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Friday, 18 January, 2002, 07:00 GMT
Lib Dem leader Kennedy to wed
Charles Kennedy and Sarah Gurling
The happy couple pose for the cameras
Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy is to marry his girlfriend of four years, Sarah Gurling, in the summer.

He proposed to Ms Gurling, a 31-year-old employee of lottery operator Camelot, over new year at his family's croft at Lochyside, which lies within sight of Ben Nevis.

Charles Kennedy and Sarah Gurling
The traditional kiss for the media
The engagement ring is gold, with a solitaire diamond.

Announcing the news, Mr Kennedy, 42, said: "We have not yet decided exactly where and when we shall marry, although we are planning to have a summer wedding.

"We met through politics and Sarah was a wonderful support during my campaign to become leader of the Liberal Democrats two years ago and through last summer's General Election.

"She also has her own career and like many couples today we will try to keep our working lives separate from our home life."

Getting busier

The couple are now searching for a home in London.

"We have been together now for nearly four years and our decision will come as little surprise to those who know us well," added Mr Kennedy.

Like any couple making such an important decision, it has changed our lives and in a way that is grounded in love and friendship

Sarah Gurling
"I am enormously looking forward to getting married. This is a very happy day which I hope others can enjoy with us."

South Londoner Sarah, who unlike the Catholic groom-to-be is Church of England, is head of government relations for National Lottery operator Camelot.

She said: "Like any couple making such an important decision, it has changed our lives and in a way that is grounded in love and friendship.

"Life has been busy over the last few years as we both have our own careers.

"As an active member and supporter of the Liberal Democrats I guess, for me, things will just get busier."

Parents pleased

Mr Kennedy's parents Mary and Ian said: "We are very happy for Charles and Sarah - she has been such a source of strength for our young son.

"They get on extremely well and the family here are delighted."

Sarah's parents Jill, a retired radiographer and Peter, a retired company secretary, said they were also delighted by the news.

The engagement ring
The gold ring with solitaire diamond
"They have been friends for some time and share many interests - we wish them both well for their future together," they added.

The Lib Dem leader has long had a reputation for enjoying his freedom.

When asked about his marital intentions in the past, he was not unknown to reply, romantically: "I've got no plans for a wedding in my in-tray."

Now all that has changed and although he was quite open about loathing the idea that Ms Gurling be sported around the country like some sort of political accessory, she has made appearances by his side on certain occasions.

During the election campaign the couple went to a London school together and they arrived side-by-side at last year's Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth.

'Chatshow Charlie'

Mr Kennedy's rise to the heights of leader of Britain's third largest party was a long while coming.

He became Britain's youngest MP aged just 23, just a year after winning a Fulbright scholarship to Indiana University in 1982.

He has said of himself: "I believe in being serious about politics, though not in taking myself too seriously."

That included frequent appearances as a panelist on TV shows earning him the sobriquet 'Chatshow Charlie'.

And he struggled to find significant promotion under the previous Lib Dem leader, Paddy Ashdown, who made him the party's rural affairs spokesman.

During the 2001 general election campaign he stunned his party by embarking on a marathon personal tour, vowing not to have a drink until the polls were closed and giving them the largest number of seats since the 1920s.

The BBC's Shaun Ley
"A case of winning her vote first and then her heart"
See also:

16 Feb 01 | Key People
Charles Kennedy: Lib Dem Leader
17 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Kennedy's 'laid back' liberalism
10 Aug 99 | UK Politics
Charles Kennedy: Why try harder?
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