"I love a great love story," Meghan Markle told last October, and did she find one. The fairytale engagement of the American actress and the British prince has swept the world by storm, with a romance so sweet it belongs in a Lifetime movie.
With the couple's upcoming wedding only days away, here's the comprehensive timeline of their whirlwind relationship, with plenty of sweet surprises along the way.
How they met
Blind dates don't often result in instant connections, but an expert set-up left Harry knowing she was the one "the very first time we met." The mystery matchmaker behind the pairing has stirred a lot of speculation, with claiming that royal friend Violet von Westenholz introduced the duo. Other theories point to British fashion designer Misha Nonoo, a close friend of Meghan's for years.
Whoever it was knew what they were doing. Meghan said that she "didn't know much about him" going into the date, but asked if he was nice. "If he wasn't kind, it just didn't seem like it would make sense," she said in a . The pair met for drinks in July 2016 and immediately knew they wanted to see each other again. "Very quickly into that we said, 'Well what are we doing tomorrow?'" Meghan remembered.
A trip to Africa
Only two dates in, Prince Harry took a big risk just a few weeks later: "I managed to persuade her to come and join me in Botswana and we camped out with each other under the stars," he told .
The move paid off. "We were really by ourselves, which was crucial to me to make sure that we had a chance to get to know each other," he explained. The trip still has a lot of meaning to their relationship too. The central stone in Meghan's engagement ring actually came from Botswana instead of the royals' collection of gems .
The rumors start
After almost six months of blissful privacy, tabloids caught wind of the budding royal romance in the fall. The published a story on October 31, 2016, claiming Harry was "besotted" with the Suits actress. It didn't take long for more people to connect the dots. noted that the pair sported matching bracelets while others synced up Meghan's international Instagrams with Harry's busy travel schedule.
Harry defends his girlfriend
Despite the wonderful news about a smitten Harry, the ensuing viral firestorm wasn't all too kind. The harassment of Meghan and her family got so bad that the first public confirmation of their relationship came as a a heartbreaking statement from Kensington Palace, highlighting the "outright sexism and racism" behind the abuse.
"Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her," the November 8, 2016, memo read. "He knows that it is unusual to issue a statement like this, but hopes that fair-minded people will understand why he has felt it necessary to speak publically."
While many thought Meghan's career prepared her for this type of scrutiny, she later revealed that the attention totally shocked her. "I've never been part of tabloid culture. I've never been in pop culture to that degree and and lived a relatively quiet life," she told . "We were just hit so hard at the beginning with a lot of mistruths that I made the choice to not read anything, positive or negative .... instead we focused all of our energies just on nurturing our relationship."
A public outing
With their relationship finally official, the couple stepped out in London together in late December on a low-key trip to pick out a Christmas tree before catching a West End show. The of them together showed a couple totally in love — especially considering Prince Harry had just made a 1,700-mile detour to visit Meghan in Toronto. It was also around this time that Meghan started wearing with the letters M and H on it.
While they didn't spend Christmas together, the two celebrated New Year in London before jetting off to Norway on a romantic trip to see the Northern Lights.
Meghan meets the family
Meeting a significant other's family is always a little stressful, but Meghan took it all in stride, with Prince William and Prince Charles apparently the first to break the ice. After a rumored introduction to the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Charlotte in January 2017, reported "Meghan's so happy she's getting to know more of Harry's nearest and dearest."
Shortening the distance
The beginning of 2017 saw more chances for the two to get together. Besides Meghan's frequent stays at Nottingham Cottage in Kensington Palace, the pair also met up Jamaica in March. Meghan came as Harry's plus one at the wedding of his childhood friend, with reporting that the couple seemed "very much in love."
By May, Harry and Meghan appeared at their first public event together. The Los Angeles native cheered on her beau at a charity polo match, and they were later caught kissing by a photographer.
The prince also proved his total devotion to Meghan when he personally drove 100 miles to pick up her up for for Pippa Middleton's wedding reception. Now that's love.
Back to Botswana
With Meghan shuttering her lifestyle blog The Tig, things were clearly getting serious. The couple went all out with celebrating their first anniversary (and Meghan's 36th birthday), returning to Botswana on another getaway. The trip included a stay at a gorgeous wildlife habitat, plus a visit to Victoria Falls. Basically, it was insanely romantic.
Meghan opens up
The actress finally revealed some information about her newfound love in her interview, but refrained from going into too much detail. "We're a couple. We're in love," she stated. "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."
Another public appearance shortly followed the profile in September, with the couple having a blast at the Invictus Games in Toronto. Meghan's mom, Doria Ragland, also attended the event, giving the prince a rumored opportunity to ask permission to propose.
The couple also cleared the final hurdle to their engagement that fall, receiving the Queen's permission to marry. Meghan met the monarch the same month at Balmoral Castle for the royal stamp of approval. It probably helped that the corgis took to her Harry marveled.
With their families on board and the potential of a exciting new life together, Prince Harry officially popped the question in early November on a quiet night in Nottingham Cottage. The pair was apparently cooking up some roasted chicken together (kudos to Ina Garten!) when the royal got down on one knee.
"It was just an amazing surprise," Meghan said during their BBC interview. "It was so sweet and natural and very romantic."
Besides the diamond from Botswana, Harry had incorporated two more stones from his mother's jewelry collection to design the perfect ring. Their engagement photo call at Kensington Palace revealed a couple totally in love and ready to get married after about 15 months together.
"The fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was sort of confirmation to me that all of the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect," Harry said. "[There] was this beautiful woman, who just sort of literally tripped and fell into my life [and] I fell into her life."
A new life together
As the couple plans their May wedding, Meghan is going through the (many!) steps of becoming a bonafide royal. She announced her departure from Suits, closed her personal social media accounts, and learned the etiquette expected of a future duchess.
The couple has already gone on multiple public engagements together, and it's official that the world can't get enough of them. Their upcoming wedding will be no exception.