For anyone who paid attention to Prince Harry's twenties, the revelation that he wasn't exactly feeling duty-bound right out of the gate didn't come as a surprise.
"I spent many years kicking my heels and I didn't want to grow up," he told Newsweek in 2017. But, as he apparently noted several times during the interview, "I believe a leopard can change its spots."
While the core of the man Harry is today was of course always gestating within, the character the now 34-year-old royal has started to evince in more recent years—his new spots, if you will—do indeed show evidence of a certain determination to grow up that simply wasn't going to happen until he was ready.
And though this shift started to occur before he met the woman he was going to marry, it certainly accelerated once Meghan Markle entered his life.
By the time Harry's unprecedentedly in-depth interview with Newsweek was published, he had known Meghan for almost a year. The two met in July 2016 on a blind date facilitated by their mutual friend Violet von Westenholz, whom the prince has known since childhood and was close enough to confide in about his trouble finding real love.
Harry had at least two steady girlfriends over the years and certainly never seemed to want for female companionship, not to mention the line of women who would have gladly volunteered to date him was probably long enough to circle Kensington Palace twice. But it's even hard out there for a prince.
"Is he nice?" was all Meghan wanted to know when Violet suggested she go out with her eligible pal.
And that wasn't a bad question, really. Is he nice?
The photographer whose camera Prince Harry shoved in 2004 outside a nightclub might not think so, but by most accounts Harry is nice, and that bout of rage sprang from the inescapable vulnerability he felt for years after his mother died when he was only 12 years old. Died after the car she was riding in crashed while they were being pursued by paparazzi through a tunnel in Paris in the middle of the night, to be more specific.
"Why are you doing this? Why don't you leave me alone?" Harry was overheard telling the 15 or so paparazzi who awaited his exit outside the club.
In 2005, The Sun's headline was "Harry the Nazi" after he was snapped at a costume party wearing an Afrika Korps uniform and swastika armband, while William was dressed as a lion.
"Prince Harry has apologized for any offense or embarrassment he has caused," Clarence House said in a statement afterward. "He realizes it was a poor choice of costume."
Prince Charles hired his boys a private secretary after that, an extra pair of eyes to mainly watch over Harry.
"He wanted to be controversial, he wanted to be rebellious," Duncan Larcombe, former royals editor for The Sun and author of the 2017 biography Prince Harry: The Inside Story, said recently on the Yahoo UK series The Royal Box. "He was an angry young man and I guess, really, you can understand why he was angry...I think we all get that."
"Harry and I very nearly had a fight once," he also recalled, "and it was whilst he was going on his cousin's stag weekend [in 2008]. Harry was really cross about a number of things and I was the journalist that was there and he took it out on me. It was fine, we had a bit of a heated argument, but a week later when I saw one of Harry's royal protection officers, he actually said to me, for an awful minute that night he thought he was going to have to protect me, some journalist, from Prince Harry. He wasn't sure if that was in his job description..."
"But Harry is a passionate guy and if he's angry he'll tell you. Good on him, he's honest."
It's no wonder that Harry, the forever spare heir who has overshadowed his older brother when it comes to schoolgirl crushes and fan mail but whose role in the family was inevitably TBD, sought solace in military service. The anonymity that comes with joining your fellow soldiers in combat behind one united cause served as a balm for his adrift soul.
When his first tour of duty in Afghanistan, which began in December 2007, ended prematurely after his location was leaked, "I felt very resentful," Harry recalled to Newsweek. "Being in the Army was the best escape I've ever had. I felt as though I was really achieving something."
"All I wanted to do was prove that I had a certain set of skills—for instance, flying an Apache helicopter—rather than just being Prince Harry. I also felt I was one of the lads and could forget I was Prince Harry when I was with them." (He was able to return in 2012 to command an attack helicopter based out of Helmand province, after his infamous Las Vegas trip, which he later deemed "too much Army and not enough prince.")
Harry credits his grandmother, the queen, for being patient with him and allowing him the latitude to find his calling—which inevitably was a life of service, first with the British Army and now as a patron of numerous causes, including improving the lives of veterans, mental health awareness and supporting children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.
So back to Harry being nice.
As they say, timing is everything, and the nuts and bolts of it is that Harry met Meghan at exactly the right time—i.e. when he was ready. He had embarked upon his new role as a grown-up royal, albeit sometimes a reluctant one, and looking for the ideal mate.
