'Betting' On Royal Engagement

Is Prince William about to get engaged?

For the past several weeks, rumor mills in Britain have been buzzing about whether the son of the late Princess Diana will propose to his longtime girlfriend, 24-year-old Kate Middleton.

CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports the push is coming from the next phase of his military training. Also 24, the heir to Britain's throne is about to embark on his military career, and life as an officer on an Army base.

Middleton, with her own parents, was part of the family contingent last month at the ceremony as William graduated from the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. That's considered a very high profile seat for a young woman who is, increasingly, in the spotlight.

At the time, British media used lip readers to reveal a passing comment by Middleton to the prince. "That uniform is so sexy," she said.

Geordie Grieg, editor of the glossy society bible, Tatler, told MacVicar he "would say that all the signs are that this is nudging her toward being accepted as part of a couple. Now, the question is if and when that becomes an engagement and a marriage and a princess.

"Many, many happy marriages take place within the army, and I think it wouldn't be a hindrance or help. What matters is how they get on, and they seem to get on very well."

MacVicar points out there is family precedent for a military marriage: the young, and apparently happy, years of the prince's grandparents, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

A British newspaper reports that William's own advisors have told him to either get engaged soon or cool the relationship, that, without marriage, it's not appropriate for the two to continue to live together.

Royals watcher Victoria Mather, of Vanity Fair, disagrees, saying: "He's having a normal relationship with a normal girl in a normal way. They're going to nightclubs and restaurants and bars and having cozy times watching DVDs, and probably eating pizzas at home on the sofa. That's fantastic."

But that may be about to change, Diana's former private secretary, Patrick Jephson, told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm Wednesday.

He says Middleton may be the next "good" thing for the royals, adding it's "worth a bet" that the prince and Middleton will be engaged soon.

"All the signs are that this is a long-term relationship," Jephson observed, "that they are happy with each other, and that this is probably the year in which the relationship is going to become more formal, perhaps not with a marriage. But I would certainly put a bet on an engagement. After all, next week is Kate's birthday. Maybe there's gonna be a private word between them then."

As for pressure William may be under from his advisers to get engaged, Jephson said: "It's emphatically not an ultimatum. It's more a matter of practicalities. William is now going to go into his troop leaders course, as his next phase of army training. After that, he'll join his regiment. And the way things are organized, young officers are expected to be either married or single. If there's something in between, that creates problems not just for the army but, for example, William's protection squad. If Kate is engaged, then she gets protection, as well. If she's just a girlfriend, that creates practical problems.

"This is a piece of administrative detail that has to be sorted out but, as sometimes happens, it drives the bigger question, too."

British media reports said Middleton didn't want to spend Christmas with the royal family until she married William, and Jephson applauded it, saying: "I've heard that is true, and if it's true, then (kudos) to Kate. After all, she is still not in an official relation with William, and being invited to join the Royal Family for their family Christmas is a very big deal. And so it makes sense that perhaps this is a good moment in which she can just remind everybody that she is still her own women, and where she chooses Christmas is her decision."

Jephson added that Middleton not being a royal or an aristocrat is probably a plus: "It's her normality that many people think will make her such a good new member of the royal family. In historical terms, royal people tended to marry other royal people. In modern times it's much more acceptable for a royal person to marry what they call a commoner. If nothing else, it's good for the gene pool."

But can Middleton avoid the pitfalls that befell Diana?

"It's true, there are pitfalls that lie ahead of her," Jephson responded. "In some respects, this year also marks the point at which this whole relationship is gonna become more serious. That means that Kate is gonna be much more in the line of fire, as far as the media are concerned. There's a great deal she can learn from Diana's experience. I hope she and her advisers are ready to take the trouble to learn those lessons."