LONDON — Merry olde England has had a glum run of news. The divorce from the European Union is going badly — a lot of fuss about alimony. There's been a "sex pest" scandal in Parliament. And the British pound is getting pounded.
So, as if on cue, the flash story this week was the feverish speculation about exactly when — never if — Prince Harry and the American actress Meghan Markle would finally announce their engagement to wed.
The only thing better than royal babies are royal weddings — but one must precede the other. Of course, the most momentous royal news of all is also on the horizon, another life event, this one sad yet inevitable. Queen Elizabeth II turned 91 years old in April, God save her.
On Friday, the tabloids went a little nuts. The Sun ran a salivating headline claiming that a Harry and Markle engagement announcement was "imminent."
The Daily Mail was more specific. They had a date and time. On Friday, it tweeted, "Prince Harry and Meghan Markle rumoured to be announcing their engagement at 5pm TODAY."
Today came and went. No matter.
If you've missed your latest copy of Hello magazine, Markle is a 36-year-old actress, born and raised in California, best known for playing Rachel Zane in the well-liked New York legal drama "Suits," which is filmed in Toronto.
It's rumored that she will quit her acting career and will continue her charitable work. She is a global ambassador for World Vision Canada.
The 33-year-old ginger-bearded Harry is fifth in line to the British throne. (He will be bumped to sixth place after his brother Prince William and Kate Middleton welcome their third child in the spring.) With modern medical science being what is — and the Tower of London now a tourist attraction versus a gallows — Harry's chances of sitting on the big chair are virtually nil.
Still, Harry is one of the most popular royals, said to have inherited his mother Princess Diana's mischievous side, as well as her common touch. He also has had his share of past missteps, including stirring major royal flaps in 2005 by wearing an outfit with a swastika to a costume party and in 2012 with photos showing him playing "strip billiards" in a Las Vegas hotel suite.
The last time an American married into the royal family, Britain was plunged into a constitutional crisis. In 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry the American socialite and divorcée Wallis Simpson.
There are no hard and fast rules for royal engagements, but perhaps William and Kate can offer us clues as to how it might be done this time.
William and Kate were engaged after a lengthy courtship. The tabloids called her "Waity Katie."
Palace officials announced their engagement at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday — on Nov. 16, 2010, to be exact. Kate pronounced William "a true romantic" and said he popped the question on an African safari to view wildlife. The couple held a "photocall" event with the world's media and then gave a sit-down interview to a broadcaster, which was aired later in the day. They were married five months later.
Rumors of an engagement between Harry and Markle have been swirling for some time.
In November 2016, Prince Harry revealed he was dating the actress when — in a remarkable statement from Kensington Palace — he blasted the press for subjecting Markle to a "wave of abuse and harassment."
The palace condemned "the smear on the front page of a national newspaper, the racial undertones of comment pieces, and the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls and web article comments."
Markle's mother is African American, and her father is white.
Her relationship with Harry has been a source of intense media speculation ever since the statement. And along the way, royal watchers wondered if the couple wasn't dropping clues that there was a wedding in the offing.
In April, Markle ended her lifestyle blog, The Tig, after three years.
"Something to tell us?" queried the Daily Mail.
The same newspaper reported that the couple had tea with the queen last month, sparking rumors that they were seeking her majesty's blessing.
Apparently the meeting went well — a good thing, too. Under ancient rules, the monarch has the right to refuse a royal marriage.
The duo made their first public appearance together in September at the Invictus Games, a sporting event for disabled veterans founded by Harry. They held hands, they kissed, they canoodled — they were snapped alongside Markle's mother, Doria Ragland.
Markle has been living in Toronto, where "Suits" is filmed. However, there are rumors she has left the show and is planning on relocating to London, where she could move into Harry's two-bedroom cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace.
"Has Harry pupped the question?" ran the front-page headline in the Sun, Britain's best-selling newspaper, making a very tabloid-esque pun after stories appeared that Markle was moving her dogs to London. The paper said that "BBC staff had been primed" to expect an announcement.
"What DO they know?" asked the Daily Mail on its front page, noting that a British bookmaker stopped accepting bets on Harry popping the question this year.
Markle has spoken about their relationship in prescient and hopeful terms.
"We're in love," she told Vanity Fair magazine. "I'm sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us. It's part of what makes it so special, that it's just ours. But we're happy. Personally, I love a great love story."