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by Sarah Grossbart | Fri., Mar. 23, 2018 5:00 AM
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
For several long days this January, Princess Eugenie's left hand felt agonizingly bare. While boyfriend Jack Brooksbank had proposed earlier in the month near a Nicaraguan lake, he dropped to one knee without the pale pink padparadscha sapphire he'd selected because "it changes color from every different angle," just like his multi-faceted gal. With Brooksbank nervous to set the stone "until Eugenie had signed off on it," he explained in the couple's joint engagement interview on BBC's The One Show With Matt Baker, he waited until after his proposal to have a U.K. jeweler surround the bauble with diamonds. It wasn't until the evening of Jan. 21—less than 24 hours before they would share their news with the world via Twitter—that Eugenie was finally able to slide on the custom stunner. The verdict, she told Baker, "It feels very strange."
Of course, the unique rock wasn't the only gem on display. The TV interview (Brooksbank's first!) served as his official public introduction. Though Eugenie has been seeing the nightclub manager for more than seven years, her place in the royal hierarchy (as the youngest daughter of Queen Elizabeth II's second eldest son Prince Andrew, she will be bumped to ninth in line for the throne when cousin Prince William and his bride Kate Middleton welcome their third child this spring) means her love life isn't always headline news. So well-pedigreed Brooksbank has received just a sliver of the attention paid to that other commoner set to join the family this year. Still, the 28-year-old's journey (she marks her birthday today!) with Brooksbank, 31, is every bit as sweet as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's blind date success story. Take, for example, their initial introduction through friends—a moment Brooksbank recently declared was "love at first sight."
Back in 2010, the heat between the then-Newcastle University student and hospitality worker was enough to thaw the Swiss snow. While vacationing with mutual friends in Switzerland's Nendaz—roughly an hour from Verbier, where William was spotted showing off his best moves last year—the pair connected instantly.
"We met when I was 20 and Jack was 24 and fell in love," Eugenie recounted, adding a shared ambition helped them bond quickly: "We have the same passions and drive for life." (And a shared lineage. Brooksbank's great-great grandfather, Viscount Thomas Coke, a former Earl of Leicester is Eugenie's great-great-great grandfather.)
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For Brooksbank that aspiration meant forging his own path. His parents—mother Nicola and accountant father George—shelled out roughly $13,000 a semester for him to attend Buckinghamshire, England's tony Stowe school (the same spot where billionaire business magnate Richard Branson studied). But post-graduation, Brooksbank eschewed university (and his expected future in finance) to have a little fun in the hospitality industry. Per the Daily Mail, Brooksbank (once nicknamed "Barman Jack" by his pals) worked his way through a series of jobs including "meet and greeter" at wine bar Devonshire Terrace and waiter at Chelsea gastropub Admiral Codrington before connecting with British restauranteur Piers Adams and landing at trendy Chelsea spot, The Markham Inn.
There, Brooksbank has said, according to the Daily Mail, "I had to deal with lots of strange people, and everyone was demanding. I also go to know the locals, which I loved." His next gig found him working in even more exclusive circles. London's Mahiki nightclub, which he helped run, has played host to everyone from Harry, William and Kate to Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton.
But despite his line of work—he's set up his own wine merchants business, is a brand ambassador for George Clooney's Casamigos tequila and has said he's dreamt of creating a line of pubs since he was 18—Brooksbank insists he's most likely to be found on the back of a banquette. "I leave work at 11pm and head home. I'm not a big drinker," he has said. "People think we party a lot but actually we are very quiet. For me it's a case of going home and watching a DVD."
While Eugenie's boyfriend worked the pre-midnight club scene, she followed a more traditional career path befitting her royal lineage. After graduating with a dual degree in English literature and art history in 2012, she decamped to the United States for a gig at New York City online auction house Paddle8. But despite putting more than 3,000 miles of distance between herself and her then-boyfriend of three years, she remained committed, relying on transatlantic flights and constant contact to remain close. "We spend a lot of time on Skype," he told the Daily Mail two months after her 2013 move. "It's great. We are still very much together."
By 2015, they were very much together in the same city, with Eugenie returning to London for an associate director position at the contemporary-art gallery Hauser & Wirth. "I've loved art since I was very little," she told Harper's Bazaar of her career choice in 2016. "I knew I definitely wouldn't be a painter, but I knew this was the industry for me." Her favorite part, the Jean-Michel Basquiat fan told the mag: "Being able to share my passion for art with people. If someone doesn't understand something, you have the ability to suggest, 'Maybe you can look at it this way.'"