Stocked with experience when it came to almost finding Ms. Right, he knew that he needed someone, perhaps first and foremost, who could handle what was going to happen to any partner of his, namely the scrutiny of every aspect of her life, from her bloodlines to her hemlines. As an actress, Meghan had experience with knowing her angles and the importance of saying the right thing lest one be raked over the Twitter coals, but this would be a whole new cricket match.
"I've never been in pop culture to that degree and and lived relatively quiet life even though I focused so much on my job," Meghan later acknowledged to the BBC during their November 2017 engagement interview. "So that was a really stark difference out of the gate. But, and I think 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. It just didn't make sense and instead we focused all of our energies just on nurturing our relationship."
The private portion of their relationship would ideally be what truly mattered, of course, so Harry also needed someone who shared his sense of purpose. Meghan fit the mold perfectly in that respect, already having a slew of causes she was long involved with when they met. She was also a child of divorce, her parents having first separated when she was 2, and she is very close with her mother. Family ties in one form or another are obviously a huge part of Harry's life.
Harry would come to see Meghan as "another team player, as part of the bigger team," he explained to the BBC. "And you know, for all of us, what we want to do is be able to carry out the right engagements, carry out our work and try and encourage others in the younger generation to be able to see the world in the correct sense rather than perhaps being just having a distorted view.
"So...the fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was a sort of confirmation to me that everything, all the stars were aligned. Everything was just perfect. It was this beautiful woman just sort of that—she tripped and fell into my life. I fell into her life....I know that the fact that she'll be really unbelievably good at the job part of it as well is almost is a huge relief to me because she'll be able to deal with everything else that comes with it. But, no, we're a fantastic team. We know we are. And, we hope to over time try and have as much impact for all the things that we care about as much as possible."
And, also important, they were hot for each other, which is not to be overlooked as a desirable quality in a mate. After seeing each other twice in London, their third date was an elaborate-by-most-standards camping trip to Botswana.
"It was hugely refreshing to be able to get to know someone who isn't necessarily within your circle, doesn't know much about me, I didn't know much about her," Harry told the BBC. "So to be able to start almost fresh, right from the beginning, and getting to know each other step by step, and then taking that huge leap of only two dates, and then"—Meghan giggled—"and then going on holiday together in the middle of nowhere."
Then Meghan had to return to Toronto to the set of Suits, and distance only made the heart grow fonder.
They impressively managed to keep the press off their tail for almost six months, until word got out in October 2016 that they were dating. That, in fact, Harry had a girlfriend.
"I think you can have as many conversations as you want and try to prepare as much as possible, but we were totally unprepared for what happened after that," he reflected to the BBC.
Based largely on his youthful international exploits, Harry was always known for being a jolly, fun-loving sort, but there are certain subjects that command the utmost gravity—one being what happened to his mother. While in recent years he has amiably discussed missing her, her influence on him and his plans to honor her legacy, the clouds blow in when he thinks about the tragic nature of her death, including how people snapped pictures of her while she was lying mortally injured in the smashed-up backseat of a Mercedes.
Another person that Harry has no patience for the mistreatment of is Meghan, as the world was quick to find out when he confirmed the seriousness of their relationship with a palace statement politely demanding that people respect his girlfriend's privacy and not be racist twits while reporting on her or having public conversations about her on comment boards.
"It has its challenges, and it comes in waves—some days it can feel more challenging than others," Meghan said in the October 2017 issue of Vanity Fair, her first (and only) big interview after being strategically outed as Harry's girlfriend, a roll-out that was apparently in the works for a couple of months before they went public.
"And right out of the gate it was surprising the way things changed. But I still have this support system all around me, and, of course, my boyfriend's support."
At the end of the day, the actress added, "We're two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people's perception. Nothing about me changed. I'm still the same person that I am, and I've never defined myself by my relationship."
But Meghan's a grown woman and Harry, then 33, was still a growing lad.
If buckling down and committing to royal life was his first step toward becoming the man he is now, meeting Meghan and staring Forever in the face was his second.
And while he had many fine, princely qualities in place, how could he know what he was really made of until he decided to share his life with another person?
As it turns out, he had all the makings of a devoted family man. Rumor has it that Harry has not only stopped consuming caffeine and alcohol in solidarity with his pregnant wife, he's also green-juicing in the morning and has taken to meditation. And, better yet, he's said to have quit smoking.
"He looks great, he's lost weight, he's super healthy, and I think he's really happy," a friend told Vanity Fair, "although I'm sure he does miss going out with some of his old mates for the occasional pint." Another pal told the Express, "He eats well, doesn't poison his body, exercises, does as bit of yoga and is a lot happier."
