On a snowy Monday morning in London last November, the heartwarming news that royal watchers had long been waiting for finally arrived. “His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince Harry to Ms Meghan Markle.”
After a 16-month, long-distance courtship that started with a blind date set up by a mutual friend (believed to be fashion PR Violet von Westenholz), the US actress was confirmed as the next royal bride. The two were reportedly smitten after that one date, arranging to see each other the next day. A few weeks later, they carved out five days for a romantic trip to Botswana, where they camped out under the stars.
The couple then flew back and forth between London and Toronto, where Meghan filmed the legal drama Suits. In London, Harry said they spent “cosy nights in front of the television, cooking dinner” at Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, where they will live and where Meghan revealed the prince got down on one knee to propose.
“The fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was confirmation to me that all the stars were aligned and everything was just perfect,” Prince Harry confessed. “At the end of the day, she chooses me and I choose her… whatever we have to tackle, it will always be us together as a team. We’re a fantastic team, we know we are.”
Harry jokes how Meghan has even charmed the monarch’s famous dogs: “I’ve spent the last 33 years being barked at; this one walks in, absolutely nothing. Just wagging tails.” Harry is even convinced that Meghan and his late mother Diana would have been “best mates, thick as thieves”.
Ready For Royalty
Despite being a well-known actress who’s used to being in the spotlight, Meghan admitted she was shocked by the intense global scrutiny of their relationship. “I did not have any understanding of just what it would be like.” She also admitted that, as a mixed-race woman, she found some of the strong, negative reactions to her ethnicity “disheartening”.
However, it’s clear that the confident 36-year-old actress and philanthropist is not just a pretty face, and is more than ready for her new life as a royal. In fact, Harry’s communications secretary said Meghan wanted to get involved in official work immediately. “Ms Markle is very keen to get around the UK and learn more about the work being done in communities across the country… learning a bit more about some of the projects Prince Harry has a connection to.”
“Meghan will be a great boost to the House of Windsor… There was a danger that the monarchy only represented the privileged few, but by being who she is, Meghan will be a great leveler.” – Royal biographer Penny Junor
Kensington Palace announced that upon marriage, when she is expected to be gifted the title of “Duchess” by the Queen, Meghan will become the fourth patron of The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. The Foundation raises funds and works across William, Kate and Harry’s core interests – mental health, helping disadvantaged young people, the armed forces and conservation.
Meghan has worked with The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and gave a speech to the UN in 2015 at which she declared “I am proud to be a woman and a feminist”, so is likely to bring her own interests to the mix. And while royals have traditionally shied away from making political statements, Meghan has boldly spoken up on the importance of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.
“Meghan will be a great boost to the House of Windsor,” says Royal biographer Penny Junor. “The fact that she is mixed-race, American and a career woman are real positives and a reflection of our multi-cultural society. There was a danger that the monarchy only represented the privileged few, but by being who she is, Meghan will be a great leveler. She will increase the constituency of people who are interested in the royal family, because so many more people will be able to identify with her.”
“I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches, I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.” – Meghan Markle
Just four days after their happy news was announced, on a freezing December day, Meghan joined Harry in Nottingham for their first official engagement together. The couple attended a charity fair for the Terrence Higgins Trust World AIDS Day and visited the Full Effect programme, which tackles youth violence and gang culture. Hundreds of well-wishers braved the cold outside the Nottingham Contemporary arts centre to catch a glimpse of Meghan on her first royal walkabout. She greeted the excited crowds who chanted her name, introducing herself with the simple “Hi, I’m Meghan” and “I’m so happy”.
Harry and Meghan often hold hands and have their arms around each other, something rarely seen on official royal engagements. One royal commentator observed they were “tactile in a way that is almost unheard of in the royal family”. But Meghan had clearly been briefed in other areas of royal protocol. When asked for a selfie by one fan, she had to disappoint: “We’re not allowed.”
Chris O’Hanlon, a mentor at the Terrence Higgins Trust who met the royal couple, thinks they are the “perfect match”. “They have a very jokey attitude,” he said. “They seem amazingly comfortable together, and you can see that. This may have been Meghan’s first engagement, but she was a complete natural. Not only will she make a good addition to the royal family, she will make an excellent ambassador to any causes she puts her heart and mind to.”
“Mega star”, declared the next day’s front pages, with royal commentators hailing Meghan as the “nation’s sweetheart” who made a “dazzling debut” in her royal role.
In another break with royal protocol, it emerged that Meghan would become the first royal fiancée to spend Christmas with the Queen and royal family at Sandringham, her country home in Norfolk. That the Queen had invited Meghan to do so before she officially became a member of the royal family showed how warmly she has been welcomed into the royal fold. Harry and Meghan are thought to have stayed with William and Kate at Anmer Hall, on the Sandringham estate, before they all joined the Queen on Christmas Day.
After the traditional morning service at St Mary Magdalene Church, Meghan, looking understandably a little nervous as Harry whispered words of encouragement to her, joined other members of the royal family on the steps at the church’s entrance, and for the first time in public, dropped a curtsey to the Queen as she left church in a car – protocol for female members of the royal family. Then it was back to Sandringham House for the lunch, before the Queen’s guests gathered together at 3 pm to watch her Christmas broadcast.
Strong Sense Of Self
Meghan once said: “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches, I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works,” and she has been true to her word. In January this year, Meghan and Harry visited a community radio station in south London, and undertook an away day to the Welsh capital, Cardiff, where schoolchildren swamped them in “group hugs”.
In early February, they joined forces at the Endeavour Fund awards in London, which celebrate the sporting achievements of wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women. Meghan presented one of the awards, but when she and her co-presenter couldn’t find the list of nominees, she burst into giggles, to the amusement of the audience and her fiancé.
The royal couple also made an official trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, where they visited Edinburgh Castle and social enterprise cafe Social Bite, which employs staff who have been homeless. On International Women’s Day, Harry and Meghan joined female secondary school students at an event encouraging young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
A friend of Harry’s said: “You can see how proud he is to have Meghan by his side, how happy he is to finally have someone to share the pressures of a public role. To be with a modern, confident woman who has a real sense of herself is a huge asset for him and the royal family.”
We can’t wait for this modern-day princess to make her grand entrance – and take her place in the royal family.
Text: Bauer, Additional Reporting: Elizabeth Liew