Here comes the next royal bride: Meghan Markle, the first divorced, biracial, Jewish American actress to join the British royal family.
In a history-making announcement, Clarence House said Monday that Prince Harry, 33, and his girlfriend, 36-year-old Markle, are engaged and will wed in the spring.
When they do, Markle will be the most atypical royal bride ever, but certainly since American two-time divorcée Wallis Simpson nearly rocked the British monarchy off its 1,000-year-old foundations in 1936, when Edward VIII gave up his throne to marry her.
The news comes after the couple made their first appearance together at an official public event — Harry's Invictus Games in Toronto — in September.
Dressed casually and looking happy and relaxed with each other, the two held hands and talked animatedly to each other as they sat on the sidelines of a wheelchair tennis match.
A week later, they were seen together again — significantly, along with her mother, Doria Radlan, a yoga teacher in Los Angeles — in a VIP box at the games' closing ceremonies. The couple were photographed laughing and whispering to each other throughout the ceremonies, and at one point kissing.
Harry and Markle have been dating for more than a year but for the first six months, hardly anyone knew. They had managed to avoid all but the most persistent paparazzi but their appearance at the Games — and the media photos that followed — made plain their relationship had reached a new level. That, in turn, set off feverish speculation in the British media about their future.
Now Markle, who's been married once before, is set to marry Harry, the world's most eligible royal bachelor, in London. She will make history as the first American, the first actress and the first biracial person to be welcomed into the British royal family, most likely as a royal duchess with the "Her Royal Highness" title.
Clarence House, the official residence of Prince Harry's father Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, said further details about the wedding day would be announced in due course.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, said of the engagement: "We are very excited for Harry and Meghan. It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together."
Markle, who was raised in Los Angeles, has been living in Toronto for the past half-dozen years as a co-star of Suits, the legal drama on the USA Network. The first half of the 7th season of Suits just ended and the show has wrapped up production for the second half, to air in 2018. Markle, however, is not expected to return for the 8th season.
Harry and Meghan are said to have met in the summer of 2016 in London, introduced by a mutual friend, Markus Anderson, who sat with Markle in the stands for the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games, while Harry sat with first lady Melania Trump and other officials in another section.
After meeting, Harry made surreptitious visits to her home in suburban Toronto during times he was there promoting the Invictus Games.
The signs the Harry/Meghan relationship was serious were already obvious even before the Games, especially after Markle's candid Vanity Fair interview in the October issue in which she said they were "a couple in love" and theirs is a "great love story."
Long before that, Markle was called Harry's "girlfriend" in an official palace press release in November 2016. She abruptly curtailed all her hitherto active social media posting and blogging shortly after, in keeping with royal protocol against blabbing on Twitter and Instagram and the like.
And in May, Markle accompanied Harry to the wedding reception of Duchess Kate's sister Pippa Middleton.
In August, Harry took Markle to Africa on a romantic safari for her birthday. The two were spotted — he with his arm around her, gazing at her lovingly — by a photographer as they walked on an airport tarmac in an unnamed African country, according to The Sun, Britain's biggest tabloid newspaper.
"The couple’s holiday destination — hugely popular for engagements and honeymoons — will only heighten speculation the prince is about to propose," the paper declared.
Africa is where brother Prince William proposed to Kate Middleton, in Kenya in October 2010. A month later, their engagement was announced.
Africa is a sentimental favorite with the royal princes, and Harry has spent considerable time in various countries across the continent working to promote wildlife conservation and his children's and AIDs charities. Markle, a humanitarian activist herself, spent time in Rwanda in connection with the work of a Canadian children's welfare charity, World Vision.
They had been dating for months under the radar when their relationship became public in November 2016 because Harry issued an unprecedented statement confirming her as his "girlfriend" and condemning the media for stalking her and for alleged racist and sexist coverage.
An important sign of how "loved up" the couple is, in Brit tabloid parlance, is that Markle accompanied Harry to Pippa's wedding reception despite the lack of an engagement ring.
In British terms, accompanying a royal to a semi-royal family wedding is a big deal; it counts way more than accompanying Harry on May 6 to watch him play in a polo match. She was photographed on the sidelines, he was seen on a horse, but there were no pictures of them together.
Next to Pippa herself and her adorable nephew and niece, Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 2, who served as page boy and bridesmaid, Markle was probably the most watched person on the wedding day.
The British tabloids have been convinced Markle was "the one" for months. How did they know? Not because anyone in Kensington Palace confirmed it on the record; instead, anonymous palace sources were chatty with royal reporters about Harry's intentions.
The coverage of Harry and Meghan over the last few months seemed aimed at preparing the British public for the news that Harry — the insouciant red-headed younger son of the beloved late Princess Diana — has finally found happiness with a woman who would be the most unconventional royal bride since American divorcée Wallis Simpson nearly crashed the royal family in 1936.
When the wedding takes place, Harry would likely receive a new royal title as a duke from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and Markle would, like Duchess Kate, be known as titled a royal duchess, HRH Meghan, Duchess of so-and-so.
As with the former Kate Middleton, Markle is not an aristocrat like Diana. Nor is she upper-class posh like Prince Charles' second wife, Camilla Duchess of Cornwall. Instead, she comes from a lower-middle-class American family, not from a wealthy clan like the Middletons who tend to hang with aristocrats and the upper class.
Markle's mother is black, her father is white. She's Jewish, has worked as a TV actress since 2002, and she was married once before, from 2011 to 2013, to movie producer Trevor Engleson.
For two super-famous people, Harry and Meghan have displayed a remarkable ability to avoid the media. True, the two were caught by paparazzi in a major snogging session in the parking lot after the polo match in May, which they doubtless knew would be seen. But they were also very cozy when they attended the wedding of a Harry chum in Jamaica in early March.
"Prince Harry and Meghan Markle looked so in love at a pal’s Caribbean wedding that onlookers were left wondering if they would be next to tie the knot," reported The Sun, with long-lens pap shots of the two holding hands and with arms around each other.
There were other signals that Meghan was preparing for royal life: In April, she ended The Tig, her delectable lifestyle blog and compendium of her passions for food, decor, her dogs and her humanitarian work — an avocation she shares with Harry, whose job as a full-time royal involves charity and humanitarian work.
And she stopped posting on her Instagram account. These moves were interpreted as a way for her to gradually withdraw from social media in preparation for a possible engagement.
If they wish, the couple could marry at Westminster Abbey because the abbey follows a 2002 ruling allowing divorced people to be married in the Church of England. They can even have an interfaith ceremony if they choose. But they may seek a more low-key and smaller wedding, say, at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle, to reduce the media pressure.
Harry, who will be sixth in line to the throne once Will and Kate's third child is born next spring, has to receive permission from the queen to marry, according to a 1772 law, so the announcement demonstrates that she approves of the marriage.
In a statement Monday, Buckingham Palace said, "The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh are delighted for the couple and wish them every happiness."
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