Lord Althorp, Di's Impetuous Brother, Proposes to a Model He Met Only Two Months Ago

updated 07/24/1989 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/24/1989 01:00AM

Prince Wills made it to long pants; Princess Bea came out to meet the press; Princess Anne's marriage survived. Just when royal watchers thought they could stop craning their necks and take a midsummer break—whiplash! Princess Diana's younger brother, Viscount Althorp, 25, announced his engagement to a young woman some of his family had not even met. In fact, the viscount himself—Charlie to his mates, "Champagne Charlie" to his detractors—was introduced to brooding brunet model Victoria Lockwood, 24, close to two months ago. If they make it to the altar Sept. 16 as planned, the lovebirds will have known each other four months.

"I suppose you could call it a whirlwind romance," said Althorp. "I assumed that getting married would take years, but it hasn't worked out that way." Not that the 6'2" heir to the Spencer earldom (and its accompanying 1,500 acres and roughly $30 million fortune) has carved a reputation for patience and caution. Althorp stunned the British upper crust in 1986 when he clipped on a Today show mike to whisper family secrets at the Duke and Duchess of York's wedding. He also forfeited discretion points by revealing his sexual fantasies on a British talk show ("I often fantasize about being in a Roman orgy with a girl I'm interested in"). His lusty past includes a parade of conquests, but until now, the love of his life was Katie Braine, a 24-year-old model turned artist who responded to the news of Charlie's engagement with a gallant "I'm thrilled."

Whatever hearts he has broken, Al-thorp claims his latest exploit has the family's support. Dad backed him up. "My wife and I are delighted," said Earl Spencer. "The Princess of Wales has been critical in the past of Charles's girlfriends, but we fully approve this time."

The object of their appraisal grew up middle-class in London, the daughter of John Lockwood, the group personnel director of Britain's Civil Aviation Authority, and Elly, a magistrate. Though she was a classmate of Princess Margaret's daughter, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, at London's Francis Holland School, Victoria was not academically inclined and didn't attend college. A strikingly beautiful girl—"I always used to say, 'She feels like royalty,' " says Frances Grill, who recruited her for New York's Click modeling agency in 1984—Lockwood later moved to Paris, where she posed for Harpers & Queen and the Italian Vogue. However, she has not made it to the top of the profession, in part, believes photographer Lance Staedler, because "she's keener on seeing the world and meeting people."

Now that the world is meeting her, Ms. Lockwood's figure could become a matter of public scrutiny. Acquaintances have rattled off dire possibilities—that her pencil-thin frame might reflect an eating disorder, or that it reflects an impulsive temperament ill-suited to the job of royal relative. Pish and tosh. "Having met Princess Diana," said Vicky, "I'm thrilled to know I'm going to be part of their family." Meanwhile, Charles continues to act like a man beguiled: "I just knew she was the one for me," he said of his glamorous fiancée. "My happiness is complete."

—Tim Allis, Janine Di Giovanni in London

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