The wedding engagement of a feminist American actress and the fifth in line to the British throne is yet another sign the royal family is becoming a modern family.
Before she met Prince Harry, Meghan Markle had already established herself as not only a television star, but a humanitarian committed to gender equality.
High-profile members of the British royal family marrying who they want — and not who they should — has been a gradual process.
As Markle’s relationship with the prince blossomed, the British tabloids and social media commenters fixated on the fact that she’s not British, had been married before and comes from a biracial background. Her ethnicity, in particular, spurred tabloid coverage to the extent that her now-fiancé warned the media to stop harassing her last year.
Markle shrugged it off during in her first joint interview with Prince Harry.
“I’m really just proud of who I am and where I come from. And we have never put any focus on that,” she said.
Their wedding will take place in spring 2018.
Markle, 36, grew up in Los Angeles to a white father, Thomas Markle and an African-American mother, Doria Ragland. Her parents separated when she was two years old, but the family remained close, eating dinners and taking vacations together, she told Vanity Fair.
“What are you?” Markle said she was frequently asked and had to constantly explain her background, according to an essay she wrote for Elle UK in 2015.
In 7th grade, she recalled having to complete a mandatory census and having to mark her ethnicity as either white or black.
“You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other — and one half of myself over the other,” she wrote.
“When I went home that night, I told my dad what had happened. He said the words that have always stayed with me: ‘If that happens again, you draw your own box.'”
Markle credited her parents for making her socially conscious and wrote in a 2016 essay that her mother had raised her to be “a global citizen, with eyes open to sometimes harsh realities.”
Markle went to Northwestern University and became the first in her family to graduate with a college degree in 2003. She studied theater and international relations.
Her breakthrough role came in 2011 when she first appeared as ambitious paralegal Rachel Zane in the hit TV series “Suits,” now in its seventh season.
She has also acted in “CSI: Miami,” “90210” and “General Hospital.” Her film roles include “Horrible Bosses” (2011) and “Remember Me” (2010).
In an article for Elle UK in 2015, Markle wrote about the difficulty of forging a career as a biracial actress. “I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job.”
She spoke highly of the producers of “Suits” who “weren’t looking for someone mixed, nor someone white or black for that matter. They were simply looking for Rachel.”
Markle said in her first interview with Prince Harry that she will be transitioning into a new role that will involve “causes that have been very important to me.”
‘Proud to be a feminist’
Amongst those causes is her work for gender equality.
“I’m proud to be a woman and a feminist,” said Markle in a speech at a United Nations conference on International Women’s Day 2015. She had just been named the UN Women’s Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership.
Her commitment to gender equality began many years earlier, Markle explained. As an 11-year-old she had watched a soap commercial with the tagline “women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.”
She described how two boys in her class said loudly in response that women belonged in the kitchen and how the younger Markle, “shocked and angry,” decided to take action. On the advice of her father, she wrote several letters, including one to the soap manufacturer and one to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.
In the end, she explained, the commercial was changed: The word “women” was removed and replaced with “people.”
“It was at that moment that I realized the magnitude of my actions,” she said.
She went on to call for more female political participation and representation. “Women need a seat at the table,” she said. And where that’s not possible, “then they need to create their own table.”
“With fame comes opportunity,” Markle wrote in a column for Elle UK in November 2016, “but it also includes responsibility — to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings.”
In 2016, she became a global ambassador for World Vision and traveled to Rwanda to see the impact of the charity’s clean water initiatives.
Until earlier this year, Markle ran a lifestyle website, sharing her tips on food and fashion. But she posted pieces about self-empowerment too.
“I knew I needed to be saying something of value,” she wrote last year, something about “subjects of higher value than selfies.”
Markle: We’re ‘really happy and in love’
Markle was married to film producer Trevor Engelson for two years before they divorced in 2013. It was three years later — in July 2016 — that she first met Prince Harry, introduced by mutual friends.
The two dated in secret before the Prince put an end to the speculation in November last year. In a rare public statement, he confirmed their relationship and warned the press against harassing his girlfriend.
It was almost another year before Markle spoke openly about their relationship. “We’re two people who are really happy and in love,” she told Vanity Fair in September.
The last time a divorced American became engaged to a member of the British royal family, it triggered a crisis that ended with the abdication of King Edward VIII, her future husband. That was in 1936.