"From the beginning, there was a struggle for Sofia to be accepted," Swedish royals reporter Margareta Gotthardsson tells PEOPLE
But the racecar-driving prince and his stunning fianc e faced several speed bumps on their way to the altar – including her racy reality-TV past.
Sofia, 30, was a finalist on the risqué reality TV show Paradise Hotel in 2005. The former men’s magazine model also made headlines for a few scandalous photo shoots. That’s enough to make any future in-law blush, but Sofia’s in-laws are Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia – so things got tricky when their son, who is third in line to the Swedish throne, first struck up a romance with Sofia in 2009 after meeting through friends at a lunch.
The relationship rubbed many Swedes the wrong way. “From the beginning, there was a struggle for Sofia to be accepted,” Margareta Gotthardsson, royals reporter at Svensk Damtidning, tells PEOPLE. “She has told the press that she and the prince tried to fall out of love with each other since they knew that it would be a struggle for them when her background was revealed.”
Both Sofia and Carl Philip have spoken out against reports that his family – which includes his two sisters, Crown Princess Victoria, 37, and Princess Madeleine, 32 – disapproved of the union.
Absolutely not, not at all,” he told Swedish TV 4 last October. “My parents and my sisters were curious about her, open, and welcomed her with a big hug.”
Instead, he put the blame on the press: She was hung out to dry in a bullying type of way.”
Sofia has spoken out about the support she received from the royal family as well.
“I felt welcome from day one and nothing else,” the former yoga teacher said in the documentary The Year with the Royal Family, adding that she has “no regrets” about her past.
“A lot has been written over the years, not only following our engagement,” she said. “For me it’s pretty boring, it happened 10 years ago and I’ve moved on with my life. But no regrets. Experience shapes a person.”
Sofia has also become especially close to Princess Victoria, who attended Sofia’s bachelorette party in April and went through her own uphill battle before marrying Prince Daniel in 2010.
“Since Victoria had to fight for the approval of marrying [now husband] Daniel, who was a luxury gym owner, it was easier for Prince Carl Philip to get approval from their parents to wed Sofia,” Gotthardsson says. “Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel have always supported Sofia and Carl Philip during their relationship.”
There’s no question that Sofia’s image has softened since joining the royal family fold. Gone are the string bikinis and cut-offs – instead, the future princess has covered up her tattoos and belly button ring with designer gowns.
Warm and welcoming, the future princess – who has worked with the charity Project Playground in South Africa – has steadily endeared herself to the Swedish public.
“Now everyone has changed their minds about her,” Gotthardsson says. “She is very lovely, charming and smart. The Swedish people have taken her to their heart.”
The soon-to-be newlyweds are also supportive of each other. The duo recently gushed about one another in a candid interview with Swedish TV 4.
“Carl Philip is my best friend,” Sofia said. “[He is] the person I talk to the most. He’s so smart and I feel so secure with him.”
Carl Philip echoed her sentiments, saying, “I feel extremely confident, stable and balanced when Sofia is by my side. And I’ve felt that way from the beginning.”
Now that they’ve proven their love to the world, the focus is on their upcoming nuptials.
“The Swedes loves royal weddings! The whole country is in a party mood,” Johanna Lejon, royals reporter at Svensk Damtidning, tells PEOPLE.
As for how their wedding will compare to that other royal couple’s, Lejon says, “It will be a very emotional and touching wedding, just like William and Kate‘s. But Carl Philip and Sofia’s wedding will be more open and not so private as Kate and William’s was. For example, SVT [a Swedish TV network] will air most of the dinner and the party after the wedding.”
Sounds like the makings of the ultimate reality TV special to us!
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