British tabloids have gone bonkers since news of Prince Harry’s romance with Meghan Markle broke last week. Here’s a primer to bring you up to speed.
Markle is a 35-year-old actress who co-stars on the legal drama, Suits. She was raised in Los Angeles and now lives in Toronto, where her show is filmed. Other facts that have caused shock waves in England (besides her being American and a few years older than Harry, 32): Markle is biracial and divorced. (She married a longtime boyfriend in 2011 and divorced two years later.)
Like her royal beau, Markle is a passionate humanitarian. She does frequent advocacy work for the United Nations and World Vision Canada, travelling internationally to promote gender equality and access to clean water. She designed a sleek, but accessible line of women’s wear for the Canadian department store Reitman’s. And three years ago she launched a smart, substantive lifestyle website, The Tig.
“The moment Suits became successful and I realised people [especially young women] were listening to what I had to say, I knew I needed to be saying something of value,” she wrote in an essay on the site.
The Express first reported the relationship, which apparently began in May when Prince Harry travelled to Toronto to promote the Invictus Games Foundation, an organisation he founded to host Olympics-style games for disabled veterans from around the world. Since their first meeting, the pair are said to have reunited in both Los Angeles and England, where Markle was introduced to Harry’s brother, Prince William and sister-in-law, Kate Middleton.
Because she is biracial, Markle is often asked about her heritage. In an essay for Elle UK magazine, she wrote of how frequently she is asked, “What are you?”
Markle’s dad was a lighting director on shows including Married with Children… And he’s white. Her mum was a social worker. And she’s African American.
“And there was my mum, caramel in complexion with her light-skinned baby in tow, being asked where my mother was since they assumed she was the nanny,” Markle wrote. “It’s either ironic or apropos that in this world of not fitting in, and of harbouring my emotions so tightly under my ethnically nondescript [and not so thick] skin, that I would decide to become an actress.”
As an actress, as in life, she had to resist outside pressure to lock her into one, digestible category.
“You push for colour-blind casting, you draw your own box. You introduce yourself as who you are, not what colour your parents happen to be. You cultivate your life with people who don’t lead with ethnic descriptions such as, ‘that black guy Tom’, but rather friends who say: ‘You know? Tom, who works at [blah blah] and dates [fill in the blank] girl.’ You create the identity you want for yourself, just as my ancestors did when they were given their freedom. Because in 1865 [which is so shatteringly recent], when slavery was abolished in the United States, former slaves had to choose a name. A surname, to be exact.
“Perhaps the closest thing to connecting me to my ever-complex family tree, my longing to know where I come from, and the commonality that links me to my bloodline, is the choice that my great-great-great grandfather made to start anew. He chose the last name Wisdom. He drew his own box.”
Markle will surely call on that experience as she faces the gaze of the British public. Already her relationship with Harry has sparked discussion of the veracity of the notion of “royal purity.” An article in the Daily Mail spent three paragraphs talking about the crime rates in the Los Angeles neighbourhood where Markle’s mother now lives, describing it as “one of a cluster of Los Angeles boroughs famous for gangs.” As President Barack Obama has taken to saying, “C’mon, man.”
Anyway, it seems that if anyone can handle this harsh spotlight, Markle can. As she wrote of her dual roles of actress and advocate, “My eleven-year-old self would be proud, because while I may not have realised it at the time, I, in fact, have always had a foot in the world of entertainment as well as the world of public service; my life now is simply a more heightened version of the very reality in which I grew up. And, truth be told, it’s the most beautiful gift I never knew I always had.”
It’s probably too much to wish Markle and Prince Harry the privacy to see their relationship evolve outside the public eye. So instead we’ll just hope that the Brits find as much to admire in Markle as we have.