By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Prince Harry and U.S. actress Meghan Markle announced on Monday they were getting married next year, saying their relationship had blossomed "incredibly quickly" after meeting on a blind date.
Harry, 33, Queen Elizabeth's grandson and fifth-in-line to the British throne, and Markle, 36, best known for her role in the U.S. TV legal drama "Suits", said they had got engaged in London this month and will wed in the spring next year.
"The fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was confirmation to me that all the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect. This beautiful woman just tripped and fell into my life, I fell into her life," Harry said in a broadcast interview. [L8N1NX5AE]
The queen, who had to give her assent for the union, and her husband Prince Philip were delighted, Buckingham Palace said, while Harry also received the blessing of Markle's parents.
"We're thrilled. I hope they will be very happy indeed," his father, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles said.
Harry and Markle, who is a divorcee, met in July 2016 after they were introduced through a mutual friend, with both knowing little about the other.
"I had never watched Suits, I had never heard of Meghan before and I was beautifully surprised when I walked into that room and saw her. I was like I'm going to really up my game here," Harry said.
After just two dates, the couple decided to go on holiday together to Botswana but it was only months later that the prince, the younger son of Charles and his first wife Princess Diana, publicly confirmed their relationship in a rebuke to the media over its alleged intrusion into Markle's private life.
"I did not have any understanding of just what it would be like," she said. "Both of us were totally surprised by the reaction," added Harry, who said they had had a frank conversation about what she was letting herself in for.
It was not until September this year that they made their first public appearance together at the Invictus Games in Toronto, a sports event for wounded veterans.
Earlier the couple posed for photographs in the grounds of Kensington Palace in central London where the couple will live in a cottage. Asked when he knew Markle was "the one", he replied: "The very first time we met."
Markle showed off a dazzling three-stone ring, designed by Harry himself with at its center a diamond from Botswana surrounded by two diamonds taken from the personal collection of his late mother Diana. Harry said she would have been "thick as thieves" with Markle.
"It's so important to me to know that she's a part of this with us," Markle said.
The wedding is likely to attract huge attention across the world, as did the marriage of Harry's elder brother William to Kate Middleton in 2011.
"We are very excited for Harry and Meghan," William and Kate said in a statement. "It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together."
In his office's warning to the media, Harry referred to the sexism and racism directed at Markle, whose father is white and her mother African-American.
"We are incredibly happy for Meghan and Harry. Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person," Markle's parents Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland said in a statement.
"To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us as parents. We wish them a lifetime of happiness and are very excited for their future together."
IN THE PUBLIC EYE
Educated at the exclusive Eton College, Harry's teenage years were overshadowed by negative headlines, fostering an intense dislike which he and his brother harbored because of the way papers hounded their mother. She died in a Paris car crash in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi.
Harry was portrayed as a royal wild child and playboy prince, and in 2002 he admitted smoking cannabis and getting drunk when underage in a pub near the royal family's country estate amid suggestions he had fallen in with a bad crowd.
He later scuffled with paparazzi outside a London nightclub and drew outrage by dressing as a Nazi officer at a party.
But he turned around his image after joining the army, where he spent 10 years and included two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He said it was a role where he felt he could be himself without media scrutiny or any other trappings of his gilded upbringing.
Even when he was photographed partying naked and playing billiards in a private room in Las Vegas in 2012, the response was less critical and more understanding.
He left the army in 2015 to focus on royal duties and charity work, particularly the welfare of military veterans, and continuing his mother's work helping those with AIDS, and mental health issues.
His easy-going manner with the public has made him one of the most popular members of the Windsors. That has put him at the forefront of a rebranding of the monarchy as modern and relevant, a far cry from the perception of a hopelessly out-of-touch institution following the 1997 death of Diana.
To coincide with the 20th anniversary of her death this year, Harry opened up about his own trauma at losing his mother at a young age, and was even quoted as saying he wanted out of the royal family altogether.
NO PRINCESS BRIDE
Like William's wife Kate, Meghan will not become a princess in her own right after marrying Harry. However, Harry, like his brother, is likely to be made a duke when he marries, meaning Meghan would become a duchess.
Markle was born in Los Angeles in 1981. Her father was a TV lighting director for soaps and sitcoms and her mother a clinical therapist.
She made her first TV appearance in a 2002 episode of medical drama "General Hospital" has appeared in a number of TV shows and films, such as "Horrible Bosses", but achieved greatest fame for her starring part as Rachel Zane in the ongoing "Suits" series.
In 2011, she married film producer Trevor Engelson but they divorced two years later. She had her own lifestyle blog thetig.com, which she recently shut down, and like her future husband has become a prominent humanitarian campaigner.
She also criticized U.S. President Donald Trump in a TV interview before last year's U.S. election, calling him misogynistic.
Britain's royals are traditionally supposed to avoid making any political interventions and Harry said he had confidence that his wife-to-be would be able to handle the pressures her role would bring.
"I know the fact that she'll be unbelievably good at the job part as well is obviously a huge relief to me because she'll be able to deal with everything else that comes with it," he said. "We're a fantastic team. We know we are."
(This story has been refiled to remove extraneous words in lead)
(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Angus MacSwan)