma Rattray in London contributed to this story
Wednesday, February 25, 1981; 9:53 AM

After a storybook royal romance that has distracted delighted Britons from the woes of a declining economy, Buckingham Palace yesterday announced that Prince Charles, the popular 32-year-old heir to the British throne, will marry 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer, a blue-blooded childhood neighbor and distant cousin.

The slim, soft-spoken earl's daughter who grew up on the royal family's vast Sandringham estate in northeastern England will become the princess of Wales and future queen of England at a glittering wedding that will attract royalty and dignitaries from around the world and brighten the dark days of the depths of Britain's worst economic slide since the 1930s.

Declaring that Lady Diana will make a "fine" princess of Wales, joining him in a busy schedule of public appearances and travel, Charles said, "She'll be 20 soon and I was about that age" when he began carrying out royal duties.

Londoners thronged the gates of the palace following yesterday morning's announcement of the royal couple's engagement by the prince's parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, while Charles and Lady Diana, wearing her large sapphire and diamond engagement engagement ring, posed for pictures and talked briefly to reporters inside. The couple then strolled arm-in-arm, laughing, through the palace gardens. Prince Charles hugged Lady Diana as show showed her ring to photographers.

The prince had been under steadily increasing public pressure to marry during his years of squiring a changing cast of beautiful young women to various royal estates, hunts, polo matches, balls and parties. He said he was delighted and happy that Lady Diana said yes to his fromal proposal, made earlier this month during an intimate dinner at the palace.

"I'm surprised she is brave enough to take me on," he said. Lady Diana had been besieged for months by the British press during their intensely publicized courtship.

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© 1981 The Washington Post Company