When Ariana Austin met "Joel" at a nightclub in Washington, D.C. 12 years ago, he seemed like a pretty average guy.
He had a dorky pickup line when he approached Austin and her friend ("You guys look like an ad for Bombay Sapphire") and he was trying a little to hard to be flirty, telling her "you're going to be my girlfriend" just minutes after they met. But Austin felt a connection with him, and the couple stayed in touch.
As their relationship developed, Joel gradually revealed the secret he had been hiding the night they met: Joel Makonnen, the mild-mannered lawyer, was better known as "Prince Yoel," the great-grandson of Ethiopia's last Emperor Haile Selassie I. Without realizing it, Austin had stumbled into a royal romance.
Makonnen's family trace their roots back to the biblical King Solomon, and ruled Ethiopia in a unbroken line stretching back hundreds of generations. But a Communist coup in 1974 forced the royal family into exile. Makonnen spent his childhood in Europe before his parents, the Prince and Princess, moved to America.
These dramatic events became the first link in a chain that led an American woman to become an Ethiopian princess, and the couple tied the knot at a beautiful royal wedding last month...
On their wedding website, Ariana and Joel described their ceremony as "Old World aristocracy met New World charm."
Austin's grandfather was once the mayor of Guyana's capital, and their wedding blended together the couple's Guyanese and Ethiopian roots. Thirteen priests presided over the Orthodox Christian ceremony, before the couple's 300 guests enjoyed Ethiopian food at Virginia's Foxchase Manor.
For the young couple, who traveled around the world pursuing their education and careers before circling back to find each other again, the wedding is the perfect end to their long, fairy tale love story. "I think we both had this feeling that this was our destiny," Austin told The New York Times, "but I felt like I had things that I had to do."
It's not everyday that a commoner becomes a princess, but of course Austin is not the first. Actress Grace Kelly became Princess of Monaco after marrying Prince Rainier III, and New Zealand real estate agent Mary Donaldson met Denmark's Crown Prince Frederik at a bar.
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