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04.05.10

A Date for William and Kate

Will they or won’t they? London buzzed yesterday with Tina Brown’s new clues about when Prince William and Kate Middleton will announce their long-awaited engagement.

UPDATE: The wedding will take place in the spring or summer of 2011.

When British Prime Minister Gordon Brown traveled to Buckingham Palace on Tuesday morning to ask Her Majesty's permission to dissolve parliament and call a general election for May 6, I wonder if another important date on the queen's calendar was on the conversational agenda.

Click Image to View Our Gallery of William and Kate's Royal Romance

Buckingham Palace has hardly embraced my suggestion yesterday that June is a likely date for the engagement announcement at last of the 27-year-old Prince William and his patient squeeze, 28-year-old Kate Middleton. A highly placed source in royal circles said that two days in June have been mysteriously blocked out on the palace diaries—June 3 and 4. If June were indeed to be the announcement date, a wedding itself would probably follow in November, like the wedding of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, who married at Westminster Abbey that cold, damp November day in 1947.

Gallery: Kate, Princess in the MakingA June engagement and winter wedding would make sense all around for the complicated royal priorities. It would come after the turmoil of the Parliamentary general election is over and a new (or the same) prime minister is installed in Downing Street. It would fit neatly with the impending transition in William 's Royal Air Force career transitions. In January 2011, he leaves the RAF helicopter school at Shawbury and becomes an operational pilot ready for a three-year search-and-rescue tour of duty. An announcement in 2011—another possibility—would run into two landmark moments for the Queen and Prince Philip: Philip will be 90 in June 2011, and the queen celebrates her diamond jubilee—60 years on the throne—in February 2012. Their closeness to their grandson, especially Philip, makes them eager, I am told, to see William settled in matrimony.

But perhaps even more important in planning a winter wedding for the royals is to avoid any throwback seasonable resonance with the legendary February engagement and July wedding of William's parents, Charles and Diana. Since the inquest into Di's death was completed two years ago, the palace has been able to damp down considerably the relentless resurfacing of her persistent ghost.

Where will the wedding be held? Di phobia, I predict, will rule out St. Paul's Cathedral. No bride, even one as good-looking as Ms. Middleton, could compete with those iconic images of the 20-year-old Princess of Wales unfurling her 25-foot silk taffeta train to the world's cameras on the red carpeted steps of St. Paul's. St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle is a possibility and very magical if the wedding is held near Christmas. However, it might evoke the too recent debacle of the Windsor wedding of Charles and Camilla, when—since the queen could not attend a registry office wedding featuring a bride who had been (to put it mildly) divorced—the ceremony was banished to the Guildhall nearby.

The obvious top-tier choice is Westminster Abbey, which seats 2,000 and is the final resting place of 17 monarchs but it feels unfashionably grand for the studiedly modern casualness of William and Kate, the daughter, as the press never stops reminding her, of a commoner. Kate herself may be shrewd enough not to want the full royal Monty. Quietly ambitious and gently pushy, she has cannily held her position in the life of England's most eligible bachelor for seven long years of female competition and relentless press coverage. She knows she will get her shot at Westminster Abbey when she is finally crowned queen, and that's always been the finale Ms. Middleton has played for.

So where does that leave as a venue? The couple are both independent enough of tradition to surprise us. The British Isles are awash with the choice of beautiful historic churches, abbeys, and cathedrals where one king or another has tied the knot and bestowed a royal precedent. (Note to royal couple: Stay away from Canterbury Cathedral, where Thomas à Becket was whacked near the stairs to the crypt.)

Of course it is always possible that as an alternative to November, the couple braves the ghost of Di’s rhythms for a Christmas announcement and a June 2011 wedding t o coincide with Prince Philip’s birthday on Friday, June 10, 2011, which will bring an influx of foreign royals and relatives. The Queen is very cost-conscious these days and she may feel that three big royal celebrations in a row in three years—wedding, birthday, and diamond jubilee in 2012—will excite press flak for over spending. Moreover, there is talk that William will be posted to Northern Ireland in September once his RAF training is finished. Royal watchers believe it is unlikely he would be sent as a married man.

Whether it is this year or next however, the national mood would benefit from an announcement—whatever similarities William may want to avoid.

Whatever similarities William may want to avoid between his own wedding and that of his parents, he can't escape the national mood. Just as in 1981, when England was in a shabby, complaining frame of mind after four and a half years of a sclerotic socialist government followed by a grim Thatcherite arrival, so the mood of England now, after 13 years of Labour in power, is mean, mean, mean. With 8 percent unemployment, a recessionary hangover, soaring taxes, and a political class unanimously despised since the parliamentary expenses scandal, the country needs a royal wedding as badly as it did when the young Lady Diana Spencer emerged to bring the British people a rejuvenating image of freshness and renewal.

Whoever is the new prime minister by June should cross their fingers and pray for six months of wedding fever to distract the savage British press.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect Buckingham Palace’s response. Also, as pointed out by MichaelR in the comments below, the location of Thomas à Becket's murder was near the stairs to the crypt, not at the altar.

Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown.