When one woman met a young man in a popular D.C. nightclub, she had no idea she’d go onto marry him, much less become part of a royal family.
But that’s just what happened when Ariana Austin met Joel Makonnen in Pearl Nightclub 12 years ago.
Austin told ABC News it was “days before my 22nd birthday” and she had no idea the relationship would last. “We were just so young; that’s the thing,” she recalled.
Dotun Ayodeji PhotographyBride Ariana Austin at her Sept. 9, 2017 wedding to Ethiopian prince, Joel Makonnen.
But for Makonnen, 35, the great-grandson of Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie, he had a feeling right away that Austin was different, noting that “within five minutes, I said, ‘You’ll be my girlfriend.'”
“It was more like an assertive question,” he added with a laugh. “I just had a really good chemistry with her right away. I felt like I already knew her.”
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Still, the prince was hesitant to reveal his royal heritage to his new girlfriend.
“We were with some friends … and one of my friends brought it up and said, ‘You know, you’re lucky. Your boyfriend is a prince!” Makonnen recalled. “And I always kind of like had my own way to introduce it, but he just put it out there and I kind of laughed it off.”
Dotun Ayodeji PhotographyA moment at the Sept. 9, 2017 wedding of Ethiopian prince, Joel Makonnen, and his bride, Ariana Austin.
“But then she turned to me and said, ‘What? Is he serious? What does he mean?'” Makonnen said, explaining how his friend told his future bride, “I am serious. He’s the great-grandson of Haile Selassie.”
Although his humility tried to downplay the importance, Makonnen said it was Austin’s reaction to the news that confirmed what he already knew — that she was the one.
“She kind of got it right away in the most respectful sense,” he explained, “where she was like, ‘Wow don’t shrug. It’s a big deal. I’m really impressed and it’s amazing.'”
Dotun Ayodeji PhotographyA ceremonial moment at the Sept. 9, 2017 wedding of Ethiopian prince, Joel Makonnen, and his bride, Ariana Austin.
Austin, 33, told ABC News she was “pleasantly surprised” by the news. “I obviously knew of the emperor, but I didn’t know the full scale of it then.”
The two wed in front of more than 300 people on Sept. 9 inside Debre Genet Medhane Alem Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Temple Hills, Maryland.
Wedding planner Yodit Grebreyes told ABC News, “They chose to get married on the Ethiopian New Year because it’s about new beginnings and they were creating a new life together.”
Dotun Ayodeji PhotographyThe bridal party for the wedding of Ethiopian prince, Joel Makonnen, and his bride, Ariana Austin.
Austin, whose grandfather was a lord mayor of Georgetown, Guyana, and Makonnen are “still in the process of moving,” the prince said, adding that they’ve chosen an apartment in the Washington, D.C., area.
Right now, they’re both looking forward to starting a royal life together.
“It feels pretty weighty but I’m excited,” Austin said. “It’s the world’s oldest monarchy and there’s just something pretty powerful about that. Of course I’m happy to be a part of it and I hope I can … be of service and take all this good will and all this good energy and just turn it back and do good work in our countries.”
Makonnen added, “I just look forward to being with Ariana all the time and kind of continuing this journey.”