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Before they were royal: The life of the Duchess of Sussex

In the series “Before they were royal” we are taking a look at their young lives, education, and professional lives before gaining their royal title. The third edition focuses on The Duchess of Sussex or Meghan Markle as she was known before her marriage.

Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex, 36, was formerly a well-known film and television actress in the United States of America.

Rachel Meghan Markle was born on 4 August 4, 1981, at West Park Hospital, Los Angeles, California, United States, as the daughter of Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland. Her mother is a social worker and yoga instructor and her father, who currently lives in Mexico, is a retired television director of photography and lighting director. She has two paternal half-siblings Samantha Grant and Thomas Markle Jr.

Meghan Markle’s parents divorced when she was six-years-old. She lived with her mother after the separation. As a biracial woman (her father is Caucasian, and her mother is African American), Meghan has previously spoken about her ethnicity and growing up as a biracial. She has said, when filling out a census at school, she was unsure of what to mark as her race. Her teacher told her to mark Caucasian since that’s what she looked like, but Meghan did not want to do that. She felt as though that was having to pick one parent over another. She has said previously, in part, to ELLE, “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.”

Meghan Markle started going to school when she was only two-years-old and was enrolled at the private Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse. She began activism at age 11 with a successful campaign to get a company to change a national television commercial she viewed as sexist; it was profiled by Linda Ellerbee on Nick News.

Meghan during her time on Deal or No Deal. Photo: jeffpiatt/CC BY-SA 2.0/Flickr

Although raised a Protestant, Meghan attended Immaculate Heart High School – a female Catholic private school in Los Angeles. After completing high school, she enrolled at Northwestern University in Illinois, where she joined the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority with who she participated in community service and charity projects. In 2003, she graduated from Northwestern’s School of Communication with a bachelor’s degree and a double major in theatre and international studies. She was an intern at the American embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and also studied for a semester in Madrid, Spain.

In the working sector, Meghan was a freelance calligrapher while working to make it as an actress. Meghan had some difficulty getting roles early in her career. In 2015, she wrote: “I wasn’t black enough for the black roles, and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job.”

Meghan Markle in 2013 with her cast mates on Suits for a panel discussion. By Genevieve –, CC BY 2.0,

Her first screen appearance was in the soap opera General Hospital where she had a minor role as a nurse. She also got guest roles on television shows namely: The War at Home, CSI NY and Century City. Meghan Markle then progressed to contracts and modelling deals. She appeared on US show called Deal or No Deal as a briefcase girl, as well as in Fox’s series Fringe as Junior Agent Amy Jessup in the first two episodes of its second season. Other productions she appeared included Cuts, 90210,  Without a Trace and Castle. Meghan also appeared in films including Get Him to the Greek, Horrible Bosses and Remember Me.

Meghan Markle eventually got a role as a paralegal (and later attorney) Rachel Zane in the hit series, Suits beginning in July 2011.

The future royal had a passion for blogging. Between 2014 -2017, she founded and wrote for a lifestyle website called The Tig. She derived the name from her favourite wine, Tignanello. Apart from Meghan sharing different lifestyles on the site, she had friends contribute in a column called Tig Talk – including the likes of Ivanka Trump, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Hurley and many others. She also a had social media presence and a high number of followers on Instagram (1.9 million) and other platforms. It was estimated that, as a lifestyle blogger, she earned about $80,000 annually from endorsements and sponsorships.

In November 2016, Meghan and the Canadian clothing company Reitmans released a line of women’s fashion workwear and casual-wear based on her personal style, described as “aspirational girl next door”, and that of her Suits character, which quickly sold out. In 2017, her total net worth was estimated at $5 million.

Meghan has been involved in charity work for years. She was a counsellor for the international charity One Young World and attended its 2014 and 2016 summits. During the 2014 summit, she spoke about gender equality and modern-day slavery. That same year, she travelled to Afghanistan and Spain as part of the United Service Organizations Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Holiday Tour.

Markle tries on a parachute rig with the help from U.S. Army SPC Mulalisduring during a USO tour stop in Italy. USO photo by Dave Gatley

In 2016, Meghan became an Ambassador for World Vision Canada where she travelled to India and Rwanda creating awareness on day to day issues. She also penned an op-ed for Time magazine concerning stigmatisation of women regarding menstrual health. An outspoken positive feminist, she has also worked with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women as an advocate.

Years before she met Prince Harry, she was married to actor-producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 until their divorce in 2013.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry met on a blind date organised by a mutual friend. On 8 November 2016, the Prince Harry’s Communications Secretary released an official statement that addressed a “wave of abuse and harassment” directed toward Meghan Markle. The statement described the sexism, racism and defamatory stories directed at her.

During a September 2017 interview with Vanity Fair, Meghan spoke in public for the first time about her love for Prince Harry. Later that month, they made their first public appearance together at an event at the Invictus Games in Toronto.

The couple during their engagement photo call. @KensingtonRoyal/Twitter

Meghan Markle’s engagement to Prince Harry was announced on 27 November 2017 by Clarence House. The engagement announcement prompted a generally positive response about the possible social significance of a mixed-race member of the British Royal Family.

Before her wedding to Prince Harry, Meghan chose to have a private baptism and confirmation by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, into the Church of England on 6 March 2018 at St James’s Palace.

Harry and Meghan in their first joint event in Nottingham after their engagement. © Charlie Proctor/Royal Central

The future Duchess of Sussex made public appearances associated with the Royal Family even before her marriage to the Duke of Sussex. In a break with royal tradition, after the engagement announcement, Meghan was invited to celebrate Christmas 2017 with the Royal Family at The Queen’s Sandringham Estate.

Meghan and Harry married on 19 May 2018 at St George’s Chapel. The Queen named Prince Harry as the Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron of Kilkeel, and upon saying ‘I Do’ Meghan became the Duchess of Sussex, Countess of Dumbarton and Baroness Kilkeel.

The couple resides at Nottingham Cottage in London, in the grounds of Kensington Palace.

The Duke and Duchess pictured together in an official wedding photograph on the East Terrace of Windsor Castle on 19 May 2018 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Alexi Lubomirski/The Duke and Duchess of Sussex via Getty Images)