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When Prince Harry met Meghan Markle - a royal romance

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prince Harry confirmed he was dating Meghan Markle in November 2016

US actress Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are to marry in spring 2018, Clarence House has announced.

There had been much speculation about the pair since they were pictured together at the Invictus Games's opening ceremony in September.

But how has their relationship developed?

The couple met through mutual friends in London in July 2016 when one of Ms Markle's close friends, Markus Anderson, reportedly introduced her to the prince.

Mr Anderson, who sat next to Ms Markle at the Invictus Games, is linked with private members club Soho House - of which Harry is a member.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Markus Anderson with Meghan in Toronto supporting Harry

But it wasn't until months after the initial London meeting that the press managed to get news of their blossoming romance.

The Sunday Express was the first paper to reveal the 36-year-old was Prince Harry's new girlfriend with the news featuring on the front page last October.

In the days after it broke, the pair went to a Halloween party where the prince reportedly donned a mask and went trick-or-treating.

Press 'abuse and harass' Meghan

In November 2016, the prince officially confirmed he was dating the US actress. In a statement from Kensington Palace, he also took the opportunity to condemn Ms Markle's treatment by the press.

He referred to a "smear" on the front page of a national newspaper, racial undertones in comment pieces and "outright sexism and racism" from online trolls.

There had been a "bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker, and loved one in her life", the prince said.

He was worried about her safety and was "deeply disappointed" to not have been able to protect her.

Digital editor of OK! Online Kelby McNally says the statement came as a "surprise" because their relationship hadn't been officially confirmed.

"This is proof that the younger generation of royals are moving away from some of the stereotypical stiff-upper lip royal behaviour," she says.

The Daily Mirror's Royal Correspondent, Victoria Murphy, said it showed Harry's "strong desire to both protect her and hang onto her".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Could Meghan appear at the next fly-past?

The Duke of Cambridge signed off Harry's plea to the press agreeing the situation had gone too far.

Prince William "understands the situation concerning privacy and supports the need for Prince Harry to support those closest to him", a statement from Kensington Palace said.

In mid-November of that year, Ms Markle was photographed out and about in Kensington doing some shopping in the high street, with the press suggesting she had been staying at Kensington Palace's Nottingham Cottage, where the prince lives.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The couple have rarely been seen in public together

Talk turns to honeymoons

Despite the couple trying to keep a lid on their affairs, a cheeky comment during a royal tour put the prince firmly back in the limelight.

While on a 15-day trip to the West Indies later that month, Harry was made the offer to honeymoon in Antigua by the country's prime minister.

In front of hundreds of guests, Gaston Browne said: "I am told that there may be a princess and I just want to say that should you make the decision to honeymoon - then Antigua and Barbuda want to welcome you."

The PM continued to stress the honeymoon credentials of his country but the prince didn't seem to respond to the invitation.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Miss Antigua and Barbuda (wearing crown), said "everyone" wanted to be the prince's princess

In December the couple were gearing up for their first Christmas together. But where would they spend it - at Ms Markle's home in Toronto or London?

The pair chose the latter to carry out their first festive tradition. They were pictured by the tabloids reportedly buying a £65 Nordmann Fir at the Pine and Needles store in Battersea Park, London.

Actress Ms Markle was seen as a "far cry" from the prince's previous girlfriends which made their story all the more compelling, Ms McNally says.

"I think people are intrigued to see if much will change for her - after all, she is dating a real-life prince. Will she carry on her acting career as normal? Will they reside in the UK or the US?"

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms Markle may have to join the other royals when they go to church on Christmas Day

Later that month, the couple were pictured for the first time on a trip to London's West End. Prince Harry and Ms Markle were snapped strolling hand-in-hand before watching the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre.

New year, next milestone. According to reports, they went on their first holiday together in January 2017.

For their trip, the prince reportedly took Ms Markle to see the Northern Lights in Tromso, Norway after spending New Year together.

The pair are thought to have stayed in a cabin for seven days where they went whale-watching and spent time on the nearby lake.

In March the prince took Ms Markle as his plus one to one of his best friend's weddings in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where he was an usher at the ceremony.

Image copyright Shutterstock/Getty Images
Image caption Ms Markle cheered on boyfriend Harry in full view

Fast forward to May and Ms Markle was pictured at a polo match supporting her boyfriend. She was seen smiling and clapping as she watched Prince Harry play at Coworth Park, Berkshire.

They didn't seem to hide their affections for one another as the prince kissed Ms Markle before the event, which he went on to win.

It was one of several matches Princes Harry and William have played for charity.

Wedding bells... but not theirs

While all eyes were on Pippa Middleton's summer wedding many were intrigued to see if Ms Markle would attend and really be part of the family.

Ms Middleton married financier boyfriend James Matthews in May at a ceremony in Englefield, Berkshire where crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the dress, the royals and to see if Harry's girlfriend would turn up.

She didn't attend the ceremony, but was snapped arriving for the evening reception with the prince fuelling more speculation about the couple's romance.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prince Harry attended Pippa Middleton's wedding ceremony alone and Meghan joined him later

In late August, the couple went on a three-week holiday to Africa to celebrate Meghan's 36th birthday and on their return Vanity Fair magazine declared Ms Markle was "wild about Harry".

In an interview with the magazine she revealed they had been together for six months before the rest of the world found out.

The actress said she had hoped people would understand "this is our time".

"We're two people who are really happy and in love.

"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."

Image copyright Vanity Fair/ Conde Nast
Image caption The Suits actress said she was "in love" with Harry in September

Not hiding any more

In September, the couple made their first public appearance at the Invictus Games, an international sporting event set up by Harry for injured soldiers.

They sat separately at the opening ceremony in Toronto, Canada but were then pictured together as they arrived for the wheelchair tennis event a few days later.

Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the couple strolling hand-in-hand and press rushed to capture the moment.

Ms Markle's mother was also photographed with them at the closing ceremony of the games.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ms Markle seemed to adjust to royal duties with ease

The Daily Mirror's Royal Correspondent, Victoria Murphy said their relaxed appearance shows they were "keen to present themselves to the world as a couple".

"Were they 10 years younger it may be a case of 'wait and see', but they are two people in their mid-30s who know what they want from life - and who they want to share it with.

"It seems the public won't have to wait long for another royal wedding."

Image copyright PA
Image caption At the closing ceremony of the Games, Ms Markle was also accompanied by her mother
Image copyright PA
Image caption Prince Harry joined the group later

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