Once more into the breach; Betrothal: As Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones announce they're engaged, all of Britain crosses its fingers that this time a royal marriage will take.


LONDON -- The Windsors just can't resist trying again.

With a kiss and a smile, Prince Edward yesterday reveled in his engagement to longtime girlfriend Sophie Rhys-Jones and prepared to take on the first-marriage jinx that bedeviled his three older siblings -- Anne, Charles and Andrew.

Although no wedding date or venue were set in the official engagement announcement released by Buckingham Palace, it was noted the couple wished to wed in late spring or summer at St. George's Chapel on the grounds of Windsor Castle, the family retreat west of London. By royal standards the couple is trying to fashion a low-key celebration, bypassing such glorious sights as St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

"There is no such thing as a private wedding, but I hope it will be predominantly a family wedding," Edward told reporters and photographers as he showed off his bride-to-be and her glittering engagement ring on an uncharacteristically warm winter day at St. James's Palace.

So, just in time for the end of the century will come yet another royal wedding.

Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her 50th wedding anniversary to Prince Philip last year, but her children haven't fared all that well, with failed first marriages. The most famous bad match, of course, was Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. It ended in divorce in 1996. Then Princess Diana died in a car accident in Paris the next year, along with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed.

Princess Anne, Charles' older sister, married Capt. Mark Phillips on Nov. 14, 1973; divorced 1992; married Capt. Timothy Laurence, Dec. 12, 1992.

Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson -- known as "Fergie" -- on July 23, 1986; divorced 1992.

But the expectation is that this latest royal marriage will not end in royal tears. And the British, like an extended family of aunts and uncles, appeared to heave a sigh of relief as the queen's youngest, at 34, finally announced he was ready to take the plunge.

Edward Windsor, as he likes to be called in business, is a head-strong working prince who left the Royal Marines to pursue his first love -- theater. After working as a backstage assistant with Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Theater Company, Edward set up his own television production company in 1990 and has produced several royal documentaries.

Rhys-Jones is a 33-year-old publicist, the daughter of an ex-car salesman, now working for a tire company. Raised in the village of Brenchley in Kent in southern England, Rhys-Jones attended secretarial college, worked part-time in a pub and launched herself in the PR world in London.

She has several former boyfriends that the British tabloids were only too glad to report on, listing five of them, all the way back to her teen years.

Although they first met in the 1980s, the courtship began in June 1993 after Rhys-Jones handled publicity for Prince Edward's Real Tennis Challenge. Their uncommonly long royal courtship suited Edward's deliberate style.

Asked why they get along, Edward said, "I don't know, we just do really." Sophie chimed in, "I think we share a lot of interests, we laugh a lot, we have a great friendship."

For years now, there have been rumors of an impending Edward-Sophie wedding, but plans were always dashed. Diana's death apparently forced a delay.

Edward said, "It's impossible for anyone else to understand why it has taken me this long, but I don't think it would have been right before and I don't think Sophie would have said yes before. I must have got the timing right."

Edward proposed before Christmas, presenting Sophie with a triple diamond ring -- a 2.05-carat round diamond surrounded by heart-shaped gems.

"I managed to take her completely by surprise," he said. "She had no idea it was coming, which was what I really wanted to do. The trouble is everybody always speculating always made it very difficult. Every time there was another round of speculation I had to go very quiet again."

Said Rhys-Jones: "I was slightly stunned for a minute, then I suddenly realized I should actually answer the question. So then I said, 'Yes, yes, please.' "

The couple went through the formality of seeking the approval of her father before making their engagement public. Sophie's parents, Christopher and Mary Rhys-Jones, appeared ecstatic yesterday as they announced, "We have always enjoyed Prince Edward's company and feel that they make a wonderful couple."

Blond and blue-eyed, Sophie looks a little like Princess Diana. Sensibly dressed in a gray business suit, she braved questions about joining the royal family.

"It is slightly nerve-wracking in many ways, but I am ready for it now," she said. "I'm fully aware of the responsibilities and commitments and I think now I am ready."

Will she continue working in public relations at her company, R-JH Public Relations?

"Yes, it will be very much business as usual."

Asked about starting a family, the bride-to-be laughed and said, "We haven't got married yet."

Pub Date: 1/07/99

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