Some 18 months ago, an American television actress named Meghan Markle flew to London for the summer and shortly afterwards found herself at a drinks party at Soho House.
Little did Meghan know that the soiree at the private member’s club would change her life beyond measure.
For among the guests that night was a young, eligible and eager bachelor who had never made any secret of his long-term crush on her. His name? Prince Harry.
In little over a year the couple have enjoyed a whirlwind romance that has seen them criss-cross the Atlantic to make their long-distance relationship work, spending time in each other’s homes and meeting their soon-to-be in-laws.
Today, after weeks of speculation, Prince Harry, 33, and Miss Markle, 36, have confirmed their engagement. But before all thoughts turn to the excitement of wedding planning and the possibility of future children, it is worth looking back on the passionate and romantic relationship that has led the couple to this point – and the vastly different worlds they will bring together when they tie the knot.
Here, FEMAIL examines just how Miss Markle, an American divorcee, has become a royal bride-to-be – despite the odds seemingly being stacked against them…
Engagement: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement today after a whirlwind romance. The pair were introduced at a drinks party in London in summer 2016
From different worlds
As a young girl Meghan Markle was sent to Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse, a private primary which boasts Elizabeth Taylor and Judy Garland as past pupils and, according to its website, feeds students six different types of vegetables from the school garden each week.
Meghan later attended the prestigious, all-girl Catholic Immaculate Heart High School, where fees are upwards of £12,000 a year.
Meanwhile Prince Harry was educated at a string of independent schools in London before being admitted to Eton. After a gap year, during which he spent time in Australia and Lestheso, Prince Harry entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
As Harry enjoyed a successful military career, completing two tours in Afghanistan, Meghan – a graduate of Northwestern University, where her coursework included an internship at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires – was starting her career as an actress.
Former flames: Prince Harry with Chelsy Davy in 2010. Meghan with Cory Vitiello in 2014
Meghan spent years acting in minor roles before landing the part of paralegal Rachel Zane in legal drama Suits. It is while she was on the show that Harry first laid eyes on his now future wife.
During their 20s both also had serious relationships. Harry dated Chelsy Davy and later actress Cressida Bonas. Meanwhile Meghan dated film producer Trevor Engleson for seven years before tying the knot in 2011. The couple divorced two years later.
Afterwards Meghan enjoyed a relationship with celebrity chef Cory Vitiello that is said to have been on the rocks when she made the fateful trip to London.
Meghan’s first marriage that paid the price for her growing fame
First husband: Meghan Markle with her ex-husband Trevor Engelston in 2006
Meghan met film producer Trevor Engelson in 2004 as they both scrabbled for a start in the entertainment industry.
They were together for seven years before becoming man and wife in a relaxed ceremony in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
It was a gathering of more than 100 family and friends who partied for four days enjoying local beer, rum punches and human wheelbarrow races along the white-sand beach.
The newlyweds began married life in a comfortable gated house just above Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, but it was short-lived. Shortly before the wedding, Meghan had secured her big career break in the TV drama Suits and was already commuting between LA and Toronto to meet filming schedules. Engelson remained in the marital home to be close to Hollywood.
Within two years, it was clear the marriage was not going to survive their lengthy separations.
It is understood it was Meghan who ultimately decided the marriage was over. The couple separated in early 2013 and divorced in August, citing irreconcilable differences. Engelson kept the marital home while she moved permanently to Toronto.
The first meeting
It says much about the power balance in their relationship that it was the Prince rather than the actress who was star-struck when they first met in a dining room at Soho House, the London private members’ club, in July 2016.
Though he’d had a long-distance crush on her for a couple of years, as they shared a bottle of well-chilled rosé with friends, it became clear that her allure was more than just physical.
Milestones of a whirlwind romance
July 2016: The couple are introduced by mutual friend Markus Anderson at Soho House in London.
November 2016: Harry confirms he has been dating Meghan Markle for ‘months’ in a public statement.
December 2016: The couple are seen buying a Christmas tree in Battersea, London, but spend the holiday apart.
March 2017: Meghan flies from Toronto to Jamaica to join Harry for the wedding of his close friend Tom Inskip.
May 2017: The couple make their first semi-official joint appearance at a polo match at Coworth Park, Berkshire.
The couple later attend the wedding of Pippa Middleton and James Matthews.
August 2017: The couple board a plane to Botswana for a romantic holiday to mark Meghan’s 35th birthday.
September 2017: Meghan confirms she is ‘in love’ with her royal ‘boyfriend’ in a candid interview with Vanity Fair.
The couple make their first joint official appearance at the Invictus Games in Canada.
October 2017: Rumours of an imminent engagement intensify. Meghan and Harry reportedly join the Queen for tea at Buckingham Palace.
November 2017: Meghan’s Suits stand-in appears to confirm the actress has quit the show, fuelling speculation she will soon relocate to London.
20th November 2017: Meghan is spotted shopping in London. It is reported that she is making the final preparations before moving.
24th November 2017: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announce their engagement in a statement.
Harry listened intently while Meghan spoke about Rwanda, where she had been campaigning for clean water. He was captivated by her altruism, and from the moment they said their goodbyes, he bombarded her with texts asking to see her again. Meghan, who was staying in London for most of the summer, agreed.
They went out again with friends, including the man who had introduced them, Markus Anderson, a consultant for Soho House, and then just as a twosome on their first proper date.
By the end of July, they had fallen for each other. Meghan flew back to Toronto, where Suits is filmed, and Harry went to South Africa to work on a conservation project. They were reunited for a country break at the Soho Farmhouse members’ club in the Cotswolds. The world then knew nothing of their clandestine romance. Harry had told just a handful of close friends about his dazzling new girlfriend, while Meghan’s discretion saw her pass another critical Royal test.