Despite the dream gig, Eugenie refused to play the part of pampered princess. By 7 a.m. each morning, she told Harper's Bazaar, she's already scanned through her emails and hit the park for an hour-long circuit of burpees, squat jumps and lunges. "The whole lot," she said. "It's much better as I can't run for a long time."
Returning home, she'll either call her mum—embattled Duchess Sarah Ferguson—or chat with Brooksbank. (And if neither are around, "It's my doggie Jack," she said. "Yes my boyfriend and my dog have the same name—total accident!") Then, after slipping into a Sandro, Maje or Zara dress and her favorite Rag & Bone ankle boots and swiping on Bobbi Brown bronzer and Charlotte Tilbury mascara in the car ("I'm really good at doing it on the move!") she lands at the office.
But the eight hours of planning special projects, managing gallery events and supporting artists is only the start. Circa 5 p.m. she transitions to her night shift. As a royal, "I often have engagements related to my family or a charity I support," says the patron of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital and Teenage Cancer Trust, adding she and sister Princess Beatrice, "try to support Granny and Grandpa," (ahem, Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip) "in any way we can."
Brooksbank has been welcomed into the fold as well. Last June, he attended the five-day Royal Ascot horse race (a fixture for members of The Firm, the nickname the younger royals have given their family) and in May he joined Eugenie, Beatrice, 29, and her then-boyfriend Dave Clark at London's Chelsea Flower Show. "Jack was very much by Eugenie's side throughout," royals photographer Mark Stewart told People of the event. "It was quite a big thing to go to."
When not admiring flora, the pair prefer appreciating unique eats. "I like to go out for dinner when I can," Eugenie told Harper's Bazaar. "My friends and my boyfriend love trying new places." (She in turn, loves collecting restaurant cards and airplane boarding passes: "One day, I'm going to turn them into wallpaper and paste it into my cupboard.") Some of their favorite spots include Italian spot Bocca di Lupo in London's Soho neighborhood, nearby Palomar, known for its Israeli fare, and the couch in Eugenie's flat. "If I'm home, I cook and watch TV," she explains, noting she tunes into cooking programs, Outlander or How to Get Away With Murder when she's alone ("Viola Davis, she's insanely good,") or The Walking Dead if Brooksbank is around. "We're obsessed," she says, adding that their ideal evenings are "very relaxed."
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Now, of course, they're more likely to be filled with chatter about their upcoming nuptials. Having waited seven years to get down on bended knee in Nicaragua (when asked if she was getting anxious for him to propose, Eugenie admitted "maybe," before adding she "knew" it would happen), Brooksbank was determined to set the perfect scene. "We had a beautiful volcano, sun was setting, birds were flying," he described in their BBC engagement interview. His future fiancée was impressed: "The lake was so beautiful," she said. "The light was just a special light that I've never seen. I actually said, 'This is an incredible moment,' and then he popped the question."
While the pair's story may outshine Harry and Markle's over-roast-chicken proposal, their October 12 vows at Windsor Castle's St. George's Chapel are likely to appear tame in comparison to Harry and Markle's televised extravaganza, set to take place in the very same spot 21 weeks earlier. But while it's doubtful Eugenie and Brooksbank (who could be named an Earl post-vows) will invite thousands of fans to watch them arrive via carriage, their guest list offers plenty of intrigue. Expected invites include Eugenie pals Ellie Goulding and Cara Delevingne along with the entire royal crew.
And to hear Eugenie tell it, she's been prepping for her fall nuptials for upwards of two decades. In a March 15 Instagram throwback of herself and Beatrice at the 1993 wedding of their former nanny Alison Wardley she joked, "Wedding planning starts!!" Still, 25 years later, she's struggling with the details, admitting she can't decide between a ballgown or a more fitted sheath. "Maybe a mix of both? Can you do that?" she asked, noting that one dress requirement has been set: "No meringue shoulders."
Either way, Brooksbank is likely to approve. "We're just very, very happy and over the moon for what is to come," he gushed post-engagement. "And just very, very excited to spend a lifetime together, which is amazing." Just like their story.
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