Prince William's engagement a rebirth for Britain

In a sit down interview, Prince William talks about finally becoming engaged to longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton and giving her his late mother's sapphire and diamond engagement ring.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2010; 12:03 AM

To the relief of the British public and taffeta-craving masses elsewhere, Prince William announced Tuesday that he was officially engaged.

He proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Kate Middleton, while on vacation in Kenya a few weeks ago, according to a statement issued by palace officials. A wedding is planned for the spring or summer of 2011. Other details were meted out, most notably that the engagement ring presented to Middleton, a brilliant oval sapphire surrounded with smaller diamonds, had once belonged to William's late mother. "It was my way of keeping her close to it all," William said of his mother's memory, in the couple's first, much-anticipated and much-deconstructed, television interview on BBC.

The symbolism awakened a faint flutter of hope: The era of Diana has returned.

William's nuptials will likely be Britain's grandest royal wedding in nearly 30 years. But more than that, the young lovers represent a royal redemption, a rehabilitation, a reboot from the fraught triangle of Charles and Diana and Camilla. Over the past two decades, the reputation of the entire royal family has steadily declined from regal to rancid. There was the divorce of Charles's brother, Andrew, not to mention further dramarama earlier this year when his former wife, the Duchess of York ("Fergie"), was caught on video arranging payment for access to her ex.

Queen Elizabeth II - herself besieged by a burnt palace and a tax scandal, and portrayed in her own 2007 biopic as kind of a jerk - once declared 1992 as her "annus horribilis."

It is now up to Prince William to transform 2011 into an annus mirabilis.

"It's great to have a piece of unadulterated good news that everyone can celebrate," jubilant Prime Minister David Cameron told his equally jubilant cabinet. "I'm sure this is something [that will see] the country come together."

"I think the monarchy has really fallen in tattered times," said Kitty Kelley, the biographer and chronicler of the Diana-era monarchy in "The Royals." "There is a movement afoot to really run the monarchy out" after the death of Queen Elizabeth. A royal wedding of this magnitude, Kelley said, makes the whole family look good.

"William is young, and he's fresh, and he grew up in the shadow of the real tragedy of his mother," Kelley said. "His father - about the best thing you can say about Prince Charles is that he's well-dressed and he's an environmentalist. The hopes and the dreams of the people have been invested in Wills."

In England, Londoners received the news with relief, as if already looking beyond the Charles years before they've even begun. "It's lovely to see a member of the royal family marrying someone who is down to earth, someone you can relate to," said Natalie Varney, a graduate student. "The younger generation will get more interested in the royal family."

"I think Prince William will make a good king, way better than Prince Charles," says Philip Demesquita, a retired fashion business owner in London. Charles "doesn't seem to have adapted to the modern world."

The couple met in 2001, studying at the University of St. Andrews - geography for him, art history for her - in a coastal Scottish town with castle ruins and cobblestone walks. They were flatmates in a group house, just friends, they said, until suddenly they became more. The "more" was rumored to happen when Kate was wearing less, strutting the catwalk in lingerie for a student fashion show.

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