LONDON — Britain's Prince William will marry his longtime girlfriend, Kate Middleton, next spring or summer in London, the royal family announced Tuesday. A spokesman for Prince Charles said Prince William gave Kate Middleton the engagement ring that belonged to his late mother, Princess Diana.
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The ring is an oval sapphire surrounded by diamonds.
The engagement announcement ends years of rumored splits, reconciliations and will-they, won’t-they speculation. It will be the biggest royal wedding since Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer almost 30 years ago.Video: Prince: ‘Real relief’ to announce engagement (on this page)
Prince Charles' Clarence House office said the heir to the British throne was "delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton." It said the couple got engaged last month during a vacation in Kenya.
The statement also said that William had informed his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and also sought the permission of Middleton's father.Video: William and Kate ready for their royal close-up (on this page)
Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip "are absolutely delighted for them both," Buckingham Palace said. According to the U.K. newspaper the Sun, soon after the announcement of the engagement, a tweet appeared on the monarchy's recently launched Twitter feed reading: “The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh are absolutely delighted at the news of Prince William and Catherine Middleton's engagement.”
A tweet from Prince Charles said: “The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.”
Prince William's younger brother also chimed in. "I am delighted that my brother popped the question," said Prince Harry in a statement. "It means I get a sister, which I have always wanted."
Kate Middleton's father Michael Middleton read a statement on behalf of both parents outside of their home near the Berkshire village of Bucklebury, saying that they were "thrilled at the prospect of a wedding sometime next year."
Prime Minister David Cameron was delighted, too, wishing the couple "great joy in their life together." He said he announced the news during a Cabinet meeting, and it was greeted by cheers and "a great banging of the table."
The couple were to give their first joint interview later Tuesday. Middleton has rarely, if ever, spoken about William in public. (One rare slip came during William’s graduation from Sandhurst in December 2006: "I love the uniform. It's so, so sexy," she said.)
The news was not a surprise. Kate and William's engagement was the safest bet in Britain, considered so certain that bookies had stopped taking bets on a 2011 wedding. The date avoids London's Summer Olympics and the queen's Diamond Jubilee, both being held in 2012.
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Visions of a royal wedding were stoked by the visit several weeks ago of Kate's parents — Michael and Carole Middleton — to Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth II's 50,000-acre estate in Scotland. It marked the first time the Middletons had been invited to such an intimate royal gathering.
Britain's royal watchers said the invitation to Balmoral was a way of welcoming the middle-class Middletons into the very highest realm of British society. Middleton’s parents worked for British Airways before founding Party Pieces, a successful party-supply business.
Slideshow: The lives of princes (on this page)
"We thought it was going to happen; now that it has, it's an opportunity for a welcome national celebration," said Patrick Jephson, former secretary to Princess Diana.
Recent speculation about the site of the event has focused on Westminster Abbey, where the funeral for the prince's mother, Princess Diana, was held in 1997. But the palace remained mum on details. "Further details about the wedding day will be announced in due course," the statement said.
Video: Prince William, Kate Middleton engaged! (on this page) For pomp itself, the ceremony is likely to fall between the extraordinary spectacle of Charles and Diana's 1981 wedding in St. Paul's Cathedral and Charles' subdued second marriage to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall at Windsor Guildhall in 2005.
Clarence House said after the wedding, the couple will live in North Wales, where William is based with the RAF.
Middleton will now be protected by Scotland Yard, and William recently requested a female bodyguard for her, royal expert and News of the World correspondent Robert Jobson said on TODAY.
Jobson also speculated that the pair will be given new titles before their wedding. William will likely be known as the Duke of Cambridge and she will be known as the Duchess of Cambridge, he said.
William, who is second in line to the throne after Charles, once told an interviewer he wouldn't marry "until I'm at least 28 or maybe 30." He turned 28 in June.
Middleton, also 28, met William at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. They shared a student house in the seaside university town, where William initially studied art history before switching to geography.
Video: Can Kate Middleton handle spotlight? (on this page)
In 2002, William paid 200 pounds to sit in the front row at a charity fashion show where Middleton was modeling in a daring outfit — they are thought to have started dating the following year.
She attended Marlborough College, an elite private school, where she played tennis and field hockey before studying art history at St. Andrews.
Video: Royal watcher: It’s a Westminster wedding (on this page) Once the couple's relationship became public with a joint photo on a Swiss skiing holiday in 2004, Middleton became a media darling — especially after both graduated, ending a media agreement to leave William alone while he was at university. With her confident good looks and long brown hair, Middleton became one of the most photographed women in Britain.
The brunette fashion buyer was photographed attending public events, going to work, even getting a parking ticket — a level of attention that evoked the romance of William's parents, Charles and Diana.
William was determined that Middleton would not suffer the same media hounding endured by his mother, who died in a Paris car crash in 1997. He appealed through his office for the media to leave her alone.
In 2007 Middleton filed a harassment complaint against a newspaper. She accepted an apology and admission of error from the Daily Mirror.
It was widely thought the couple would soon announce their engagement. The retail chain Woolworths even commissioned mugs, plates and other Wills-and-Kate memorabilia.
Slideshow: A royal couple’s long courtship (on this page)
But only weeks later in 2007, media reported — and Clarence House did not deny — that the couple had broken up. Newspapers pored over the apparent end of the relationship in long stories sourced to anonymous "friends." William's army training kept them apart, said some. The media pressure was too much for her, said others. Still others murmured that senior courtiers felt Middleton's middle-class background wasn't royal material.
Soon, however, the same newspapers were reporting that the pair had rekindled their romance. They were photographed leaving a London nightclub together, and Middleton was snapped on a stag hunting expedition at the royal family's Balmoral estate alongside Prince Charles.
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When William graduated from his first flying course in the spring of 2008, Middleton applauded from the sidelines — although his training was not without incident. The Ministry of Defense confirmed that William had landed a helicopter on Middleton's parents' lawn during a training flight and flew a Chinook to a friend's stag party on the Isle of Wight.
William later served a two-month deployment with the Royal Navy before training to become a Sea King search and rescue pilot with the Royal Air Force. He recently completed that training.
It has been widely reported that for the last six months, the pair have lived together on the Welsh island of Anglesey, close to the RAF base where the prince is based. William is also a frequent visitor to the Middleton family house in the affluent village of Bucklebury, 50 miles west of London.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.