Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are set to tie the knot in just a few weeks. And while their romance has been a whirlwind, Harry’s search for the missing piece — an equal partner with whom he could share his life and passions — has been years in the making.
After nearly losing himself following the 1997 death of his mother, Princess Diana, Harry earned a reputation as a royal rebel, partying too hard and making tabloid headlines for bad behavior, including an infamous game of strip billiards in Vegas. He went on to find purpose and discipline in the British Army, and became ready for the next phase of his life.
“Harry’s drinking days are over,”a source tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “All of his best friends have settled and had children, so he’s had fewer people to go out and play with. He realized he was getting a bit older and that it was time to settle down a little bit.”
Adds Duncan Larcombe, a former royals reporter who traveled with Prince Harry throughout much of the early 2000s and is the author of the new biography Prince Harry: The Inside Story: “He desperately wanted to get married and be happy. He sees his brother [Prince William] has found that. The fact that Meghan arrived when she did completes it for Harry.”
- For more on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
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Adds a royal insider: “He’s found a great match in her.”
Today, Harry “is able to talk about how troubled he was and how he sought counseling—in no small way, I imagine that’s Meghan’s influence on him,” says Larcombe. “His antics over the years mean that everyone can identify with him. He is a reluctant royal because he is a prince of the people. The public feel a connection with Harry for all those reasons that they probably don’t feel for any other member of the royal family.”
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In Meghan, he has found a trusted copilot with whom to move the monarchy forward. “Meghan is going to be a force,” says a palace source. “She will help him really define his role and relate to the public in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to do before. It was worth the wait.”
- With reporting by Simon Perry, Phil Boucher and Monique Jessen