Nov. 23, 2010— -- It's finally time for millions of Britons, celebrities and foreign leaders to save the date. After a flurry of speculation, the royal family said this morning that recently engaged Prince William and Kate Middleton have set a date for their wedding.
The royal couple will be wed at Westminster Abbey Friday, April 29, 2011, according to a statement by the royal house of Prince Charles, William's father.
As one of the most anticipated events of 2011, the date will be declared a national holiday and, in addition to the thousands of guests expected to attend the wedding, millions more will be watching on television and online.
"They wanted a Friday. They wanted a spring wedding and they wanted to give the country a day off," royal expert Katie Nicholl told "Good Morning America."
But why so early? Most royal watchers were guessing the wedding would take place in the summer. Bookies had even reportedly stopped taking bets on July.
"They didn't want this to take too long," Nicholl said. "Remember, they've been together nine years. ... They were just desperate to get it over and done with."
Prior to the announcement, special attention was focused on how much the royal blowout would cost and who would pick up the tab because the island nation has been reeling from the global economic downturn and recently slashed $130 billion in spending and about 500,000 public sector jobs.
The royal family said in the statement today it would be paying for the wedding and, Nicholl said, it will be a subdued affair; at least relative to most royal celebrations.
"But let's face it, the royal family isn't short a few pennies," Nicholl said.
'It's About Time' Royal Engagement Announced
The wedding could be an emotional return to Westminster for Prince William. It was the same place he said his final goodbyes to his mother, the late Princess Diana, at her funeral in 1997.
The abbey can hold nearly 3,000 guests, but it could still be months before the much-anticipated guest list is made public, former Buckingham palace spokesman Dickie Arbiter said.
"What you've got to remember is that you've got guests William and Kate want to invite, there are guests that William and Kate have got to invite because there's the commonwealth aspect, there are world leaders that have to be considered, there are friends. there are family. So they're already thinking about that," he said last week.
William and Middleton announced their engagement last week, sending millions of Britons and the international media into a wedding-warped frenzy.
Today's announcement was followed by visible sighs of relief from the happy couple, and the queen said she was "absolutely delighted" for the couple, Buckingham Palace said hours after the announcement.
Like the queen, Middletons' parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, said after the announcement they too were "absolutely delighted."
"The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton," a statement from Clarence House last week read.
Prince William, 28, asked Middleton, also 28, to marry him while the two were on vacation in Kenya last month, the statement said.
The happy couple appeared for the first time for reporters arm-in-arm before a barrage of camera flashes, Middleton wearing the famous engagement ring worn by Princess Diana.
"He's a true romantic and we had a wonderful holiday in Africa and it was out there in a very quiet lodge and it was very romantic and it was very personal time for both of us," Middleton said.
In an interview with Britain's ITV News' Tom Bradby, Middleton said the proposal came as a surprise, despite years of public speculation that the couple would wed.
"We were out there with friends, so I really didn't expect it at all," Middleton said. "It was a total shock when it came. Very excited."
The announcement came to the elation of Britons, many of whom viewed the engagement as a seemingly inevitable yet unreachable moment. Within 25 minutes of the announcement's posting on the royal Facebook page, more than 1,400 people "liked" the news. The numbers have since increased.
"It's about time! Congrats," one commenter wrote, a sentiment echoed by hundreds of others.
The Long Courtship
The two met nearly a decade ago while students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The relationship garnered some controversy because Middleton does not come from royalty and royals are generally expected to wed other aristocrats.
William said the two were friends for more than a year and lived as flatmates. "It blossomed from then on," he said. "We had lots of fun. ... Same interests. She has a really naughty sense of humor."
When asked why it took so long to propose, a beaming William quipped, "I also didn't realize it was a race, otherwise I probably would've been a lot quicker.
"We have a great fun time together," the prince told reporters. As for the ring, William said, it, like Kate, was very special to him.
"Well as you may recognize now, it's my mother's engagement ring and it's very special to me, as Kate is very special to me now as well. It was only right the two were put together," William said. "It was my way of making sure mother didn't miss out on today and the excitement and the fact that we're going to spend the rest of our lives together."
Diana received the ring from Prince Charles after the two were engaged in 1981. At the time, the sapphire ring, which is surrounded by 14 diamonds, cost 30,000 pounds, or about $47,500 at today's conversion rate.
"I had been carrying it around in my rucksack for about three weeks before [the proposal]," William told ITV. "Everywhere I went, I was keeping ahold of it, cause I knew if this thing disappeared, I'd be in a lot of trouble."
"It's beautiful," Middleton said, as she showed the ring to ITV's camera.
While Middleton is now wearing Diana's ring, William said, she won't be in his mother's shadow.
"There's no pressure," he said. "Like Kate said, it is about carving your own future. No one is trying to fill my mother's shoes. What she did was fantastic. It's about making your own future and your own destiny, and Kate will do a very good job of that."
William said he didn't know where to start when asked why the couple was apparently so loving, but said she makes him laugh. For her part, Kate said William was very supportive of her.
William and Kate broke up briefly in 2007 but were back together within months.
Prince William is second in line for the throne, after his father Charles, Prince of Wales. Prince William's mother was Diana, Princess of Wales, who died in an auto accident in 1997.
The royal couple plan to live in north Wales, where Prince William will continue his service in the Royal Air Force, the announcement statement said.
ABC News' Nick Watt, Sarah Netter, Jason Volack and Bradley Blackburn contributed to this report.