Low-key wedding likely after royal engagement announced


So, after much speculation and not a few false predictions, the news was made official at 10 a.m. Sun readers had the luxury of early confirmation when they picked up their morning read yesterday.

Practically everybody else had to wait until Buckingham Palace issued one of its famous edicts announcing that yes, Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were "delighted" to announce the engagement of their youngest son, Prince Edward (34), to Ms Sophie Rhys-Jones (33).

The royal correspondents of every national newspaper in Britain must have rubbed their hands with glee, knowing that after a fallow period since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, they would at last have a story they could get their teeth into.

Five years after their romance began when Ms Rhys-Jones handled the publicity for the prince's Real Tennis Challenge in 1993, the British royal family will prepare itself for a royal wedding in late spring or summer, possibly at St George's Chapel, Windsor.

The clear signal being sent from Buckingham Palace and the couple themselves is that this wedding, unlike those of the prince's brothers, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew and his sister, Princess Anne, will not be allowed to become a huge media event.

If, as predicted, the couple go ahead with the ceremony at Windsor instead of St Paul's Cathedral or Westminster Abbey, where his brothers were married, it will reflect the down-to-earth character of Ms Rhys-Jones and the determination of Prince Edward to avoid the disastrous example set by previous royal couples.

Standing on the lawn of St James's Palace with his fiancee, facing the assembled reporters and photographers, Prince Edward admitted that perhaps there was no such thing as a really private wedding.

Ms Rhys-Jones informed reporters that although she recognised there was great interest in their marriage, the event itself would be a "personal matter". Asked how she felt about joining the royal family, she brought all her diplomatic and PR skills to bear when she replied: "It is fairly nerve-wracking in many ways. I am fully aware of the responsibilities and I feel I am ready for it. I have had a few years to get used to it."

She was "stunned" when Prince Edward asked her to marry him before Christmas, and then realised she should answer the question: "I said `yes, yes please'."

It was the same response that the then Lady Diana Spencer gave to Prince Charles in 1981.

For his part, Prince Edward was more forthcoming about his feelings for his fiancee than his brother, Prince Charles, was when he and Diana announced their engagement. In 1981, the Prince of Wales wondered what love was, but Prince Edward was quick to respond when asked about his feelings for Ms Rhys-Jones: "We are the best of friends and we happen to love each very much. We are very happy at the moment and long may that continue."

The secret to their successful relationship was that they "laugh a lot and we have a great friendship", Ms Rhys-Jones said. And in keeping with the tradition among younger royals, the couple said they would continue in their jobs - Ms Rhys-Jones with her PR company, R-JH, and the prince with his film and television production company, Ardent - after their wedding.

After their marriage, the couple intend to live at Bagshot Park, in Surrey, which was built in 1877 for Queen Victoria's third son, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught. Prince Edward signed a 50-year lease on the Grade II listed building in 1998.

Showing off her white-gold and diamond engagement ring from the royal jewellers, Asprey Garrard - a solitaire with two heart-shaped diamonds mounted on each shoulder - Ms Rhys-Jones revealed a disarmingly romantic streak when she replied to Prince Edward's remark that diamonds were a girl's best friend. "No, you're my best friend," she said.

Asked if he felt the pressure of failed royal marriages, Prince Edward appeared agitated for the first time: "Oh, somebody had to bring that out, didn't they? I think if anybody's going to get married I hope that they think that they are going to get it right.

"As I said, you know, we are the best of friends and that's essential and it also helps that we happen to love each other as well very much and it's great."

Ms Rhys-Jones's parents, Christopher and Mary Rhys-Jones, posed for photographers outside their home in the village of Brenchley, near Tunbridge Wells, Kent. They said they were "extremely pleased" and "very happy" for their daughter and the prince, adding they had always enjoyed Prince Edward's company and felt they made "a wonderful couple".

Official reaction to the announcement welcomed the imminent royal marriage. The Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, speaking from Pretoria, South Africa, where he is on an official visit, described the couple as "delightful" and "intelligent" and wished them "all the possible luck in the future".

The Conservative leader, Mr William Hague, said the engagement was "wonderful news".

A spokesman for the leader of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said: "The Archbishop has been informed of the couple's plans and wishes them every happiness together."

The head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Basil Hume, wished them "every happiness".