March 09, 1981 12:00 PM

Think of her as the Girl Next Door, a blue-eyed blonde with a peaches and Devonshire cream complexion and a button nose. She played as a child with his brothers at his family’s country place and grew up to be a kindergarten teacher. So it was only fitting she should marry the Boy Next Door, even if he does happen to be H.R.H. the Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall and Rothesay, Earl of Carrick and Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles, Great Steward of Scotland and heir apparent to the throne of England.

The welcome news pealed through Britain last week that the world’s most eligible bachelor had, at 32, plighted his troth to 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer. The announcement ends Charles’ long search for a bride and may finally silence the Fleet Street hysteria that had turned his often faltering courtships into national obsessions. Diana is the last of a conga line of royal fancies that most recently included 26-year-old Scottish beauty Anna Wallace, as well as Luxembourg’s Princess Marie-Astrid, Lady Jane Wellesley and even Diana’s 25-year-old sister, Sarah. Charles has been ardently squiring Diana for just six months. But he was rumored to be increasingly under pressure from the Queen to get married. He popped the question early in February, as Diana was about to leave for Australia to escape from the nonstop scrutiny she had been subjected to in London. Though Charles planned to give her 10 days to mull over his offer, she responded “quite promptly. It wasn’t a difficult decision,” said Diana. “It’s what I want.”

Prince Charles has known her all her life. She is the youngest daughter of the eighth Earl Spencer, who served as equerry (an officer in the royal household) to King George VI and to Queen Elizabeth; in fact Diana was born in the Spencer home on the Queen’s country estate in Norfolk. She and Charles are 16th cousins once removed. Her parents were divorced in 1969, and Spencer married a former countess who happens to be the daughter of author Barbara Cartland. Diana was educated in Kent and at a finishing school in Switzerland. In London she shares a $240,000 flat, bought for her by her father, with three young women. Until she resigned last week, she had been a part-time teacher in London’s Pimlico district.

After this summer’s wedding, presumably to be held in Westminster Abbey, “Shy Di,” as she’s known in the British press, will become H.R.H. the Princess of Wales. The newlyweds will probably move into Kensington Palace. They also will have the run of High-grove, a country place in the Cotswolds. There they can indulge themselves, galloping over picturesque hills. However, Charles lost his beloved 11-year-old mount, Allibar, shortly before his engagement was announced. The racehorse collapsed while training in Berkshire. A distressed Diana broke into tears and ran into a house while Charles comforted the dying animal.

But Diana recovered and soon was flashing a sizable diamond-and-sapphire ring and a big smile. She claimed to be “blissfully happy,” and Charles was “positively delighted.” He added, perhaps mindful of his much-publicized past, “I’m amazed that she’s brave enough to take me on.”

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