Profile: Duchess of Sussex

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The Duchess of Sussex in Morocco in February 2019Image source, Reuters

Meghan Markle made her name as an actress, campaigner and blogger before marrying Prince Harry in May 2018 and becoming the Duchess of Sussex.

Before meeting Prince Harry, she had been best known for playing lawyer Rachel Zane in US TV drama Suits.

When she became a member of the Royal Family, she gave up her acting career - and immersed herself in the life of a working royal, using the platform to highlight the charities and causes close to her heart.

She became a mother in May 2019 but within a year she and Prince Harry had stepped away as working members of the Royal Family and started a new life in North America.

She and Prince Harry had their second child, Lilibet "Lili" Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, in June 2021.

Early life

Born Rachel Meghan Markle on 4 August 1981, she grew up in a prosperous part of Los Angeles.

Her mother's home is in an area known as the "Black Beverly Hills".

Meghan went to a private primary school in Hollywood and started campaigning for gender equality at an early age.

At 11, she wrote a letter to the then US first lady, Hillary Clinton, lamenting a washing-up liquid's TV ad strapline: "Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans."

Image source, Karwai Tang
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Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex attend the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in March 2019

Within a month, manufacturers Procter and Gamble had changed the word "women" to "people".

"It was at that moment that I realised the magnitude of my actions," she later said. "I had created my small level of impact by standing up for equality."

At 15, she was volunteering in soup kitchens as her studies continued at a girls' Roman Catholic college, and she graduated from Northwestern University School of Communication, near Chicago, in 2003.

A stint working as an intern at the US embassy in Argentina made her think her path might lead her into politics, but she changed course when her acting career began to take off.

Between auditions, she has told of making money by doing calligraphy for wedding invitations, using skills developed in handwriting classes at school.

Her father was a cinematographer on the hit 1980s show Married... With Children, and her first television appearance in the US was in an episode of the medical drama General Hospital in 2002, before moving on to roles in CSI, Without a Trace and Castle.

There were leading roles in TV movies such as When Sparks Fly and Dater's Handbook, and bit parts in Hollywood films including Get Him to the Greek, Remember Me and Horrible Bosses, and she was a "briefcase girl" on the US version of game show Deal or No Deal.

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Watch Meghan Markle in a US wedding drama

She also appeared in the sci-fi series Fringe, playing FBI special agent Amy Jessup, but her most famous role was in Suits.

Meghan was in the show from its launch in 2011, but was written out in the finale of the seventh series. Fittingly, perhaps, she left after her character got married.

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In real life, Meghan's union with Prince Harry wasn't her first marriage. In September 2011, she wed film producer Trevor Engelson, but the pair divorced two years later.

In September, it was reported that her ex-husband was producing a new TV show based on a man's custody battle with his ex-wife who marries into the Royal Family.

In 2014, she began writing about topics such as food, beauty, fashion and travel, as well as her own story, on her lifestyle website The Tig.

Meghan said setting up the website was an attempt to "reframe the beauty content to include think pieces about self-empowerment" and feature dynamic, inspirational women.

In one post, she explained: "I've never wanted to be a lady who lunches - I've always wanted to be a woman who works."

The site also carried candid blogs she wrote on every birthday. On turning 33 in 2014, she wrote: "My 20s were brutal - a constant battle with myself, judging my weight, my style, my desire to be as cool/as hip/as smart/as 'whatever' as everyone else."

She also grew a large social network profile, with 1.9 million followers on Instagram and more than 350,000 on Twitter.

But she shut The Tig in April 2017, and deleted her social accounts January 2018.

Her media career has gone hand-in-hand with support for causes that are important to her.

Image source, World Vision Canada
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Meghan taught children to paint with watercolours on a 2016 visit to Rwanda as a global ambassador for World Vision

She tackled the issue of the stigma around menstrual health in an article for Time magazine in March 2017 and was a global ambassador for World Vision Canada, which campaigns for better education, food and healthcare for children around the world.

As part of her role, the actress travelled to Rwanda for the charity's Clean Water Campaign.

Meghan's commitment to gender equality has seen her work with the United Nations, and she received a standing ovation from an audience including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a stirring speech on International Women's Day 2015.

