Harry: Party prince to respectable royal

Soon-to-be married Harry has made a successful transition from party prince to respectable Royal. (AAP)

He's known for his wild past, but Prince Harry is finally ready to settle down after announcing his engagement to American actress Meghan Markle.

Prince Harry's engagement to American actress Meghan Markle epitomises his transformation from wild child to respectable royal.

During the past decade Harry has evolved from the party prince who courted controversy into a dedicated young soldier and charity worker.

The 33-year-old's whirlwind romance with the Suits star began in July 2016, a year after he wrapped up a decade's service with the British Army so he could focus on working with his charities in Britain and Africa, as well as step up his royal duties on behalf of the Queen.

He earned praise as an officer with the Household Cavalry, having been on two tours of duty in Afghanistan including a stint as an Apache helicopter pilot, while his work with charities for children and conservation causes in Africa evoked memories of his late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.

It's a far cry from the Harry of old, who as a teen dabbled in underage drinking and smoking marijuana and partied alongside his aristocratic mates at London nightclubs, where he hated being snapped by paparazzi and occasionally ended up in scuffles.

Back then, controversy was never far away from the young prince.

He issued public apologies after being photographed wearing a Nazi uniform to a party in 2005 and again four years later when a home video emerged of him referring to Pakistani soldier serving with his platoon as a "Paki".

More scandal erupted in 2012 when photos of Harry playing "strip billiards" at a private party in Las Vegas hit the newspapers.

In a revealing podcast interview in April 2017, Harry confided how much of the chaos in his life was related to how he'd "shut down" all his emotions after his mother died in a Paris car crash when he was 12 in 1997.

"I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle," he told The Telegraph's Mad World podcast.

It wasn't until he was 28, when royal engagements sparked anxiety and feelings of being "on the verge of punching someone", that he sought help from counsellors.

"Because of the process I have been through over the past two and a half years, I've now been able to take my work seriously, been able to take my private life seriously as well, and been able to put blood, sweat and tears into the things that really make a difference and things that I think will make a difference to everybody else," Harry said.

Helping others is how he wants to make a difference.

Among the causes closest to his heart is Sentebale, the children's charity he co-founded in the southern African country of Lesotho with Prince Seeiso in 2006, along with the mental health charity Heads Together he co-founded with brother William and sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge.

Harry also founded the Invictus Games for wounded veterans, an event that's become a global hit and will be hosted by Sydney in October 2018.

Harry and Ms Markle, 36 chose this year's Invictus Games in Toronto, where she lived while starring in Suits, to make their first joint appearance, complete with hand holding and kissing - public displays of affection not usually associated with the royal family.

A passion for charity work is something Harry shares with his Californian fiancee, who is a United Nations women's advocate, a clean water ambassador for World Vision Canada and volunteered at a refugee camp in Rwanda.

"I've never wanted to be a lady who lunches - I've always wanted to be a woman who works. And this type of work is what feeds my soul, and fuels my purpose," she has said.

The prince has been fiercely protective of his fiancee, issuing an angry statement in November 2016 blasting the press for harassing her and for using "racial overtones" in stories about Ms Markle, whose father Thomas is white and mother Doria Ragland is African American.

Despite the constant media interest, Harry longs for "an "ordinary life".

"Sometimes, when I come away from the meat counter in my local supermarket, I worry someone will snap me with their phone," He told Newsweek in June 201.

"But I am determined to have a relatively normal life, and if I am lucky enough to have children, they can have one too."

Royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliam says Harry's relationship with a bi-racial American actress who is outspoken about humanitarian issues demonstrates just how much the royal family has modernised.

"There's no question this represents a broadening of the royal family, to represent society as a whole," he told AAP.

"And after all the years as a royal wild child and someone who did go over the top a bit, Harry's level of popularity is enormous."

Mr Fitzwilliam said Ms Markle's interview with Vanity Fair in October 2017 when she opened up about her "boyfriend" and being in love, was also highly unusual in terms of royal protocol.

"That was completely unprecedented, that he let her say they were happy and in love," Mr Fitzwilliam said.

"There's no doubt at all they're doing it their way."

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