By Theresa Cook, msnbc.com
LONDON — "They're engaged. THEY'RE ENGAGED!"
Those words, uttered by a NBC News producer rushing back to her desk Tuesday morning, would generally prompt a follow-up question of "WHO is engaged?"
But in Britain, there could only be one answer: Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Londoners weren't exactly shocked by the news. But despite wall-to-wall coverage on every U.K. television network, by lunchtime many people weren't aware that the rumors had officially been confirmed.
"I was reading about Suu Kyi with more interest," said Anne Smith, referring to Myanmar's recently freed pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi.
Smith had been shopping in the city's Covent Garden area with friend Gill Sutch. "They've been going out so long" that the announcement didn't exactly come as a surprise, Smith added.
Self-described "monarchists to the core," the pair agreed William and Kate will not be able to maintain their media-shy ways for much longer. Sutch said it will be interesting to watch as the public gets an opportunity to know the likely future queen in the months ahead.
"She hasn't given much away, has she?" Sutch mused.
'More than modern couple'
Across from the nearby Prince of Wales pub, Laura Canter had also not heard the news. But the 26-year-old, who has long brown hair and high cheekbones not unlike Middleton's, said she hoped for a "more private, more romantic" event for the "more than modern couple." However, she acknowledged that they'll have to "go big" if they need to accommodate a huge guest list.
Many Londoners envision a wedding for the ages. By the time their son gets hitched, it will have been 30 years since Charles and Diana's ill-fated 1981 union. A 3,500-strong congregation packed into St. Paul's Cathedral and an additional 600,000 lined the streets of the capital that July day, according to the BBC. The wedding had an additional 750 million sets of eyes glued to TV screens around the world.
"It should be what it should be — a big wedding," said East London resident Wesley Sargeant, on his smoke break outside the building he was fireproofing near Great Queen Street. "They're the royal family!"
But will the bride wear a frothy designer gown with a 25-foot long train like Diana? Will the cost of the event draw criticism in a time of economic austerity?
"Whatever you say about it, it's a good thing because it gives people something to look forward to," said Graham, a sharply dressed London resident in a grey coat buttoned all the way up to protect him against the chilly autumn afternoon.
A royal wedding, and the monarchy in general, is part of a rich national history that "other countries would kill" to have, added Dean, his 28-year-old lunchtime companion. (Both declined to give their last names.)
"The only problem for me," he said, "is I'm the same age as William, so now my girlfriend will be pressuring me!"