LONDON – American, mixed-race and “fiercely independent”: Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s actor girlfriend, will breathe fresh air into the British royal family when she marries Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson next spring.
Playing a lawyer in the hit television show “Suits,” the 36-year-old actress with long flowing black hair was barely known in Britain when her name appeared on newspaper front pages last October.
The tabloids based their report of a relationship between Harry and Meghan, who lived in Toronto, Canada, on pictures showing them wearing the same tricolored wristband.
The relationship was acknowledged last November by Kensington Palace, which handles communication for Harry, in a most unexpected way.
Exasperated by the media frenzy, the palace released a statement attacking the “sexism” and “racism” Meghan Markle faced on social media.
It also blasted the media for “harassing” the actress.
Four days earlier, The Sun, Britain’s top-selling newspaper, ran a piece on its front page titled “Harry’s girl on Pornhub,” the adult video website.
But the actress’s only crime had been to take off her shirt while filming what the newspaper described as a “steamy scene” for her show “Suits,” which then made it onto the pornographic website.
The prince’s past reported girlfriends all shied away from the media limelight, and his sister-in-law, formerly known as Kate Middleton, stayed silent until she and Prince William gave a formal televised interview at Buckingham Palace after their engagement became public.
Harry and Markle made their first official public appearance together in September, attending the opening ceremony of the third Invictus Games — created by the prince for disabled or wounded soldiers and veterans.
“We’re two people who are really happy and in love,” Markle told Vanity Fair shortly before the event.
Born Aug. 4, 1981, to a clinical therapist mother and television lighting director father, she grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in Toronto.
Markle’s parents divorced when she was 6 years old. She has half-siblings on her father’s side, and grew up in Los Angeles, attending a girls’ Roman Catholic college there.
Some publications had alluded to her mixed-race heritage, pointing out that her mother is African-American, while her father is a white American of Dutch and Irish descent.
Markle herself has spoken out about coming to terms with being biracial — both growing up, and in her Hollywood career.
In a March interview with Allure magazine, she said studying race at college was “the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community and too mixed in the white community.
“For castings, I was labeled ‘ethnically ambiguous,’ ” she said.
After graduating in 2003 from Northwestern University School of Communication, where she studied theater and international relations, Markle appears to have navigated her career without a hitch.
The actress’s most successful role is the feisty Rachel Zane in the legal show “Suits,” now in its seventh season. Her career has also included small parts on TV series including “Fringe,” “CSI: Miami,” “Knight Rider” and “Castle,” as well as movies including “Horrible Bosses.”
She is also telegenic, practices yoga and drinks detox drinks including “green juices,” according to her Instagram account.
Tabloids were quick to point out that the actress, three years Harry’s senior, is divorced. Markle married American film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011, but the pair divorced two years later.
It wouldn’t be first time that a British royal has married an American — or a divorcee. In 1936, Edward VIII famously abdicated after he was forced to choose between the monarchy and his relationship with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.
However, none of this was enough to derail a royal wedding, which will take place early next year, according to Monday’s announcement.
Quite the contrary, says Penny Junor, Harry’s biographer: “I think that would be no problem at all, and the fact that she is of mixed race might even be a bonus,” she said.
“It would show Harry, a senior member of the Royal Family, to be a thoroughly modern man — not a precious, strange creature from another planet, which is how the royals are sometimes seen.”
Some believed, however, that her proud independence — the actress had maintained a long-distance relationship with the prince for much of their courtship — could be a source of contention for the Windsor family.
“I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches — I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works,” Markle once wrote on her blog “Tig” (which closed down in April without explanation).
Popular tabloid the Daily Mail wrote that it was “easy to see what happy-go-lucky Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have in common.”
“What’s less clear is … what some female members of the royal family will make of a fiercely independent young woman.”
Like Harry, Markle does humanitarian work. She has traveled to Rwanda as a global ambassador for the charity World Vision Canada, which works to improve children’s lives in developing countries.
A resolute feminist, Markle has written in Time magazine about girls’ education and the stigma surrounding menstruation, and has described how her mother took her to the slums of Jamaica to witness poverty first-hand, saying experiences like that shaped her social consciousness and charity work.
Her engagement in the cause can be traced back to her childhood in California. “Aged 11, she forced a soap manufacturer to alter an advert after she wrote a letter to then First Lady Hillary Clinton and other high-profile figures complaining that it implied women belonged in the kitchen,” wrote the BBC.
The actress now also campaigns for women’s rights, and has championed equality as an “Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership” for UN Women.
In a speech she made on the 2015 International Women’s Day, she said: “Women need a seat at the table, they need an invitation to be seated there, and in some cases, where this is not available, they need to create their own table.”
UN Women said in a statement late Monday that it “trusts and hopes that in her new and important public role she will continue to use her visibility and voice to support the advancement of gender equality.”