Harry hasn't entirely synced up with his wife's tastes, however: He did end up participating in his family's annual Boxing Day pheasant hunt at Queen Elizabeth II's Sandringham residence despite the assumption that he'd skip it for the second year in a row due to Meghan's alleged distaste for hunting as an animal rights advocate.
"Like Harry, Meghan is very keen to promote wildlife charities and animal conservation," a source told the Mail Online. "However, Harry believes shooting is a sustainable field sport and she won't stop him."
Meanwhile, there are also reports that Baby Sussex will not be born at St. Mary's in London like all of his or her first cousins, and will instead enjoy a more low-key birth at a hospital in Surrey, closer to Windsor. The couple, having started their life together at Kensington Palace, down the path from Prince William and Kate Middleton, are planning a move to the newly renovated (including a shiny new yoga studio) Frogmore Cottage, which is located on the grounds of Windsor Castle, where they married at St. James' Chapel last year.
Harry and Meghan also enjoy stealing away to their home in the Cotswolds on weekends, and the country manor has proved a welcome retreat from the fishbowl of London. Harry has said that spending lots of time together, just the two of them, in close quarters early in their relationship—in order to avoid creating a spectacle with a simple date out to dinner—helped them get to know each other a lot faster. And the mutual enjoyment of just each other's company seems to have stuck, rendering Harry's affinity for boozy late nights out earlier in life a distant memory.
Which is excellent because, as it turns out, being in love—and therefore fiercely protective of someone—doesn't necessarily win you points with a bunch of strangers.
While generally considered a high scorer when regular people are asked to consider who their favorite royal is, Harry's favorability numbers have tended to stem from his role as, not exactly an outsider, but as a bit of a royal rogue, someone who defied expectations—not always in a good way—and was the member of the family you'd most want to sit and have a pint with. (We might be more partial to sitting with the queen on her third glass of champagne, but don't go by us.)
His marriage to Meghan has only increased his popularity, but now that he's half of one of the most talked-about couples in the world and an expectant father, doing his own thing doesn't seem to be sitting as well with royal watchers.
"What people love about Harry is that he wears his heart on his sleeve," Duncan Larcombe told Page Six recently. "He's down to earth, a normal guy trapped in the royal world, and he doesn't take himself very seriously. But now he is."
Despite all the photos you saw of him and Meghan on their October tour of Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga, they "blanked the media" during their trip, Larcombe said, lamenting that as a questionable choice if the couple have any interest in keeping public opinion firmly on their side.
If Meghan is smart, she has continued to ignore everything that's been written about her, or at least everything that came after her wedding, when she was credited with no less than imbuing the monarchy with the progressive essence of the 21st century. Since then it's been a hodgepodge of the mundane, the celebratory and the salacious, with the antics of the Markle side of Meghan's family sucking up most of that oxygen at first but now closely followed by stories of staff turnover, a prickly relationship with Kate and behind-the-scenes stress caused by all of the above.
"I've found that with Harry, and William as well, that if you write a story about them that's true, and that's fair, they don't have a problem with it," Larcombe also said on The Royal Box. "Where they start getting angry or defensive is when you get something wrong. They're also very, very defensive of their other halves."
Larcombe told Page Six that Harry has become "quite grumpy and aloof from his own inner circle of staff. Harry was always very pally with [them], so this is very unlike him."
Calling the Duke and Duchess of Sussex a "high-maintenance couple," Larcombe added, "Harry wants to be protective of Meghan. If she's getting frustrated and stressed, he is the one reading the riot act to the staff and doing the demanding on her behalf. But you can't blame Meghan, she's gone into her biggest role yet and she's put her heart and soul into it. Yes, she is firing off e-mails to staff at 5 a.m., but she's super-keen and Harry is taking his lead from her. He is under a lot of pressure behind the scenes."
Irony being the very nature of vicious cycles, any pressure Harry is under, if that's true, could have been caused in the first place by this bubble of negativity forming around them. He, in turn, gets more protective of Meghan, acts less like his jocular self and, boom, he's a changed man. No wonder he needs to meditate!
More likely, Harry has changed because, while he has always been part of a greater whole that may belong to the people in a way but is more likely to close ranks when the going gets rough, he now has something that is his alone to protect.
And if that means closing ranks around his wife and, in a few months, his child, then that's the new Prince Harry that people will get.