If we’ve learned anything from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it’s that there’s a lot more to “happily ever after” than meets the eye. Ever since the couple decided to leave the monarchy, they’ve peeled back the curtain and shown us that even the most illustrious royal love stories can involve much more than just tiaras and titles. As it turns out, princes and princesses deal with many of the same pressures as non-royal couples, from meddling in-laws to familial expectations.
And while Harry and Meghan might be one of the most famous royal couples to risk it all for love, they’re certainly not the only pair that’s defied tradition and overcome obstacles to seek happiness on their own terms. There’s a new class of modern royals who are paving new paths to the throne and beyond, and they’re reminding us how love really can conquer all along the way. From unlikely matches to history-making unions, here are five inspiring royal love stories from all around the globe.
Princess Keisha and Prince Adekunle "Kunle" Adebayo Omilana of Nigeria
When Keisha Omilana first met her future husband outside of a New York City hotel, she immediately knew there was something different about him.
"I could feel this presence looking at me, and I look up and see this handsome gentleman just standing there," the model told Insider. "And nobody just stands in New York City. Everyone's on their way somewhere, moving, going.” After declining his request for her phone number, Omilana walked away from the man to catch her train, until her "woman's intuition" caused her to reconsider. She turned around and agreed to go on a date with him, all the while having no idea she almost turned down a prince.
The “handsome gentleman” was actually Prince Adekunle "Kunle" Adebayo Omilana of Nigeria, though the young model wouldn’t learn of her beau's royal title until she met his mother two years later.
Initially, Keisha thought nothing of it when Kunle’s mother called her “my princess.” However, her future mother-in-law then revealed her family's royal lineage to Keisha, giving new meaning to the "princess" pet name. Upon finding out that her boyfriend of two years was, in fact, a prince, Keisha was understandably stunned: "I just looked at him like, 'you don't just forget to say something like that!'"
Despite the shocking revelation, the couple later married and welcomed two children together. While they still hold their royal titles, the prince and princess have always chosen to put their own passions and family first. Princess Keisha continued her modeling career, starring in campaigns for Pantene, Maybelline, and Covergirl. And while Prince Kunle was offered the role of king of the Arigbabuowo ruling house, he reportedly declined the title in order to preserve his family’s independence.
"I remember my mother-in-law calling and telling me what that would mean, and she's saying how I can't call him 'baby' anymore," Keisha shared with Insider. "He's no longer 'my sweetheart.' She said, 'You do realize if you say yes, you are basically giving your husband away.'" Instead, the Omilanas turned down the monarchy for something they cherished even more: their marriage.
King Jigme Khesar and Queen Jetsun Pema
Not only did King Jigme Khesar and Queen Jetsun Pema of Bhutan have one of the most colorful royal weddings we’ve ever seen, but they also have one of the sweetest origin stories. For seven-year-old Jetsun, it was love at first sight when she first laid eyes on the future king. According to reports, Jetsun approached seventeen-year-old Jigme at a picnic, and adorably asked the young royal to marry her.
Fourteen years later, he did just that. After Jigme was crowned as King at just 28—becoming the youngest reigning monarch in the world—the couple officially tied the knot in October 2011.
“I have been waiting for quite some time to get married,” he told reporters at the time. “But it doesn’t matter when you get married as long as it is to the right person. I am certain I am married to the right person.”
The young couple’s royal wedding was Bhutan’s largest media event, and the country even declared a three-day national holiday in honor of the nuptials. After marrying in a small ceremony—held promptly at 8:20 a.m., the time set by royal astrologers—the newlyweds kicked off their multi-day celebration. The festivities even included a parade where the couple traveled from Punakha to Thimphu on foot to greet the public on elaborately decorated streets.
The King and Queen—affectionately known as the "Prince William and Kate Middleton of the Himalayas”—are now parents to two adorable sons, and have shared plenty of sweet family portraits on Instagram over the years. They recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary in October, and their fated love story continues to give credibility to the age-old cliché: when you know, you know.
Prince Joel Dawit Makonnen and Princess Ariana Austin Makonnen of Ethiopia
Like many 21-year-olds, Ariana Austin didn’t have much of a plan after graduating from college and moving back home to live with her parents. Having recently quit a Ph.D. program, she was focused on figuring out where she wanted to take her career next, and took a job at a Washington D.C. clothing boutique while she contemplated her future. Dating was the furthest thing from her mind.
“I knew I wanted to tell stories and I wanted to see—and change—the world,” Ariana later wrote in Town & Country. “A husband and a family were never really something I dreamed of.”
Destiny, however, had other plans. During a night out with friends, a handsome stranger approached Ariana at a nightclub and told her she looked like a model from a Bombay Sapphire ad. She was charmed, and spent the rest of the evening talking with “Joel”, who told her he was finishing up his final semester at American University. Despite the fact that romance wasn’t on her summer bucket list, the pair started seeing each other, and officially became a couple one month later.
