...Meanwhile, Anne Gets Her Man

updated 12/21/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/21/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

PRINCESS DI MAY HAVE STOLEN THE spotlight last week, but she couldn't dim the glow around Princess Anne. The reason: the announcement of a Dec. 12 wedding between the 42-year-old Princess and Cmdr. Timothy Laurence—an upstanding (and blessedly unremarkable) naval officer who once served as her mother's equerry.

The Queen pronounced herself "delighted," and—amid the troubling news of the Waleses' formal breakup—many of her subjects seemed equally pleased. In Winchester, where the groom lives in a modest brick house, pub patrons toasted the couple with a rum-and-champagne cocktail christened Tim's Tipple. Even rowdy London tabloids served up respectful stories about hardworking Anne, depicting her romance with the 37-year-old commoner as "love with dignity."

Described by close friend David Nicholson as "absolutely bubbling," the Princess had hoped to present her marriage as a fail accompli. Word of the couple's plans reached the press, however, and on Dec. 4 the Palace issued a brief statement. The Dec. 12 nuptials were to be utterly unlike the glittering ceremony on Nov. 14, 1973, when 500 million TV viewers watched Anne, then 23, wed army captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey. Unable, as a royal divorcee, to remarry in the Anglican Church, of which the Queen is the legal head, she planned to wed Laurence in a 3 P.M. ceremony at the tiny stone-and-slate Church of Scotland Crathie Kirk near the Queen's Balmoral estate. Only 30 guests, including her son, Peter, 15. and daughter, Zara, 11, were invited.

The first child of a reigning British monarch ever to divorce and remarry, Anne chose a straight-arrow, socially adept partner who is comfortable with her family. As the Queen's equerry—a combination secretary and personal attendant—for three years, Laurence learned the ways of the Windsors early. He often ate with the family, accompanied them on outings, cruised with them on the royal yacht and made the formal introductions when important guests came to visit.

The son of Guy Laurence, an ex-navy man who died in 1982, and his wife, Barbara, Timothy James Hamilton Laurence was raised with older brother Jonathan in Kent, where Guy was a salesman for a marine-engine manufacturer. Tim graduated from the Royal Naval College in the mid-'70s and later earned a degree in geography from Durham University in northeastern England (where classmates nicknamed him Tiger Tim, for his tenacity as editor of the university magazine). In 1979 he was assigned to the royal yacht, Britannia, and then seven years later was appointed equerry to the Queen, a job that allowed him to share an office at Buckingham Palace and regularly hover at the Queen's side. The handsome, well-mannered bachelor caught the eye of the strong-willed Princess, whose marriage to Phillips was apparently cooling. Not until 1989, however—when four of Laurence's love letters were stolen from Anne's briefcase at Buckingham Palace—did the romance come to light.

Even after Anne formally separated from Phillips in 1989, the courtship remained impeccably discreet. She and Laurence were seldom seen together until her divorce became final last April.

Expected to divide their time between an apartment in Buckingham Palace and Gatcombe Park, Anne's country house in Gloucestershire, the couple share a pragmatism that will surely serve them well. Three days after their wedding they were due back in London, where Laurence now works at the Ministry of Defense and where Anne had a full slate of public appearances waiting.

The question, of course, is whether their brand of "love with dignity" can survive. "I think they have an excellent chance," says Brian Hoey, author of a 1989 biography of Anne. "She is a fairly cynical person, and she doesn't have a hearts-and-flowers view of marriage. But she is extremely fond of him." As for how Laurence, the former equerry, will fit in with the "royal firm," "He got to know people who were on the world stage, and he likes the life," says Hoey. "He does enjoy it."

For the maritally troubled Windsors, that might be credential enough.

MICHELLE GREEN
TERRY SMITH, HELEN GIBSON and MARGARET WRIGHT in London

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