Let's hope Kate and Wills avoid royal mistakes

Those of us who set the alarm for the middle of the night to watch Diana marry Charles, and who were witness to all that happened after, are holding our breath as Prince William and Kate Middleton take the leap.

Diana's adorable "Wills," as we came to know him, proposed to his college sweetheart during a safari last month in Kenya, a country that has become a conservation passion for the prince.

He gave Kate his mother's sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring to wear. It is a piece of jewelry that might be as well-known as his mother's lovely face, but it became a gaudy symbol of a marriage that should never have occurred. The heart of Prince Charles, Wills' father, had been given long before to Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Leave it to Charles, who remarked somewhat coolly when asked whether he was in love with Diana, "whatever that means," to make another chilly comment at the news of his son's engagement: "They've been practicing for long enough."

There is even some suggestion in the British press that the royal household sent word to the reluctant William, as it did with his father, to "get on with it."

Eight years of on-again-off-again living together is in sharp contrast to proposing after 10 minutes to a girl who might have been the only blue-blooded virgin left in England. But it does not bode well if William has simply been worn down. Or that if he dumped the patient Kate after all these years, the future king of England would look like the worst kind of cad.

Catherine Elizabeth Middleton is a small-town commoner whose parents made a tidy fortune in a mail-order children's party business, and there is already grumbling that she doesn't have the stuff to be a royal. But she outlasted all the heiresses and all the titled girls who have orbited William for so long. And in all these years of public scrutiny and being stalked by paparazzi — and during a pair of breakups with the prince — she has never once stepped wrong.

Unlike Diana, who was so young and so naive and who had received only a cursory bit of schooling, Kate appears to be as cool and shrewd now as Diana was in her later years. In their engagement interview with reporters, she looked and sounded not at all like Shy Di with the whispery voice.

Considering that Prince Charles' office tweeted the news — and Queen Elizabeth tweeted her congratulations — and considering that the royal couple will probably continue to live together in Wales, where William is stationed with the Royal Air Force, this thoroughly modern couple might have as much chance as any young couple for a solid marriage.

Still, the beautiful and tragic specter of Diana hangs over this whole affair.

The couple will marry in 2011, the year Diana would have turned 50 had it not been for that tragic Paris car crash. It is also the 30th anniversary of the event observers called "the wedding of the century." And it appears the couple will be married in Westminster Abbey, from which Diana made her final journey.

And William gave Kate his mother's ring, he said, so Diana could be part of the celebration.

It is possible William has learned from his parents' mistakes.

His military career as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot means he won't be simply cutting ribbons and visiting the sick as a working royal for years to come. And he did not, as Charles did, let the love of his life slip away. And he did not, as his mother did, marry too young.

Those of us who set the alarm to watch Diana marry Charles no doubt will set the alarm to watch Kate marry Wills.

Wiser by a lifetime, we will be wishing them all the best.


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