If she were auditioning for the role of a lifetime, it would seem she has won the part. Meghan Markle, the actress, yoga-lover and now fiancée of Prince Harry, has stepped into the warm embrace of the Royal Family, crossing the Atlantic last year to start a new life.
The November engagement announcement was not exactly a surprise, after weeks of breathless speculation and rumours. Nor is Ms Markle an unknown entity. A refreshingly far cry from the sheltered aristocratic ingénues lined up as royal consorts of yore, she has taken pains to introduce herself to the world on her own terms.
So who is Meghan Markle? And how much of herself will she manage to preserve in the transition to Kensington Palace and life as a working royal?
Born Rachel Meghan Markle in 1981, she spent her formative years in Los Angeles with her parents: A yoga teaching, social worker mother and Emmy-winning lighting director father.
Far from sheltered, she has spoken frankly about the effect of seeing the 1992 riots following the police beating of Rodney King, and has disclosed her confusion in finding her path as a mixed-race child.
At 36, she is three years older than Prince Harry and – unusually for royal brides – has already lived a substantial independent life pursuing a career she would have been happy to continue had fate not stepped in.
According to her own description, given in 2016 before she scaled back her public life, she is “an actress, a writer, the editor-in-chief of my lifestyle brand, The Tig, a pretty good cook and a firm believer in handwritten notes”. A yoga devotee, she enjoys a fine wine and occasional hearty pasta, and attracted a following for a picture-perfect Instagram lifestyle starring pet dogs, stylish friends and wholesome nights in.
A self-confessed romantic at heart, she has blogged intriguingly on topics from spending Valentine’s day alone to healthy living, featuring green juicing, organic food and a daunting devotion to “wellness”.
If she has inspired some ribbing for her proclamation that “most things can be cured with either yoga, the beach, or a few avocados”, she has nevertheless refused to fit in too exactly with the LA cliché.
In words that will either come to define her role in royal life, or come back to haunt her, she has said: “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches; I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.”
And work she has: As a freelance calligrapher to pay the rent, as a jobbing actress and model, and finding fame as a saintly paralegal in Netflix drama Suits. Like most actresses, her early roles were far from A-list: A part in daytime soap opera General Hospital, a stint as a “briefcase girl” on Deal Or No Deal, and a host of small roles on television from 90210 to CSI: NY. In one inauspicious appearance, industry bible Imdb pithily lists her character in A Lot Like Love as “hot girl”.
As she built a career on-screen, she seized opportunities off it as well.
Her website, The Tig, before she closed it, was sprinkled with photographs of a glamorous life of travel and feasts from around the world. In a series of interviews aimed at boosting its readership she waxed lyrical about the benefits of bee pollen, acupuncture, and six-mile runs.
“With fame comes opportunity but it also includes responsibility,” she said. “To advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings. And, if I’m lucky enough, to inspire.”
That mantra, forged out of an early passion for campaigning, saw her take on a range of philanthropic missions perfectly aligned with Prince Harry’s own causes.
At 11, she wrote to a soap company complaining about their sexist advert featuring women in the kitchen – and got it changed. Following it up with a degree in international relations, she went on to work with UN Women, as global ambassador for World Vision Canada, and agitator for gender equality.
During a visit to Rwanda to highlight the water crisis she was photographed surrounded by smiling children, in what could prove a fateful foretelling of her future royal charity work.
In a bold move for someone already dating a prince, she this year wrote a passionate article about the stigma around menstruation, lamenting the “staggering” effect about the shame for women around the world linked to menstruation.
“My life shifts from refugee camps to red carpets,” she has insisted. “I choose them both because these worlds can, in fact, coexist.”
Unlike Prince Harry’s former girlfriends and the former Catherine Middleton, she has been well trained in media relations and PR. The perils of royal life – constant press interest, social media intrusion and the ubiquitous camera phones following her every move – are unlikely to daunt her.
When she stepped in front of the cameras hand-in-hand with Prince Harry at the Invictus Games, observers commented on her natural aptitude for public appearances: charming her hosts, making uncontroversial small talk with the public and bending to accept gifts from children graciously.
Not for her care-free paparazzi pictures dancing the night away and stumbling out of clubs: a concerted tabloid effort to dig up scandal has resulted in little more than some steamy in-character screen grabs from old acting jobs.
Not that her extended family have always helped.
Her half-sister Samantha, 16 years her senior, has painted an unflattering picture of the actress in what has become a running commentary, and is set to publish a tell-all memoir entitled The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister.
Ms Markles ex-husband, Trevor Engelson, whom she married in Jamaica in 2011 before separating two years later, has not shared his story, but has sold the rights to a comedy series about a man whose wife leaves him for a British prince.
Ms Markle’s parents, though, have provided stability.
Her mother, Doria Ragland, a yoga teacher and social worker, provided the perfect companion for the 2017 Invictus closing ceremony, chatting happily with Harry in an arena box, suggesting a clearly comfortable relationship.
Her father, Thomas Sr, has kept his counsel from his home in Mexico.
Profiles suggesting a gritty urban upbringing are wide of the mark: The young Meghan attended a private Catholic school, was joined her lighting director father on television sets, and was close to her parents who helped her navigate what she has described as a “confusing” time as a mixed-race child.
A family lottery win when she was nine gave the family a head-start, according to her half-brother, funding the best schools and opportunities to pursue drama. Though they divorced when she was six, she has publicly praised both her mother and father for how they have brought her up, revealing their nicknames for her: “Flower” and “bean” respectively.
Shop Meghan Markle’s style
If old co-stars will be left behind in Toronto as Ms Markle spends more time with Prince Harry’s friends, there will be mutual acquaintances to ease the transition.
Misha Nonoo, another of the actress’s friends, was married to Alexander Gilkes, Old Etonian and friend of the Princes, while her appearance at Tom Inskip’s Jamaica wedding to Lara Hughes-Young suggested she is already fitting right in.
If her transatlantic relationship has afforded little time to get to know the Windsors, the engagement last year inspired a warm welcome from her future family. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge proclaimed themselves “very excited” at the news, adding it had been “wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together”. The Queen was “delighted”, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall “thrilled”.
While the starry-eyed actress may not have much in common with her father-in-law-to-be on the face of it, their shared ethos of “farm-to-table” food and love of gardening will give them plenty to talk about. A love of fashion will provide an easy in with the Duchess of Cambridge, while Prince Harry’s oft-expressed desire to have children could see them bond over nurseries and nannies in years to come.
Certainly, the Duke and Duchess will be on hand to provide top tips on a Royal wedding. Whether Harry and Meghan opt for a similarly lavish affair remains to be seen, but insiders seem sure they will want to forge their own path as much as possible. That both are the go-to friends to arrange a stag or hen party may give some clues as to their priorities: the considerations of fun, food, music and friends likely to balance their official obligations. For now, a little space to enjoy their newly-engaged status beckons before a wedding in the spring.
“Personally, I love a great love story,” Meghan Markle told Vanity Fair in September. She has found her Prince. Now begins the pursuit of happily ever after.
This article was originally published in November 2017.