May 4, 2006 -- If he really is going to pop the question in the Caribbean, then Prince William is running out of time.
The prince and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, are due back in England for a family wedding on Saturday before the prince heads back to Sandhurst Military Academy for more grueling training.
Britain's Daily Mail ran this headline last week: "Kate takes William on holiday -- but will he pop the question?"
Is the fevered media speculation of an imminent engagement based on fact? Well, not really. The headlines appear to be rooted in the hopes and dreams of Britain's legion of royal reports. A William and Kate wedding would generate endless column inches in newspapers and a boost in circulation. A much-needed boost now that Charles has made a decent woman of Camilla and Harry has calmed down a bit.
This week, Kate made her bikini debut on the front page of a slew of British papers: another long-lens scoop for Britain's notorious paparazzi. Wills and Kate are vacationing on Mustique, a tiny Caribbean island beloved by the rich, the famous and royals. Princess Margaret, William's aunt, was a regular visitor. The island knows how to treat its guests. When a camera-shy celebrity is ashore, the local government creates a no-fly zone over the island and deports anyone unmasked as a photographer. But Kate -- snapped lolling in the sun with William -- made the mistake of leaving the sanctuary of dry land.
"They were offshore when the photographs were taken. They were on a yacht," Ingrid Seward, the editor of Majesty Magazine told us. "The sea belongs to God, so there's nothing anyone can do about that."
The Sun's lascivious royal correspondent, Duncan Larcombe, reported that Kate "dazzled in a white and turquoise bikini that set off her curves and washboard stomach." The smitten reporter continued, "At one point, she took a break from soaking up the sun to train the hose on her tanned body."
The shots were taken by the same photographer who made his name and his fortune with the shots of the late Princess Diana with her lover Dodi al-Fayed. The most famous frame shows their first kiss.
Some people are already drawing comparisons between Kate and Diana.
"What we're doing is, we're wanting to see the same thing so we're reading Diana into Kate," said Seward. "Basically, she's just a good-looking girl who's on Prince William's arm, so of course she's going to be photographed."
She's going to be photographed and people are going to ask the question: Will he marry her? She's not from aristocratic stock. She's a commoner, as they say in this country. But that doesn't matter so much anymore. The royal family is moving with these egalitarian times. But Kate is just 24 and Prince William only 23. He's said in the past that he doesn't plan to marry until he's at least 28. But they have been together for four years. They lived together at college. And they appear very much in love.
Royal biographer Robert Lacey believes they will get engaged but not for another year or so. "William's father, Charles, did it the other way around," Lacey told us. "He played the field before settling down with Diana. And that ended in a very unhappy marriage."