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How Prince Harry and Meghan Markle kept their royal romance a secret for so long

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 15/05/2018
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle are posing for a picture © Provided by Evening Standard Limited

It started, said Prince Harry, with a blind date — and they eventually fell in love under the stars in ­Botswana.

Despite his global celebrity, Meghan Markle claims she did not know much about the prince when a mutual friend suggested a date in early July 2016. She only wanted to know from their friend if he was “nice and kind”.

They had an immediate connection. The first date quickly led to another, and then Harry invited her to accompany him on a trip to Botswana just three or four weeks later, camping out under the stars, a chance to get to know each other ­better.

“The fact that I fell in love with ­Meghan so incredibly quickly was ­confirmation to me that all the stars have aligned and everything was just perfect,” said Harry later.

After several months of quiet dating, the news finally leaked at the end of October 2016 that he was seeing an American actress — and was “besotted” with her. On the same day, Meghan posted a photograph on her Instagram account of two bananas side by side, ­possibly hinting at the new love in her life. Of this period before the media frenzy began, Meghan said: “We had a good five, six months almost with just privacy, which was amazing.”

(Getty Images) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited (Getty Images)

The actress, who starred as paralegal Rachel Zane in the TV drama Suits, had a codename for Harry when he called her on the set of the show so as not to let their relationship out of the bag.

As reports began to emerge of a possible romance, Kensington Palace initially adopted a strict “no comment” policy on enquiries. It was Harry who made it official. He approved a statement from the palace in November 2016 confirming the relationship and admitting they had been together for “a few months”.

But the statement went much further, with Harry issuing an unprecedented plea for “racist and sexist” online trolls to leave her alone. The Prince accused mainstream and social media of “crossing a line” in commenting on their relationship, warning: “This is not a game.” He said he had never before witnessed such a “degree of pressure, scrutiny and harassment”.

Harry, whose mother Diana was hounded relentlessly by the paparazzi, was not prepared to let them pursue Meghan too. He was not naive, he knew the media attention would continue, but he wanted to lay down a marker. After all, his two previous serious relationships, with Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, had faltered under the strain of media attention.

© AFP

By the middle of 2016 he had been single for a couple of years, despite admitting in interviews his desire to settle down and start a family once he found the right woman.

Once news of their romance was out, Meghan was happy to speak openly about their love. She told Vanity Fair: “We’re a couple. We’re in love.” There could be no going back now.

“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,” she went on.

“This is for us. It is part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Personally, I love a great love story. At the end of the day I think it’s really simple. We’re two people who are really happy and in love.”

(REUTERS) © Provided by Evening Standard Limited (REUTERS)

Their first joint public appearance was at the Invictus Games in her adopted home town of Toronto in September 2017. At the opening ceremony Meghan sat separately from Harry. Later they attended the tennis event together, and by the time the games ended they happily posed for the cameras. They joined Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, at the closing ceremony.

He chatted openly about his girlfriend to the media, saying she was “loving” the Games. The countdown to an engagement had started.

First, Meghan gave up her extensive social media platforms, and discussions started about her leaving Suits.

More romantic holidays followed, and her attendance at the wedding of the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister, Pippa Middleton, added to the speculation.

When it emerged that Harry had taken Meghan to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace last October, a royal marriage seemed to be a matter of time. Finally on Monday 27 November, the engagement announcement came from Clarence House, the office of the Prince of Wales.

In her engagement interview with the BBC, Meghan admitted that her experience as Harry’s girlfriend had been a learning curve and she did not have any understanding of just what it would be like. Harry jumped in. “I tried to warn you as much as possible, but I think both of us were totally surprised by the reaction. I think you can have as many conversations as you want and try and prepare as much as possible, but we were totally unprepared for what happened after that.”

Related: ‘Meg, Meg!’ Prince Harry tries to get Meghan Markle’s attention (Provided by ITN News)

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