Commenting on how she combined acting with campaigning, she said: "While my life shifts from refugee camps to red carpets, I choose them both because these worlds can, in fact, co-exist. And for me, they must."

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She has written about her pride in her mixed racial heritage

Meghan, whose father is white and mother is African-American, has also spoken about coming to terms with her racial identity.

In an article for Elle magazine, she wrote: "While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that.

"To say who I am, to share where I'm from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman."

Marriage to Prince Harry

In late 2016, Prince Harry confirmed he was in relationship with Meghan - while issuing a statement accusing journalists of harassing her.

The pair had met on a blind date, organised by a mutual friend. After just two dates, they went on holiday together to Botswana.

In September 2017 Meghan told Vanity Fair magazine they were "two people who are really happy and in love".

And in an interview that November, when their engagement was announced, Prince Harry admitted he had never heard of Meghan before his friend introduced them, and was "beautifully surprised".

Meghan and Prince Harry got married at St George's Chapel, Windsor, on 19 May 2018.

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The Queen gave them the title of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their wedding day
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Thousands of members of the public turned out for the couple's wedding

Royal Tours and engagements

Meghan and Prince Harry embarked on their first royal tour together in October 2018 - visiting Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga over 16 days.

The trip coincided with the couple announcing they were expecting their first baby.

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Meghan at the British High Commissioner's Residence in Suva, Fiji

The duke and duchess followed in the footsteps of Prince Harry's parents - Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales - whose first royal tour was to Australia and New Zealand.

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Harry and Meghan at Taronga Zoo in Sydney
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Meghan and Prince Harry at the unveiling of the Labalaba Statue in Nadi, Fiji
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In February 2019 the Duke and Duchess travelled to Morocco for a three-day visit

In September 2019, the couple undertook a 10-day tour of Africa, a continent that has always been particularly dear to Prince Harry's heart, leading to some speculation early in their marriage that they might at some stage choose to live there.

Meghan met Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, as well as other key figures in South Africa's anti-apartheid movement.

Image source, Handout
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Sophia Williams-De Bruyn was aged 18 when she helped lead about 20,000 protesters
Image source, Chris Jackson/PA Wire
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Prince Harry and Meghan met Nelson Mandela's widow, Graca Machel, at a reception in Johannesburg

She also made a speech to business people in Johannesburg in which she said such entrepreneurs had the power to change a world that seems "aggressive, confrontational and dangerous".

But by the end of the tour, the couple's talk about fighting injustice was being reported alongside news that they were beginning legal action against the Mail on Sunday for publishing a private letter sent by the Duchess of Sussex to her father.

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Harry and Meghan's royal engagements

Becoming a mother

When Meghan gave birth to her son Archie Harrison - on 6 May 2019 - the reaction from the New York Times reflected the mass interest in the event around the world as it wrote: "He is the first multiracial baby in the British monarchy's recent history, an instant star in a country where multiracial children make up the fastest-growing ethnic category."

But the royal couple had already decided to do things a little differently, underlining their determination not to follow the traditions of other recent royal births.

In advance, they chose not to reveal where the baby would be born and said there would be no running commentary of what was happening, instantly stopping the spectacle of the press pack joining the ranks of "royal superfans" camped outside a hospital for several days waiting for the first glimpse of the new royal.

Image source, PA

And the birth wasn't initially announced in the traditional royal way of being posted on a placard outside Buckingham Palace. Instead, Prince Harry popped out of their home to tell the world (although the placard then followed).

The very private christening that followed just added to some media frustration that they could not, in their minds, fully report on one of the year's happiest stories. Held at Windsor Castle, the ceremony was not witnessed by any press photographers or TV cameras and the list of guests and godparents was not made public.

BBC royal correspondent Jonny Dymond surmised: "It all points to a very different royal event, part of the continuing desire by the duke and duchess to raise their son Archie out of the spotlight."

A very public departure from royal life

Image source, Victoria Jones/PA
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Now you see them....
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Image caption, you don't. Madame Tussauds removed Harry and Meghan from its royal set, leaving an empty space

Amid ongoing spats with the media, increasingly through lawyers, it would soon become clear that both Meghan and her husband were becoming increasingly disenchanted with the expectations that came with their royal role.

