Everything stops as Spain welcomes a popular princess-to-be

After years of consorting with the wrong sort of girlfriends, the heir to the Spanish throne is finally to marry a beautiful television journalist hailed yesterday as the perfect modern princess. Even the King and Queen approve.

Broadcasters cleared the schedules yesterday to celebrate Prince Felipe de Borbon's engagement to Letizia Ortiz, 31, in the northern province of Asturias. Ms Ortiz is a divorced newscaster from Oviedo and the daughter of journalists without a trace of blue blood. The future Spanish queen's first marriage to a former colleague is brushed aside because it was a civil ceremony and therefore not recognised by the Catholic Church. Accordingly, the royal marriage will take place in Madrid's Almudena cathedral next summer and the bride will wear white. Her profession, her middle-class origins, even her "past" are praised as proof that she is a woman of her time.

Sacrosanct football coverage was interrupted on Saturday night to broadcast the news. Ms Ortiz's seven-month romance with the prince was kept secret until rumours circulating on Friday prompted a hasty announcement from the palace.

Queen Sofia and King Juan Carlos, who have met Ms Ortiz several times, expressed their "great satisfaction" with their son's choice, and are said to be delighted. The news is a fillip for the royals, because public opinion was getting impatient at Prince Felipe's bachelorhood. The prince broke off his last romance, with the Norwegian former lingerie model Eva Sannum, two years ago. He was said to have been warned that her bold manners, humble origins and Lutheran protestantism made her unsuitable to be queen.

Prince Felipe's first serious romance was as a teenager with the aristocratic Spanish beauty Isabel Sartorius, who was vetoed by Queen Sofia for being older than the prince, from a broken home and niece of a communist leader. He also had a fling in Washington during a master's degree with an American millionaire's daughter Gigi Howard, also considered unsuitable.

Prince Felipe, 36, always said he wanted to marry for love, and insisted his bride need not be royal, or even noble. But Spain's royals earn the nation's respect by how they behave, so he had to find someone discreet, elegant and popular with his future subjects.

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