Prince William and Kate Middleton to marry next year

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Prince William's fiancee Kate Middleton said Tuesday that joining Britain's royal family was a "daunting prospect" as the couple announced they would marry next year after a marathon courtship.

The couple, both 28, spoke of their excitement in front of the world's media in London, with Middleton proudly showing off an engagement ring that previously belonged to William's late mother Diana.

"It's quite a daunting prospect but hopefully I'll take it my stride. But William's a great teacher so hopefully he'll be able to help me along the way," Middleton said when asked about becoming a royal herself.

She said William, the second-in-line to the throne, was a "true romantic" and had popped the question during a holiday in Kenya in October, nearly eight years after the couple first met.

"It was out there in a very quiet lodge and it was very romantic and it was a very personal time for both of us," said Kate, wearing a blue satin dress while her husband-to-be wore a blue suit.

The announcement ended feverish speculation about when William would get engaged to Middleton, the daughter of a wealthy businessman, whom he met at university.

It is set to be the biggest royal wedding in Britain since Diana married Prince Charles in 1981.

Diana divorced Charles in 1996 amid accusations of mutual infidelity and claims that she had been frozen out by the royal family. She died the following year in a car crash in Paris.

William has given Kate the blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring that Charles presented to Diana and showed off at a similar press conference more than 29 years ago.

"It 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."

Middleton and William met in 2001 at St Andrews University in Scotland where they were both studying art history, and they lived together in a shared house.

They broke up briefly in 2007 but soon got back together.

William skirted around the question of why he had taken so long to propose but added: "The timing is right now we're both very, very happy and I'm very glad that I have done it."

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, said he was "thrilled" with the news, adding: "They have been practising long enough."

Clarence House, Charles' official residence, made the official announcement earlier and said the wedding would take place in the spring or summer of 2011 in London. Further details will be given "in due course."

After tying the knot, the couple will live not in a palace but in North Wales "where Prince William will continue to serve with the Royal Air Force", the statement added.

William is an RAF search and rescue helicopter pilot based on Anglesey in northwest Wales, after graduating in September following 18 months of intense training.

Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip were "absolutely delighted" for the couple, Buckingham Palace said.

Kate's parents Michael and Carole gave their reaction outside their home in the foggy Berkshire countryside in southeast England. Michael said the family all thought William was "wonderful" and "we are extremely fond of him."

They would make a "lovely couple", he added.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "delighted" and his cabinet gave a "great cheer" and banged the table when he told them the news.

Cameron said the wedding would a "great moment for national celebration".

The wedding will take place a year before the queen celebrates her diamond jubilee marking 60 years on the throne and London hosts the Olympics.

Speculation about the royal nuptials reached fever pitch following the news this month that Middleton's parents had joined a shooting party at Charles' residence in Scotland.

Middleton's father was an airline steward and later became a flight dispatcher in charge of the British Airways fleet on the ground, while her mother was an air stewardess -- a fact reportedly mocked by some of William's aristocratic friends.

The couple then made their fortune in the children's party business.

The princess-to-be, who is six months older than William, has worked for the family business, Party Pieces, after an initial foray into the working world in London caused her to be hounded by press photographers.

The intense spotlight on her drew comparisons to the crowds of photographers who pursued Diana as news leaked that she was dating Charles in 1981.

© 2010 AFP

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