By the midway point of her first interview as Prince Harry’s fiancée, actress Meghan Markle veered off the tried-and-tested script of previous royal brides-to-be – the ring, her delight – and talked work.
“In these beginning few months and now being boots on the ground in the UK I’m excited to just really get to know more about the different communities here,” she said.
With that, Meghan stamped herself even more as an unusual prospective duchess – moving countries and giving up her career on TV drama Suits to become Harry’s wife and move into what she called “the role.”
In choosing 36-year-old Meghan, the fifth in line to the throne, 33, has made the boldest choice of any royal groom. His fiancée is older than him, has a past (and past husband), lacks a British passport and has said she never wants to be “a lady who lunches”.
Then there’s her style: for the photocall she ignored the usual royal fiancee suit or dress, tossing a white Line the Label trench over a dress, and leaving her hair and makeup more undone than the harsh styles beloved by the last royal bride, the duchess of Cambridge.
Meghan also seemed unbowed by protocol, butting in twice when Harry was asked questions (“We should … not reveal too much of that”) and guiding him in what to say.
“She’s American, she’s divorced, she’s biracial – but I think people are just happy to see one of Diana’s sons marry for love,” said royal scholar and associate professor of English at Flinders University, Dr Giselle Bastin.
“What’s different about Meghan is they look so happy, genuinely happy,” she told The New Daily.
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The pair refused to let go of each other’s hands during their debut BBC interview and the ensuing photo calls, regularly looking deeply into each other’s eyes. It was a level of affection rarely seen from the British royals.
“People are seeing this engagement as very much part of Diana’s legacy – she showed her sons they had to prioritise basic old-fashioned companionship,” Dr Bastin said.
“It’s a very tough job so it’s not something you want to embark on with the wrong person.”
A long-time philanthropist, Meghan has worked in Rwanda for World Vision Canada and spent a week in Indian slums. This year she wrote an essay for Time about the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Memorably, her 2015 speech at a UN Women’s conference – in which she spoke of making high-profile complaints about sexist TV ads at the age of 11 – earned rapturous applause, laughter and a standing ovation.
She’s also played racy roles on TV, most notably as sex symbol Rachel Zane in Suits, and she got her start in 2006 as a model on game show Deal or No Deal.
“I would put that in the category of things I was doing while I was auditioning to try to make ends meet,” she told Esquire in 2013.
Given her history of being outspoken and independent, will the royal family try to control her?
“‘Moderate’ is a better word,” said Dr Bastin. “She will have to learn to adjust. She won’t be sat down and told she can’t speak but she’ll learn to be more naturally cautious.
“She’s speaking not for herself but for The Firm – that’s what they call themselves. I think she will learn from Harry: when in doubt, be quiet.”
Once she’s a Windsor, and probably even before, Meghan will get her own press team and separate private offices, with her first joint engagements with Prince Harry to be this Friday in Nottingham.
Meghan will also convert to the Anglican faith ahead of her wedding ceremony with Harry at Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel in May, and has begun the process of becoming a UK citizen.
While Meghan said her new Kensington Palace neighbour, the Duchess of Cambridge, has been “wonderful”, buzz is it might be hard for Kate to have another athletic brunette – but one who is far more articulate than she – blow into the family.
“They won’t be given the same things to do,” said Dr Bastin.
“It will be very important for them not to be seen as competitors but the press will of course, after a short honeymoon period, concoct the next narrative twist.
“They did that with Diana and [Sarah Ferguson] who did start to live the nightmare and feel a few tensions and jealousies.”