LONDON — Thirty years after the fairy-tale nuptials with the unhappy ending, Britain will have another big royal wedding: Its dashing helicopter-pilot prince — second in line to the throne — will marry the lovely commoner who might become queen someday.
Prince William and Kate Middleton bubbled with joy Tuesday evening in their first public appearance since the palace announced their engagement after more than eight years of dating. Their wedding will be in the spring or summer.
In a poignant symbol for William, his betrothed wore the sapphire and diamond engagement ring that belonged to his late mother, Diana.
"I thought it was quite nice because obviously she's not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all. This was my way of keeping her close to it all," William said.
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While the romance of the two 28-year-olds is the stuff of which dreams are made, it is no exaggeration to say the future of the Windsor dynasty depends to no small degree on the success of their union.
"We're massively excited," William said in the televised interview that marked the first time they have spoken publicly about their love affair, which started when they were university freshmen. "We're hugely excited. We're looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together."
The interview reminded many of a similar TV appearance by William's parents, Prince Charles and Diana, shortly after they became engaged.
At that time, Diana seemed frightened of the limelight and withdrew; by contrast, Middleton seemed at ease in front of the cameras. She said she wished she had met Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997.
"I would love to have met her," Middleton said. "She's an inspirational woman."
Middleton brings youth and glamour to a monarchy tarnished by divorce and scandal. There is already warm public support for William.
A strong, stable marriage — one that lasts decades and produces heirs — could go a long way toward undoing the damage from the ugly squabbling and televised confessions of adultery that marred the final years of Charles and Diana's tortured marriage, which began on such a high note with their spectacular wedding in 1981.
News of the engagement was greeted with enthusiasm — and relief — in Britain. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, said they were "absolutely delighted for them both," Buckingham Palace said. Prince Charles said he was "thrilled." Middleton's parents, Carole and Michael, also gushed.
"We all think he's wonderful. We're extremely fond of him," Michael Middleton said, standing near the couple's large house in the affluent Berkshire countryside.
Royal officials said that while Middleton is commonly known as Kate, her official name is Catherine Elizabeth. She will be named Queen Catherine if William eventually takes the throne.
Middleton, in a royal blue dress that matched the engagement ring, said she had suffered when their relationship was in trouble — including a separation — but that they had grown stronger in the years they've been together.
"You go through the good times, you go through the bad times," she said, promising to "learn quickly" in her new royal role.
William proposed during a vacation in Kenya last month and gave Middleton the oval blue sapphire surrounded by diamonds from the jeweler Garrard that Charles had given William's mother.
William said he carried the ring with him for weeks as he sought the right moment to pop the question.
She described the proposal this way: "It was very romantic, and it was very personal."
The union has important implications for the monarchy's line of succession. Kate and William's first child would move ahead of his younger brother, Prince Henry, known as Harry, to become third in line to the throne.
Middleton acknowledged that being queen was "a daunting prospect.".
The two met as freshmen at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, starting out as friends but quickly becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.
"Obviously we both have a very fun time together, both have a very good sense of humor about things. We're down to earth ... and she's got plenty of habits that make me laugh that I tease her about," William said as he and Middleton faced photographers earlier Tuesday.
There is no firm date for the wedding, and the venue has not been specified. Speculation focused on St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.
The marriage will link Middleton — whose parents founded a successful party supply business after working in the airline industry — with William, scion of one of the richest families in the world.
William has tried to lead a normal life, training to become a military helicopter rescue pilot, but he has also become accustomed to extravagant vacations at the world's most exclusive hideaways.
As a boy, he was traumatized by his parents' very public divorce and the tragic loss of his mother. Diana died with her boyfriend, Dodi Al Fayed, in a car crash as frenzied paparazzi chased the couple through the streets of Paris, causing their inebriated driver to lose control of the vehicle.
Many in Britain welcomed the royal engagement as a rare piece of good news in a time of economic uncertainty and cutbacks — a time much like 1981, when millions watched Charles and Diana's wedding.
Prime Minister David Cameron wished William and Kate "great joy in their life together," and said that when he announced the news during a cabinet meeting, it was greeted by cheers and "a great banging of the table."