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Why this royal match will work

By Penny Junor, Special to CNN
  • Penny Junor: Déjà vu seeing Prince William and Kate Middleton announce engagement
  • Unlike his parents, they've known each other for eight years, she observes
  • Kate won't eclipse Prince William; she will compliment him, says Junor
  • Junor: Charles-Diana marriage almost destroyed the monarchy; this could secure it

Editor's note: Penny Junor is a British author and broadcaster whose books include "Charles and Diana: Portrait of a Marriage (1991)" and "The Firm: The Troubled Life of the House of Windsor" (2005). Her forthcoming book is a biography of Prince William, to be published by Hodder and Stoughton in 2011.

(CNN) -- For anyone around 30 or older, this week's royal engagement left one with an uneasy feeling of déjà vu.

The photographs of Prince William and Kate Middleton, facing the flashing cameras of the world's press, were uncannily like those of William's parents, the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, when they announced their plans to marry in 1981. The color of the dress, the pose, the linked arms, the looks -- they were almost identical. Kate was even wearing Diana's ring.

The rapturous response from the media was a rerun of 1981, too -- the special supplements, the pages and pages of photographs, the speculation about who will design the dress, where they will honeymoon, where and how they first met, who their friends are and from whom their families are descended.

Television channels were saturated with more of the same, the only difference being that this time around we have nonstop rolling news broadcasts so there was even more on which viewers could feast.

Bad news took a back seat. The British people, struggling with job losses, cuts and economic hardship just as they were 30 years ago, were lifted out of the gloom for a day.

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When it comes, the wedding will be another great boost to the country's morale, an excuse for a giant party, for people to take to the streets, embrace strangers and celebrate, just as it was in 1981. The nation fell in love with Diana, and the nation has once again fallen in love with the woman who wears her ring.

So where does the comparison end?

The first wedding was dubbed a fairy tale, but the story didn't play out as it should have. Looking back, it is all too easy to see why and to see why this marriage between William and Kate has every chance of being the real thing.

Charles and Diana scarcely knew each other when they became engaged.

He had played the field during his 20s. He had a string of pretty girls who adorned his arm, each one exciting speculation in the press, but by 32, the pressure to find a suitable bride had become intense.

Once the press identified Diana Spencer as a possible candidate, they hounded her mercilessly until Charles was told by his father that he must make his mind up and either marry this girl or let her go. He asked her to marry him.

Diana was just 19. She was from a broken home, albeit an aristocratic one. She was poorly educated and had little experience of the world. She was quite unprepared and emotionally ill equipped for life as a member of the royal family, a life that is as bizarre as it is unreal. When asked on the day of their engagement whether they were in love, the Prince of Wales famously replied, "Whatever love is."

William and Kate met at university in St. Andrew's and were friends before they were ever lovers. They have known each other for eight years and appear to have become soul mates. No one who has seen them together can question that their love is genuine.

Kate is 10 years older than Diana was. She may be middle-class, but she comes from a stable, loving and happy family. She is well-educated and has traveled and seen the world. She has held down a responsible job, and crucially, they got to know each other away from the public gaze.

The monarchy learned a lot during the Diana years and is infinitely better armed today to protect the privacy of its members. The press may not have been tamed but they have certainly been given boundaries that never existed in Diana's day.

Kate is going into this marriage and this bizarre life with her eyes wide open.

She has had a taste of what life in the gold-fish bowl is like. She's been followed and photographed, analyzed and criticized, and her humble origins have been chewed over in the press. She has proved herself to be made of strong stuff and to be discreet, loyal and trustworthy.

Diana became a superstar and at times she eclipsed Charles because she was young, glamorous and fun, and he was seen as rather staid and serious. It wasn't good for their relationship. William is a superstar himself; he is young, glamorous and fun. And he is Diana's son.

Kate won't eclipse him; she will complement him. His overriding desire is to be seen as relevant in his public life, and with someone who is so grounded and so normal by his side, I have a hunch they will become a formidable team.

The failure of Charles and Diana's marriage almost destroyed the monarchy. This union has every chance of securing its future.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Penny Junor.

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