LONDON: Britain’s Prince Harry said Monday he was “thrilled” to be marrying his American girlfriend Meghan Markle early next year, confirming months of speculation about the one-time playboy royal and the glamorous actress.
The prince revealed he fell for Markle — who will inject a little Hollywood stardust into Britain’s centuries-old royal family — “the very first time we met”.
However, the 33-year-old admitted that his proposal was not entirely glamorous, taking place over a meal of roast chicken at his cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace.
In their first interview marking their engagement, the pair revealed they were set up on a “blind date” in London in July last year. They quickly grew close, but tried to keep their relationship private.
When the news broke, they were “totally unprepared” for the media attention, Harry said, adding: “It’s not easy for anybody.
“But at the end of the day she chooses me and I choose her and whatever we have to tackle together or individually, we’ll always be together as a team.”
Earlier, Markle said she was “so very happy” as she showed off her engagement ring, which included diamonds that belonged to the prince’s late mother Diana.
Markle, who is mixed-race, divorced and an outspoken feminist, does not fit the mould of most British royals and she admitted some of the media coverage about her was “disheartening”.
But the prince’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth II — whose beloved corgis have taken a shine to Markle — led the chorus of congratulations, saying she was “delighted for the couple”.
Harry has himself railed against the confines of royal life, recently admitting he came close to nervous breakdown in his 20s as he struggled to deal with the legacy of his mother’s death.
His father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, said he was “very happy indeed” that Harry had found love, while his brother Prince William said he and his wife Kate were “very excited”.
The wedding is due to take place in the spring, and Harry designed the engagement ring himself, using two diamonds from Diana’s personal collection.
He said his mother would have been “over the moon” that he was marrying Markle, adding: “They would have been thick as thieves.”
Markle is best known for her role as a lawyer in the hit television series “Suits” but has left and is now expected to become a duchess.
She has already moved one of her dogs to London, and the couple will live at Harry’s home of Nottingham Cottage.
William and Kate, who married in 2011, live nearby in Kensington Palace with their two children.
They are expecting their third in April, and with the wedding it looks set to be a busy spring, providing light relief from the dour political headlines as Britain negotiates Brexit.
– ‘Need to modernise’ –
Wellwishers gathered Monday outside Buckingham Palace, including John Egan, 72, who said: “It is good for the country.
“The royal family is too tight, too controlled, the older ones exist in the last century, they really need to modernise.”
In his younger days, Harry regularly hit the headlines for his partying and his outspoken criticism of the media, whom he blames for the death of his mother.
Confirmation of the seriousness of his relationship with Markle came when he issued an extraordinary statement last year attacking the “sexism” and “racism” directed at Markle by the press.
He spent 10 years in the British army, serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan, but in recent years has focused on charity work, notably with veterans.
Markle is also an active campaigner focusing on women’s rights.
William and Kate said “it has been wonderful getting to know Meghan”, who grew up in California.
Her parents Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland said they were “incredibly happy”.
Prime Minister Theresa May offered her “warmest congratulations”, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, where Markle was previously living, also sent his best wishes.
Bookmakers have already started taking wedding-related bets, with Westminster Abbey a firm favourite to host the event and fashion label Alexander McQueen favourite to design the dress. – AFP