LONDON, Nov 17 – Prince William\’s fiancee Kate Middleton said she was daunted but happy to be marrying into Britain\’s royal family next year after he proposed, offering her his late mother Diana\’s engagement ring.
The couple faced the world\’s media after announcing on Tuesday they would marry in 2011 following an eight-year courtship, with William saying he had felt it was the right time to propose.
The couple will marry in London next year in what will be Britain\’s biggest royal wedding since his parents Prince Charles and the then Lady Diana Spencer married at St Paul\’s Cathedral in July 1981.
William said the sapphire-and-diamond that his father, the heir to the throne, gave Diana in 1981 – the pair showed it off themselves at a press conference nearly three decades ago – was "very special to me".
William said giving Kate the ring "was my way of making sure that my mother didn\’t miss out on today and the excitement and the fact that we\’re going to spend the rest of our lives together."
The Times newspaper captured the poignancy of the moment, calling the couple "the new romantics" while Wednesday\’s souvenir edition of the Sun said the pair would "give us a monarchy fit for the 21st century."
The Telegraph thanked the couple for giving Britons a rare moment of joy, saying the union would be "fruitful and bring the greatest happiness" and would "lift the spirits" of a country "once more…in the doldrums."
Blinking in the glare of flashbulbs, Middleton told a press conference at St James\’s Palace that the second-in-line to the throne had proposed during a holiday in Kenya three weeks ago. He was a "true romantic", she added.
"It\’s quite a daunting prospect but hopefully I\’ll take it in my stride. But William\’s a great teacher so hopefully he\’ll be able to help me along the way," said the 28-year-old.
The official announcement ended feverish speculation about when William would get engaged to Middleton, the daughter of a wealthy businessman.
Middleton and William met in 2001 at St Andrews University in Scotland. They broke up briefly in 2007 but soon got back together.
Prince Charles said he was "thrilled" at the engagement, joking: "They have been practising long enough."
Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip were "absolutely delighted", Buckingham Palace said.
William described the moment he proposed in a television interview later Tuesday.
"We had a little private time away together with some friends and I just decided that it was the right time," the prince said.
He said he had carried the ring around in his rucksack "for about three weeks" before proposing.
Asked about whether they planned to have children, William said: "We want a family so we\’ll have to start thinking about that."
A statement from Clarence House, Charles\’ residence and office, said that after marrying, the couple would live not in a palace but in north Wales where William is a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue helicopter pilot.
William\’s brother Prince Harry said in a statement he was "delighted that my brother has popped the question. It means I get a sister, which I have always wanted."
Kate\’s parents Michael and Carole said the family thought William was "wonderful" and "we are extremely fond of him."
Prime Minister David Cameron said the wedding would a "great moment for national celebration".
The wedding will happen a year before the queen celebrates her diamond jubilee marking 60 years on the throne — and London hosts the Olympics.
Middleton\’s father was an airline steward and later became a flight dispatcher while her mother was an air stewardess before moving into the children\’s party business.
Messages of congratulation began to arrive from other parts of the Commonwealth.
"On behalf of all Canadians, I wish to congratulate His Royal Highness Prince William," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
"It would be an honour to welcome Prince William and his bride to Canada in the future."
Governor-General Quentin Bryce, the queen\’s representative in Australia, said the news had "warmed our nation\’s heart".
And message from the office of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he was "delighted."
"The prime minister says Prince William is a fine young man who made a great impression when he visited New Zealand in January," a spokesman said.