Prince Charles Picks a Bride

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It was precisely 11 a.m., and an investiture—a traditional ceremony for bestowing honors on deserving subjects—was about to begin in the grand ballroom at Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth II was smiling broadly as the Lord Chamberlain stepped forward and interrupted the general hush: "The Queen has asked me to let you know that an announcement is being made this morning." What followed produced a gasp, applause and even more jubilant beaming from the Queen. Champagne corks began to pop around the palace. At long last, Prince Charles, 32, heir to the British throne, was to be married. His betrothed: Lady Diana Spencer, 19, a blushing beauty with an impressive pedigree and an impeccable reputation.

Outside, the news was already spreading—leaked to the BBC and the London Times earlier that morning. It quickly set all England rejoicing. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher told a cheering House of Commons that the engagement gave the government "great pleasure." Bishops of the Church of England, who happened to be discussing marriage at a general synod that day, rose in a standing ovation. "It's super," said Jane Ogden, a housewife in the crowd that quickly materialized at the palace gates. "People really like her. She's so friendly, and she hasn't lost her head."

On national television, Charles and Diana engagingly discussed the most widely publicized "secret" courtship in the history of the court. It was conducted, said the Prince, "like a military operation." He had proposed, he said, over dinner for two in his third-floor quarters at Buckingham Palace, shortly before Diana's Feb. 6 departure for a vacation in Australia. "I wanted to give Diana a chance to think about it—to think if it was going to be too awful. If she didn't like the idea, she could say she didn't. If she did, she could say that. But in fact she said . . ." His fiancée interrupted: "Yes, quite promptly. I never had any doubts about it."

Still, Charles waited for her return before taking the next proper step: asking Diana's father for her hand. "They rang me up," related Earl Spencer, 57, "and Charles said, 'Can I marry your daughter? I have asked her, and very surprisingly she said yes.' " Spencer's reply: "I'm delighted for you both." Though later he joked: "I wonder what he would have said if I'd turned him down." The father of the bride could not contain his pride: "She is a giver, not a taker, and that is very rare these days. I think Charles is very lucky to have her."

Indeed, the next Princess of Wales appears to be everything the Prince has been searching for in a wife—tall (5 ft. 9 in., 2 in. shorter than he), slim and long-legged—the type he has said he favors. She is also British, another preferred attribute and one that will make her the first citizen to marry the heir to the throne since 1659.* Like the Prince, she is an athlete: an avid bicyclist, swimmer and skier, although she does not share the royal family's passion for horses. Says she: "I fell off a horse and lost my nerve."

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