LONDON – Prince Harry has become the star of his very own fairytale, closing the chapter on years of mad, bad – and generally naughty – behavior and starting a new life with his actress and fashion-loving fiancée Meghan Markle.
His engagement to Markle, which was revealed early Monday, finally puts an end to years of broken relationships, notably with the Zimbabwean lawyer Chelsy Davy and the British actress Cressida Bonas, and the prince’s sadness about not being able to find the right partner.
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The 33-year-old prince and former military officer often bemoaned his single status, blaming the constant media glare, and arguing that the pressures of royal life were nothing but a turn-off to a potential wife.
That all changed when Markle, a glamorous mixed-race actress, humanitarian campaigner — and divorcee — arrived on the scene. Although she’s kept a relatively low profile – Prince Harry asked the media last year to lay off – it’s clear the royal family has embraced her.
“They like her, because she’s not an ‘Annabelle’ or a ‘Caroline,’” said author and social commentator Peter York, referring to typically posh girl names.
“I think that the royal family have absolutely learned from the whole [Princess] Diana thing. Just getting a toff [a member of the upper class] — and remember Diana was a hyper toff — is no guarantee. You have to think out of the box. Kate [Middleton] has been an enormous success, and there’s no reason to think this lady isn’t going to be one, too.”
Despite some nutty behavior — or maybe because of it – York said that Brits have an abiding affection for Prince Harry. “Everybody’s rooting for him. It’s a lovely distraction from the horrors of Brexit, and for a nation that’s not at peace at the moment.”
Markle and Prince Harry have been dating since July 2016, after being introduced by mutual friends. They were soon inseparable and last November Prince Harry issued a warning to media to leave her in peace.
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They first appeared in public together in May, when she watched him play polo at Cowarth Park in Berkshire. In September, the couple appeared together in Toronto at the Invictus Games, a competition for wounded service personnel, a charity close to Harry’s heart.
The duo traveled to Botswana in August to celebrate Markle’s birthday – she’s 36 years old – and by early November they were engaged, although the official announcement was only made Monday.
A graduate of Northwestern University in Illinois, the Los Angeles-born Markle is best known for playing the paralegal Rachel Zane in the occasionally steamy TV series “Suits.” She had previously starred in shows such as “90210,” “CSI: NY,” “Knight Rider” and the film “Horrible Bosses.”
She is currently involved with a number of humanitarian charities – something that would have reminded Harry of his late mother’s work — and serves as global ambassador for World Vision Canada, a global relief organization that helps children, families and communities.
She has also volunteered with United Nations Women, gone to Afghanistan to support American troops and visited Rwanda with the Clean Water Campaign. That good work should help her slot easily into royal life as she’ll be expected to become a patron of myriad charities.
A fashion lover, Markle has a laid-back California aesthetic and tends to balance designer labels with high street ones, similar to her future sister-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge. Her go-to brands include Misha Nonoo, Mackage and Sarah Flint.
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She’s been photographed multiple times in ripped Mother jeans, breezy button down shirts and an Everlane tote, although she can glam it up, too, appearing recently in a navy lace Diane von Furstenberg dress or a long floral wrap Club Monaco number. She’s not afraid to flash her cleavage — or her legs — another similarity with the younger Princess Diana.
Like the Duchess 0f Cambridge, she can move merch. The fashion search platform Lyst noticed that certain outfits worn by Markle have seen “unprecedented” spikes.
“Meghan has her own distinct style, and this search data shows that the public is excited by the arrival of a new and different royal fashion influencer on the scene,” said communications director of Lyst, Katy Lubin.
“As the newest princess-to-be on the block, this makes her a key influencer with a huge global platform to promote brands. She favors a contemporary, laid-back style, and often champions affordable designers. This makes her wardrobe seem more accessible than Kate’s,” Lubin said.
On Monday, the eyewear brand Finlay & Co. said it saw a 1,000 percent increase in sales after Markle wore the brand’s ‘Percy’ sunglasses at the Invictus Games in Toronto, and in London last week.
She’s also a guest designer for Reitmans, creating a work-to-weekend collection sold in select stores and online. Her signature faux leather pencil skirt looks like something her fast-tracking paralegal character Rachel Zane would wear on the U.S. network show. The cashmere blend poncho and faux leather leggings have been bestsellers, according to the company.
The American actress was also the creative force and founder of Thetig.com, a lifestyle site about food, travel, fashion and beauty. She eventually shut that site down, however, after things got serious with Prince Harry.
“She loves fashion. She’s very stylish. She’s not too young, not too old, she’s right there and she’s liked by so many women in Canada thanks to her ‘Suits’ contract,” said Monique Brosseau, vice president of marketing and visual presentation at Reitmans.
The series is filmed in Toronto, which doubles as Manhattan, and Markle has since left the series in anticipation of becoming a member of the royal family.
Markle is different from other royal brides in many ways: She’s mixed race – her father is white and her mother is African-American – and she’s divorced. She was married to the production company owner Trevor Engelson in 2011, but the couple divorced in 2013.
York said the fact that she’s so different from any other royal bride – or from Harry’s other girlfriends — works in her favor. He dated the posh Cressida Bonas, the youngest daughter of Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon and entrepreneur Jeffrey Bonas, on and off for two years until 2015, and was also involved also in a six year on-off relationship with Chelsy Davy, an uber-wealthy Zimbabwean national from 2005 to 2010.
“It rather adds to it that Meghan is an actress, and she’s mixed race and all that stuff. People don’t realize the degree to which this country is much easier about race, and certainly about mixed race. There is practically no British family without a mixed race member. We really are easier about it than most other nations,” said York.
As for the fact that she’s a divorcee — a generation ago royal brides were meant to be virgins – York said it’s a sign of the times. “Historically it would have been the most enormous deal breaker, that she’s divorced and even a couple of years older than Prince Harry, yet everybody’s rooting for him.”
Upon his marriage, it is thought that once Prince Harry will receive the title of the Duke of Sussex and Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. In royal history, there was only one Duke of Sussex, Prince Augustus Frederick, the son of King George III. Markle would be the first duchess of Sussex.