The announcement in June 2019 that they were breaking away from the Royal Foundation charity - which had seen them work closely with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge - led to frenzied speculation about Prince Harry and Meghan's relationship with Prince William and Catherine.

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The cost to taxpayers of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's UK home at Frogmore Cottage reopened the debate about how the Royal Family is funded

Meghan's comments during the couple's African tour that she had not felt supported as she struggled with motherhood and her new role did not go down well with senior royals, according to sources at the time.

At the end of 2019, the couple took an extended Christmas break from royal duties, taking Archie to the Canadian province of British Columbia.

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The couple and their son Archie spent time in Canada over Christmas 2019

It gave them time to mull over their next move and, within days of the start of a new decade, they dropped the bombshell announcement that they planned to step back as senior royals and become financially independent.

Amid the further detail that the couple planned to split their time between the UK and North America, Buckingham Palace expressed its disappointment as palace sources revealed that that no other royal - including the Queen or Prince William - was consulted before the statement was issued.

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The couple's final engagement as working royals saw them in the familiar surroundings of Westminster Abbey

Talks then ensued between Prince Harry and the Queen to iron out the details before it was confirmed that their couple's final duties as working members of the Royal Family would be in March 2020.

The very final engagement saw them attend the Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey. The Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William were all there although one of the abiding memories of Meghan's royal exit - by now widely renamed "Megxit" - was getting a hug from singer Craig David.

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Prince Harry bumped forearms with Craig David when they met at the end of the service - while Meghan opted to hug him

In February 2021, before a formal review of the situation had begun, Buckingham Palace confirmed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would not be returning as working members of the Royal Family.

It meant Prince Harry and Meghan would return their honorary military appointments and royal patronages, which will be redistributed to working members of the Royal Family.

The couple will still attend some royal events in the future but these will not be classed as official duties.

A new life in LA - and fighting new battles

After time was spent in Canada, the couple settled at a new home in California.

It has allowed them to spend much more time with Meghan's mother Doria Ragland, who lives in the state.

But they are never completely out of the spotlight. There was a media fascination in tracking the couple's whereabouts in the early days of the coronavirus lockdown. In April 2020, they sued and eventually won an apology from a US news agency after drones were allegedly used to take pictures of their son, Archie, at their home.

The same month, the couple announced that they were ending all co-operation with four tabloid newspaper groups in the UK, blaming "distorted, false or invasive" stories.

But they do remain keen to seek publicity for the causes or issues they are interested in.

As a duchess, Meghan took on portfolio of charitable work and patronages, which included the National Theatre and charity Smart Works. She also launched a charity cookbook in September 2018 to help those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire.

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Meghan was joined be her mother, Doria Ragland, and Prince Harry for the cookbook launch

After moving back to the US, she jointly wrote a newspaper article calling for the end of "structural racism" and the couple also urged US citizens to vote in the presidential election, saying that they should "reject hate".

In November 2020, Meghan wrote an article revealing her "almost unbearable grief" at enduring a miscarriage in July of that year.

Image source, Getty Images

As for their future career plans, a big clue came when they reached a deal with streaming giant Netflix to make a range of programmes, some of which they may appear in.

Meghan and Prince Harry featured in a succession of headlines in February 2021.

At the High Court in London, Meghan won her claim for misuse of private information against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, over the publication of extracts from a letter to her father. A further hearing will decide the "next steps" in her legal action which covers claims of copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act.

Then came the news the couple had decided to talk about their decision to step away from the monarchy, in a TV interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Her spokesman said the duchess was "saddened" by the "latest attack on her character" - and the following day a clip from her Winfrey interview was issued by CBS in which Meghan said Buckingham Palace could not expect her and Prince Harry to be silent if it was "perpetuating falsehoods about us".

In June, Meghan had her first daughter, Lilibet "Lili" Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, and she and Prince Harry said Lili "is more than we could have ever imagined".

The couple named their second child Lilibet after the Royal Family's nickname for the Queen, the baby's great-grandmother. And her middle name, Diana, was chosen to honour her "beloved late grandmother", the Princess of Wales, they said.