LONDON -- Prince Charles, the world's most eligible bachelor with a roving eye for the girls, ended his search for a queen Tuesday with the announcement he will marry Lady Diana Spencer, a 19-year-old kindergarten teacher.
'Diana will certainly keep me young. You are only as young as you think you are,' the 32-year-old Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne told reporters after a formal Buckingham Palace statement by Queen Elizabeth.
His mother and father, Prince Philip, announced the long-awaited engagement 'with the greatest pleasure,' ending the rumor and speculation that has surrounded the prince's love life, played out in a glare of publicity.
The wedding most likely will be held in July at Westminster Abbey and marks the end of a 13-year quest by the future king for a woman to share his throne.
Charles and Diana celebrated their engagement Tuesday night with a family black-tie dinner at Clarence House, home of Charles' grandmother, Queen mother Elizabeth, where Diana was expected to live until the wedding.
The queen and Prince Philip were among the guests, along with Diana's father. Her mother was in Australia.
Ever since he first appeared in public with a date, the prince's little black book has been sprinkled with the names of some of the most beautiful and wealthiest girls from Britain's upper crust.
But the bachelor prince's roving eye did not stop at bluebloods -- or the shores of his future realm. He dated actresses and models and there was even a reported attempt by ex-president Nixon to pair him off with his daughter, Tricia.
Most of Charles' liaisons were brief. It was always on the cards he would eventually chose his consort from the ranks of the aristocratic landed gentry close to the royal family. Lady Diana Spencer is one of those.
The beaming bride-to-be, a distant relative of Winston Churchill, flashed her sapphire and diamond engagement ring and posed for photographers.
Her sister, Lady Sarah, introduced the couple to the press as 'Miss Right and Mr. Right.'
Charles said he proposed earlier this month before Diana left for a short vacation in Australia to escape the constant publicity their romance attracted. He told her:
'Perhaps you want time to think? Maybe it's (royal protocol) too awful for you?'
Diana, whose family dates back to King Charles II, promptly replied: 'No. I haven't any doubts.'
Since the two began seeing each other in 1977, their every movement has been splashed across the British press. But they did manage to keep a secret rendezvous last year.
Lady Diana stayed at Queen Mother Elizabeth's castle home in Scotland to be near the prince, who spent the summer at his mother's Balmoral estate in the Highlands.
'The whole thing was planned like a military operation,' said Charles.'I was absolutely determined to keep it a secret.'
Lady Diana, a kindergarten teacher who will become Princess of Wales when she marries, said she had never given any thought to their 13-year age difference. Asked if keeping the secret had involved much pressure, she said yes, 'but it's been worthwhile.'
When Charles eventually succeeds his mother, Lady Diana will become his consort, Queen Diana. The couple said they were still undecided where to honeymoon and where to live after marriage but it might be Charles' country house in Gloucestershire, southwest of London.
Lady Diana said she had no recollection of meeting Charles before 1977 and they did not begin to think seriously about each other until last July.
'We began to realize then that there was something in it,' Charles said.
Her father, Lord Spencer, told reporters that Prince Charles had asked for his daughter's hand during a telephone conversation.
'I don't know what he would have done if I'd said no,' chuckled the Earl.
Lord Spencer divorced Diana's mother, now Mrs. Frances Shand Kydd. He is now married to Raine McCorquodale, daughter of romantic novelist Barbara Cartland.
Most royal weddings take place at Westminster Abbey, performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, as when Charles' sister Princess Anne married Capt. Mark Phillips in 1973.
The royal establishment reacted favorably to Charles' choice of a woman possessing what are regarded as exactly the right qualities for a future queen -- aristocratic, rich, attractive, of blameless reputation and with a noble lineage that makes her and Charles 11th cousins.