Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton with his late mother's engagement ring to bring together the two most "special" women in his life, he disclosed last night.
After seven years of speculation about their future, the couple made the historic announcement of their engagement just hours after the queen and the Prince of Wales had been told. They will be married next spring or summer in a ceremony which will attract one of the biggest worldwide TV audiences since Charles married Diana in 1981.
But while Prince William invited inevitable comparisons between his late mother and his bride-to-be with his choice of engagement ring, he insisted Ms Middleton was under 'no pressure' to fill his mother's shoes. He also promised there would be no repeat of the isolation felt by Diana when she joined the royal family, saying he had tried to 'learn lessons' from the past and had delayed the engagement to give his new fiancee the chance to 'back out' if the pressure became too much.
As the couple disclosed that they had secretly become engaged during a romantic break in Kenya last month, Ms Middleton showed off the sapphire and diamond ring which the prince had hidden in his rucksack until he plucked up the courage to propose. 'It's very special to me, and Kate is very special to me now as well, so it's only right the two are put together,' the prince said.
'It's my way of making sure 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.'
Ms Middleton described the proposal as 'very romantic' and admitted that joining the royal family was a 'daunting prospect'.
Prince Charles announced the couple's engagement yesterday. It was such a closely guarded secret that the only other person who knew about it was Ms Middleton's father, Michael, who had given his permission when Prince William asked for his daughter's hand in marriage after the couple returned from Africa.
In keeping with an 18th-century law, the prince also had to ask the queen's permission, but only did so yesterday morning. Prince Harry, who also learnt the news yesterday, said: 'I am delighted that my brother has popped the question. It means I get a sister, which I have always wanted.'
Asked why he had taken so many years to propose, Prince William said: 'I didn't realise it was a race . . . but the time is right now, we're both very, very happy.' Ms Middleton said 'we have been going out for a long time now and . . . it just seemed the natural step for both of us'.