The newly christened Duchess of Sussex glided into St

Two years ago, on a spectacular sunny day in Windsor, England, Prince Harry married Meghan Markle. George’s Chapel in her Claire Waight Keller for Givenchy dress, a sparkling tiara perched upon her head. Prince Harry whispered, “You look beautiful,” when she reached the altar. The couple’s choice of preacher-Reverend Michael Curry, the first African American presiding bishop of the Episcopal church-represented an unabashed embrace of Markle’s biracial heritage.

It wasn’t all a fairy tale. A few days prior, it emerged that Markle’s father had staged a series of cheesy paparazzi photos. Instead of waiting for his fate, he chose it himself: On TMZ, he announced that he wouldn’t be attending the wedding after all. His daughter reportedly learned of his painful e time the world did.

Only the subtlest of hints about their relationship appeared on : In July, she posted a peony bouquet with the hashtag #London

Yet, despite the drama, the day did feel magical. After the ceremony, the couple took a carriage ride through Windsor’s streets and up the sweeping tree-lined path to Windsor Castle, known as the Long Walk. Their faces were flushed, and their eyes radiant.

While millions tuned in to watch the proceedings on TV, 100,000 more were there in person, including yours truly. I saw the Union Jack–waving throngs gathered on the rolling green lawns of Windsor Great Park. I saw people offering cheers with Pimm’s Cups on the streets. I saw children’s hasty stick-figure drawings of Harry and Meghan adorning metal security gates. Most of all, I heard it: the roars of excitement, crescendoing as the couple hit every wedding-day milestone. After it was all over-and therefore, my workday too-I treated myself to a strawberries and cream. Even though Harry and Meghan had disappeared from the site hours before, a joyful aura hung in the air.

Twenty months-and two tabloid lawsuits-later, Prince Harry and Markle announced a “step back from royal life.” That quickly transformed into a full two feet out. Now, the couple resides in a Los Angeles home (reportedly owned by Tyler Perry), not as His or Her Royal Highnesses but as private citizens. It may be too grand to say, this early on, that they’ve changed the course of the monarchy. But they’ve certainly changed the public’s perception of it. After all, how miserable must you be to quit a life that so many people dream of?

But before Los Angeles, before the lawsuits, and before the Windsor wedding, Harry and Meghan were set up on a date. By whom is still a matter of debate-although most tabloids point to Ralph Lauren public relations director Violet von Westenholz or designer Misha Nonoo. Either way: She knew Meghan, she knew Harry, and she thought they’d hit it off. So on one night in early erican actress went on a blind date said to be at Making Friends dating site the Dean Street Townhouse in London. Harry was instantly smitten. “I was beautifully surprised when I walked into that room and saw her,” he admitted. “I was like, Okay, well, I’m really gonna have to up my game!” As for Meghan, she had one major concern. She texted her friend: “Is he nice?”

Turns out, he was. A second date followed. Then Harry had an idea: What if, for their third encounter, they went away for a while-like, far away? So without the world knowing, they jetted off to the bush of Botswana. “We camped out with each other under the stars,” Harry said of their journey. “It was absolutely fantastic.” They’d been dating for three weeks.

For four months, their relationship remained a secret

They spent idyllic days at Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire or relaxing in his Kensington Palace garden. The prince even visited Markle in Toronto, where she was filming Suits. They never went two weeks without seeing each other. The actress would spend four days in the U.K., take the red-eye back to Toronto, and walk straight on to set. In e blue-beaded bracelet as Prince Harry. Little did she know the British tabloid the Express was about to blow the whole thing wide open.