Confirming the relationship
After rumours of a Halloween costume party and increased press speculation, Prince Harry confirmed his relationship with Miss Markle by issuing a public statement.
He lashed out at media intrusion and the ‘sexism and racism of social media trolls’ in a statement which said ‘this is not a game – it is her life and his’ and that he is ‘deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her’.
In the weeks leading up the couple had been spotted wearing matching beaded bracelets.
The first time Meghan was seen after being identified as Harry’s new girlfriend was when she strolled out from the Palace to buy groceries. The domesticity was telling – most of Harry’s love life has been conducted at parties and in bars rather than around a kitchen supper table.
Dressed down in a coat and wellies, with Harry’s favourite brown baseball cap hiding her face, Meghan was pictured heading for the Whole Foods Market, opposite Harry’s home in Kensington Palace. That was in early November.
Early days: Meghan, left, and Harry, right in November 2016, are seen wearing matching blue, black and white beaded bracelets around the time their relationship was confirmed
November 2016: The first time Meghan was seen after being identified as Harry’s new girlfriend was when she strolled out from the Palace to buy groceries, pictured
February 2017: Prince Harry and Meghan walk hand-in-hand while on a date night in London
A month later the couple were seen buying a Christmas tree in Battersea. On December 14 they were photographed hand in hand on a trip to the West End’s Gielgud Theatre to see The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time.
Although they spent Christmas apart, they saw in the New Year together in London and then travelled to Norway to see the Northern Lights. They celebrated in a glass igloo, camping under the winter stars.
In February they were seen holding hands as they stepped out for a date in London.
In March, Meghan flew from Toronto to Jamaica on a private jet to be by Harry’s side for the wedding of his close friend Tom Inskip. Harry met her at the island’s airport and, according to a fellow guest, the couple spent most of their week in their luxury ocean-front villa, complete with private pool and butler.
March 2017: Meghan flew from Toronto to Jamaica on a private jet to be by Harry’s side for the wedding of his close friend Tom Inskip. Pictured, the couple together at the ceremony
Public at the polo and a jet-set summer
In May came Harry and Meghan’s first semi-official joint appearance at a polo match – a Royal rite of passage. It was also the scene of their first public embrace – they were caught on camera stealing a passionate kiss in the car park.
Meghan was Harry’s guest at Pippa Middleton’s wedding party later in May, their names side by side on the table plan making a public statement of togetherness.
In August the pair were pictured boarding a flight to Botswana to celebrate Meghan’s 36th birthday at a romantic £650-a-night hideaway overlooking the Boteti river.
May 2017: Harry and Meghan make their first semi-official joint appearance at a polo match at Coworth Park, Berkshire. They were caught stealing a passionate kiss in the car park, pictured
‘We’re in love’: Meghan speaks out
After months of keeping their relationship under wraps, Meghan Markle spoke about Prince Harry for the first time in a candid interview in the October issue of Vanity Fair, which was released at the start of September.
We’re a couple. We’re in love. I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time
Meghan speaks about the relationship for the first time in an interview for the October issue of Vanity Fair
She admitted the pair are very much ‘in love’ and confirmed that the royal is indeed her ‘boyfriend’.
She told the magazine’s contributing editor Sam Kashner: ‘We’re a couple. We’re in love. I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time.’
Addressing their need for privacy, the actress added: ‘This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Personally, I love a great love story.’
First official engagement
September 2017: The couple both attend the Invictus Games opening ceremony but are seated rows apart. Harry, left, is next to Melania Trump while Meghan is next to Markus Anderson
Just weeks after Meghan’s cover story was released, the couple made their first official joint appearance at the Invictus Games in Toronto.
They teased royal watchers by both attending the opening ceremony but sat 18 seats apart from each other. Prince Harry was sat next to US First Lady Melania Trump while Meghan was given a place next to their mutual friend Markus Anderson, the man who introduced them.
Just a day later, Harry and Meghan gave the world the photo they had been waiting for when they stepped out hand-in-hand for an Australia-New Zealand tennis match.
September 2017: Meghan and Harry make their first public appearance at the Invictus Games
The love birds arrived, fingers entwined, to the semi-final, in full view of members of the public and photographers.
The couple sat at the side of the court together whispering and laughing as they cheered on the players.
At the closing ceremony, the couple were joined by Meghan’s mother Doria in the VIP box. Harry was pictured kissing and tenderly embracing his girlfriend and was also seen chatting easily with her mother.
September 2017: Harry and Meghan look affectionate in a VIP box at the closing ceremony
Rumours and the engagement
Speculation over an engagement has intensified in the weeks since the Invictus Games.
In mid-October it was reported that Meghan had ‘quit’ Suits in order to relocate to London full-time and begin the next chapter of her life with her royal beau.
A source told a US website at the time she was ‘happy’ to make the ‘sacrifice’ in order to make the relationship work.
Just last week her body double on the show, Nicky Bursic seemed to confirm the widespread reports when she posted a cryptic message of good luck to the actress.
In October it was also reported that Meghan and Harry had joined his grandmother the Queen for tea at Buckingham Palace.
Earlier this week Meghan was spotted shopping in London, visiting the Heidi Klein designer beachwear store and popping into skincare store Sarah Chapman.
There was speculation that Meghan was making one final stop before relocating to London permanently, however it appears she has already made the move.
As the couple are engaged, they will now be able to join the Royal Family for Christmas at Sandringham.