McCartney: I will wed 'sometime next year'

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Sir Paul McCartney launched a furious media bidding war yesterday with the announcement that he is to marry his girlfriend, Heather Mills.

The former Beatle proposed during a holiday in the Lake District and will marry "sometime" next year.

The announcement followed months of speculation despite the couple's attempt to avoid public scrutiny of their relationship.

The news is likely to send the executives of lifestyle magazines scurrying for their chequebooks to try to secure exclusive coverage for an event already inked in as the wedding of 2002. Sir Paul first met his future wife at a charity function when Ms Mills, 33, appealed for help for her own foundation, the Heather Mills Trust, which provides limbs for victims of war.

Ms Mills, a former swimwear model whose left leg was amputated below the knee after she was run over by a police motorcyclist in 1993, is at the forefront of the campaign to ban landmines.

A statement on behalf of the couple said yesterday: "Paul McCartney and Heather Mills are pleased to announce their engagement.

"The couple are looking forward to being married 'some time next year'. Paul and Heather said today that they would like to thank their relatives and friends for all the great support they have shown them since they met two years ago."

Sir Paul proposed on Monday with a sapphire and diamond engagement ring he bought in Jaipur, India, during a holiday earlier this year, his spokesman said.

Sir Paul's wife of 30 years, Linda McCartney, died of breast cancer in April 1998.