Royal wedding: Prince William to marry Kate Middleton

Prince William’s marriage next year to his college sweetheart, Kate Middleton, will also bring cheer to Britain amid economic woes – just as his parents’ wedding did in 1981.

Chris Ison/pa/AP
In this Oct. 23 file photo, Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton leave the wedding of their friends Harry Mead and Rosie Bradford in the village of Northleach, England. According to an announcement on Tuesday, the couple are engaged, and will be married in 2011.

Wearied by a daily diet of news about the economy and even harder times ahead, many Britons finally feel they have something to cheer about: the biggest and most important royal wedding for three decades will take place next year.

Amid increasing speculation, the announcement finally came through Tuesday that Prince William is to marry his girlfriend, Kate Middleton.

William, the Queen’s eldest grandson and second in line to the throne after his father, Charles, became engaged in October during a private holiday in Kenya, a statement issued by his father’s office confirmed.

"The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton," said the statement. "The wedding will take place in the spring or summer of 2011, in London. Further details about the wedding day will be announced in due course."

Parallels with Charles & Diana's 1981 wedding

At a very basic level, the news will calm the nerves of some royalists who may have began to wonder if ‘Wills’ was ever going to pop the question to the woman he began dating eight years ago while studying at Scotland’s St. Andrews University. Seemingly endowed with almost superhuman reserves of patience, as far as some sections of the press were concerned, they had began to dub her as "Waity Katie."

However, the timing of when the wedding comes packed with symbolism. They will marry in the year that would have marked the 30th anniversary of William’s parents' wedding. Back then, images of Charles and his young bride, Diana, distracted many at a time when Britain was in severe recession.

“He was always likely to get married, so in that respect there was always going to be stability [to the royal lineage], but the most important thing it does is provide a focus for celebration, which we have been missing since 1981, when his parents got married,” says Charlie Jacoby, an expert on the royal family.

“That was a very exciting time and we will be hoping or something like that. A sense of national outpouring.”

IN PICTURES: Britain's royal family

A more modern, accessible royal image

At another level, according to Mr. Jacoby, the official entry of "Princess" Kate into the Windsor family and the prospect further down the line of "Queen" Kate represents a 21st-century update to the traditional image of the British royals.

“It’s their first foray into the type of Scandinavian royal families who go around on bicycles among the general public. She is much more accessible, much less from the grand house background,” he added.

Although popular with the public, the daughter of self-made entrepreneurs has nevertheless faced a snooty skepticism from a small number of royal watchers who question whether she has the right “breeding” for the job of being a future queen.

Such mutterings were not uncommon when she and William split up for a time in 2007, but sources at Buckingham Palace Tuesday were adamant that the future of the monarchy is in safe hands, according to reports Tuesday.

The couple will live in North Wales after their wedding in order to allow William to continue with his duties as a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot.

Speculation about an heir

Speculation about when they will produce an heir will no doubt follow quickly on news of their wedding. William’s mother, Diana, became pregnant with him just four months after she wed Charles.

If William and his new bride have no children, William’s brother, Harry, will remain next in line to the throne after him, followed by any future children he might have.

However, some royal watchers warned Tuesday that the most pressing issue would be for Miss Middleton to find out quickly what her royal role is expected to be in order to prevent the same problems faced by Diana, Princess of Wales.

Patrick Jephson, who served as Diana’s private secretary, urged the new future queen to turn her attention to the practical side of life within the royal family.

"If they want her to be a wife, a pretty face, to keep quiet and stay in the background – get that straight now, not in the future," he told the Press Association news agency. “If they want her to be more active and carry on the role Diana-style – let's get that straight, too.”

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