The making of a Hollywood princess

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‘Personally, I love a great love story,” Meghan Markle tells the October issue of US Vanity Fair. Don’t we all? And if it’s stuffed full of romantic tropes, so much the better: the prince and the showgirl, the Anglo-American romance (a burbling Richard Curtis-style Brit rendered eloquent by the force of his love), the older woman with a past, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks… With almost nothing to go on since it was revealed that Prince Harry was in a relationship with the 36-year-old American divorcee last November, we’ve worked our way through every one of these tropes, never getting any closer to finding out the truth behind one of most intriguing royal love stories since Edward and Wallis.

Now, thanks to Markle’s most in-depth interview to date, we’ve been given a glimpse of a relationship that looks stable, durable, and increasingly likely to be formalised soon.

“At the end of the day I think it’s really simple,” the Suits star tells Sam Kashner, Vanity Fair’s contributing editor. “We’re two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people’s perception. I’m still the same person.”

Anyone who has come across Markle in LA, where the actress was born and raised by her African-American social worker mother, Doria Ragland, will confirm this. That’s if you can get them to talk to you at all. “People are really protective of Meghan,” says one industry acquaintance. “She’s extremely well liked and since she’s started dating Harry, her friends and co-stars have formed a wall around her. She’s in a very tight-knit group of girlfriends (the closest of whom are actresses Abigail Spencer, Priyanka Chopra and fashion designer Misha Nonoo), and when she’s not in Toronto filming Suits, she stays with her mum and sticks to the same restaurants and bars she’s been going to for years.”

With her upturned nose, sun-kissed complexion and easy manner, it’s tempting to see Markle as just another blithe and sunny green juice-drinking California girl who, in her own words “lives by the ethos that most things can be cured with either yoga, the beach, or a few avocados”. But that would be to miss the point.

For one thing she wasn’t raised doing dolphin plank poses on the beach, but in Crenshaw (or “the Shaw” as it’s known): a downtrodden neighbourhood in South West LA. And although Markle could easily have gone straight from the TV sets her father was lighting into acting (she spent 10 years hanging around those sets in her Catholic school uniform as a child), the actress chose instead to become the first person in her family to graduate from university – Northwestern in Illinois – where she studied theatre and international relations, even doing a stint at the US Embassy in Argentina in her final year.

“Meghan is far smarter than your average LA actress,” says one TV personality who has met Markle on several occasions. “Fifteen years in the business have made her very PR savvy, and she definitely has a steely, ambitious streak. But that’s no bad thing.”

And the idea – touted this week after her Vanity Fair interview was published online – that our Royal family is in danger of being “vulgarised” by this Hollywood vixen? “Hilarious. She’s a well brought up girl who is probably a lot cleverer than Prince Harry. She’s exactly what he needs.”

Markle has worked on her Hollywood career with a single-mindedness some have blamed for the demise of her two-year marriage to film producer Trevor Engelson in 2013. From her first blink-and-you’d-miss-it part in a 2002 episode of the cheesy US daytime soap, General Hospital, she gravitated to more prominent TV roles in the likes of 90210, Without a Trace, Fringe, The League and CSI: Miami. A couple of film credits followed (in Get Him to the Greek and Horrible Bosses) but it wasn’t until 2011 that she finally broke out as sassy paralegal Rachel Zane in Suits – where I’m told she is the only character allowed to rewrite her lines.

Anxious to build up her profile, Markle started writing a popular Goop-style blog, The Tig (named after her favourite Chianti, Tignanello), that she shut down without explanation in April. Greater prominence was no longer what the actress, with 12.8 million search results on Google, two Instagram star rescue dogs – Bogart and Guy – and paparazzi waiting outside her yoga class, needed.

So what does Markle need to complete her transformation? More importantly, what does she want? According to John Ferriter, a top LA talent manager, everything is up for grabs. “There’s nothing Hollywood likes more than an ingenue,” he explains. “She was already incredibly well liked in the business, but the relationship with Harry has given her the visibility and notoriety to take things to the next level.”

Only, by the looks of the Internet Movie Data Base – which keeps an accurate record of actors’ forthcoming projects – there is absolutely nothing in the pipeline for Markle. Not even an eighth series of Suits. Could this be an indication that the actress is about to call time on her acting career in order to concentrate on something more appropriate for, say, HRH Princess Henry of Wales (her title should she and Prince Harry marry)?

It seems safe to assume that Harry won’t make the conventional, dutiful choice with his wife; he never did with his girlfriends. And according to those who have seen the couple together in London – where they met through friends in July 2016 – it’s Markle’s “otherness”, her sense of fun, and her strong-mindedness that’s most attractive to him.

The Prince enjoys spending time in both Toronto – where he and Markle will be united later this month when he hosts his third Invictus Games – and LA, was rumoured to be eyeing up a $US27 million mansion belonging to actress Reese Witherspoon in the wealthy Pacific Palisades area last December as a gift for his girlfriend, who would want to keep a base there in the event of a move to the UK. Markle has spoken about how much she adores London, but it’s hard to imagine her living a quietly domesticated life in Kensington Palace.

As adventurous as Diana, with echoes of her campaigning zeal, it seems likely that the actress would immerse herself in the philanthropy she has shown an interest in from the age of 11, when she witnessed the riots that raged through LA following the police beating of Rodney King.

“Unlike so many celebrities she hasn’t adopted causes on a whim,” says one source, “this particular cause is in her blood.” Markle’s ancestors were slaves and in a powerful 2000-word essay penned for ELLE in 2015, the actress vividly recalls the “murkiness” she was made to feel as a biracial girl and woman: not having a box to tick on school forms and being described as “ethnically ambiguous” on the audition circuit. Racism isn’t the only injustice Markle has long fought against. At 11, she wrote a letter to then First Lady Hillary Clinton telling her that an advert put out by a soap manufacturer suggesting women belonged in the kitchen had upset her. As a result the company altered the ad. But although recent involvements with both the UN Women organisation and World Vision Canada have led to parallels with Diana, there are marked differences, too.

Poised, acute, and apparently in no doubt as to what her daunting future role would entail, the actress has only one entreaty for now. “I’m sure there will be a time when we have to come forward and present ourselves,” she tells Vanity Fair, “but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us.”

If the implied forthcoming announcement is real and not imagined, Markle had better relish every single second.

The Telegraph, London

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