Finding love in a crowded nightclub is already an unlikely occurrence, but as Ariana would later find out, the couple’s chance encounter was even more extraordinary than she initially realized. During a night out almost a year into their relationship, one of Joel's friends casually mentioned to Ariana, "‘You know you’re dating a prince, right?’” And just like a modern day Cinderella, Ariana learned that Joel, the man who had charmed her on the dance floor and then captured her heart, was actually Prince Joel of Ethiopia, fifth in line to the former Imperial Ethiopian throne and a member of one of the oldest monarchies in the world.
If their love story was a movie, the plot would end there, with Ariana and her prince riding off into the sunset. However, like many couples in their early twenties, Ariana and Prince Joel went through several major life changes over the next decade, and their relationship was continually on-and-off while they figured out their careers. By 2014, though, Joel’s mind was made up. With a princess-cut engagement ring and a handful of balloons in tow, he knocked on the door of Ariana’s parents house to ask for her hand in marriage.
And after ten years of waiting, Joel was understandably excited, and knocked a bit too loudly on the door, leading Ariana to think there was an intruder outside. “She thought somebody was trying to break in,” her father later told the New York Times. “And it was just the poor guy trying to propose to her.” Once Ariana realized it was Joel at the door, she let him inside and the prince got down on one knee. Her reaction to the surprise proposal? “It’s about time.”
Three years later, the couple married during a lavish Ethiopian Orthodox ceremony with over 300 guests, including several of the groom’s royal relatives. However, according to Ariana, the couple’s future involves a lot more than crowns and castles.
“That’s not what being part of a royal family means to Joel or to me,” she wrote in Town & Country. Instead, the prince and princess are focused on using their platform to serve as ambassadors for Ethiopia's culture and history, in addition to the multiple philanthropic efforts they’re both involved in. The couple is also exploring some storytelling of their own, and have film and TV projects in the works that they hope will show viewers a new side of Africa and Joel’s heritage. As Ariana put it, “It’s clear that our greatest adventure has just begun.”
Mako Komuro and Kei Komuro
While every marriage requires at least some sacrifice, Japan’s former Crown Princess Mako of Akishino was faced with an impossible decision after falling in love with her college sweetheart, Kei Komuro. Since Japanese law stipulates that a princess must leave the imperial family upon marrying a commoner, Mako was forced to choose between marrying Komuro and keeping her title, her royal duties, and her place in the imperial family.
After years of intense public scrutiny, which forced the couple to delay their 2018 wedding plans, the princess chose love in the end. She married Komuro in October 2021, forgoing a traditional royal wedding and turning down the $1.3 million dowry that’s traditionally given to royal women when they lose their title by marrying a non-royal.
“Kei is irreplaceable for me,” the former princess told reporters after announcing her marriage. “For us, marriage is a necessary choice to live while cherishing our hearts.”
The newlyweds have since moved to New York City, and while Mako might have relinquished her royal title in Japan, she also left behind a legacy. The former royal’s departure from the imperial family has reignited the debate about the country’s stringent succession laws, which prevent women from ascending the throne.
While the Japanese government has yet to amend its stance, thanks to modern royals like Mako, public opinion is shifting. According to a poll conducted by Japanese broadcaster NHK, the majority of citizens are in favor of changing the laws to allow for both females and the children of non-imperial men to become emperors. It might be years before we fully know the lasting impact of Mako and Komuro’s barrier-breaking union, but we already know for certain that it’s a love story for the ages.
Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark
When Mary Donaldson met a handsome stranger named Fred at a Sydney pub during the 2000 Olympics, it didn’t seem like fate at first.
“The first time we met, we shook hands,” she later said of their first meeting. “I didn’t know he was the prince of Denmark. Half an hour later, someone came up to me and said, ‘Do you know who these people are?’”
As it turned out, “Fred,” the charming gentleman Mary had been seated next to, was actually Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark and the heir apparent to the Danish throne. Despite their different backgrounds—she was an advertising executive who dreamed of being a veterinarian rather than a princess as a child—the pair immediately hit it off, and what started as a chance encounter quickly turned into the beginning of a fairytale romance.
For the next year, the prince made several secret trips back to Australia to visit Mary as their long-distance relationship blossomed. By 2001, Mary had given up her civilian life to move to Denmark, but it wasn’t until 2003 that Frederik’s mother, Queen Margrethe, publicly confirmed the romance. Six months later, the pair announced their engagement.
If the couple’s adorable origin story sounds familiar, that might be because it’s almost identical to the plot of the 2004 rom-com, The Prince & Me. In the movie, Julia Stiles’s character Paige meets a boy at a pub, who also later turns out to be a Danish prince. The two fall in love, get engaged, and seemingly live happily ever after, though the credits roll before we see them walk down the aisle.
In real life, we did get to see what comes after the prince’s proposal when Frederik and Mary married in a storybook wedding in Copenhagen. Flash forward to present day, and the couple—formally known as the Crown Prince and Princess of Denmark—are happily married with four children. And ever since their fated pub encounter, the couple has attended almost every summer Olympic Games to date. Now that’s what we call a fairytale ending.