Prince William seals engagement with Diana's ring

LONDON (AFP) – Prince William and his fiancee Kate Middleton received a flood of congratulatory messages Wednesday after announcing their engagement, with the wedding planned for spring or summer next year.

Middleton said she was daunted but happy to be marrying into Britain's royal family after William had proposed, offering her his late mother Diana's engagement ring.

Prince William (R) and his fiancee Kate Middleton pose for photographers (AFP)

The couple announced their forthcoming marriage on Tuesday after an eight-year courtship, much of it in the full glare of the world's media.

When the couple marry in London next year it will be Britain's biggest royal wedding since William's parents Prince Charles and the then Lady Diana Spencer married at St Paul's Cathedral in July 1981.

William said the sapphire-and-diamond ring his father, the heir to the throne, gave Diana in 1981 was "very special to me".

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" he said.

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 if 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 were soon arriving from abroad.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quick to invite the future royal couple to his corner of the Commonwealth in a message of congratulations.

"It would be an honour to welcome Prince William and his bride to Canada in the future."

A message from the office of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he was "delighted."

Australia's Welsh-born Prime Minister Julia Gillard congratulated Prince William, saying he had left a "strong impression on many Australians" during his January tour Down Under.

"Ms Middleton will no doubt strengthen this remarkable reputation and she has the nation's best wishes and support," said Gillard, Australia's first woman prime minister.

And Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, told reporters: "It was truly wonderful...

"As I have seen on TV, he is quite a handsome boy and she is beautiful," he said. "It's going to be like a fairytale."

Britain's press was for the most part equally effusive.

"William and Kate will give us a monarchy fit for the 21st century," said a souvenir edition of the tabloid the Sun.

The Times, part of the same newspaper group, agreed.

"It is at moments such as this that the monarchy renews itself and redefines itself for our age," said The Times.

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