When Meghan Markle started dating Prince Harry in 2016, the actress was barely known in the UK. After years spent breaking into the industry via a series of low-budget films and even a brief appearance on ‘Deal Or No Deal’, Meghan’s recurring role in ‘Suits’ brought her moderate levels of fame in the States.
Here in the UK, she may have become recognisable to the legal drama’s devoted fans, but the fact programme aired on Dave, a channel best-known for its repeats of Top Gear and panel shows, meant becoming a well-known star was still a long way off.
Meanwhile there were signs everywhere, for those close to the 36-year-old, that Meghan’s life was changing. With their relationship still under wraps, Meghan posted Instagram updates from trips to the UK, which came not long after visit to London in July, 2016, where she was said to have been introduced to Harry.
July 2016: When Harry met Meghan
Reports of their rumoured romance would not emerge until October 2016, but it was four months before then, in July, that the pair met through mutual friends.
Initial reports claimed the pair met in Toronto, while Harry, 33, was promoting the Invictus Games, but it was later revealed that they were introduced in London.
Over a year then passed before Meghan confirmed the timeline of their relationship, in an interview with Vanity Fair.
August 2016: Meghan visits London
A look through Meghan’s Instagram account reveals that she visited the UK - and presumably, Harry - as early as August last year. With their relationship still under wraps, she shared numerous pictures from her trip online, posting updates from London members club Soho House.
In an unexpected twist, she also took a helicopter flight piloted by Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s husband, The Feeling bassist Richard Jones:
September 2016: Meghan focuses on activism
With her relationship with Harry still yet to become headline news, Meghan attended the One Young World summit in Ottawa, serving as a counsellor at the summit.
Her activism pre-dates first meeting the Prince, and in March 2016 she marked World Water Day by becoming a Global Ambassador for World Vision.
She’s also an advocate for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and spoke at a UN conference in 2015.
October 2016: The first relationship reports emerge
Three months after the couple began dating, the Sunday Express revealed the news to the public, bringing ‘Suits’ star Meghan a whole new level of fame.
November 2016: Harry’s attack on the press
Harry’s confirmation of his relationship with Meghan was overshadowed by the fact it came as part of a scathing statement on the treatment she had received from the press.
In an unprecedented move, he hit back at the newspapers and “social media trolls” who were, in Clarence House’s words, guilty of “outright sexism and racism”.
Singling out out news stories that had focussed on his girlfriend’s ethnicity - her father is caucasian and her mother is African-American - for criticism, the statement read: “The past week has seen a line crossed. Some of this has been very public - the smear on the front page of a national newspaper; the racial undertones of comment pieces.”
It also revealed the full extent of what Meghan and her family had been subjected to, referencing “the nightly legal battles to keep defamatory stories out of papers; her mother having to struggle past photographers in order to get to her front door; the attempts of reporters and photographers to gain illegal entry to her home and the calls to police that followed; the substantial bribes offered by papers to her ex-boyfriend; the bombardment of nearly every friend, co-worker and loved one in her life”.
The statement prompted a row over a Mail on Sunday column, in which Rachel Johnson referred to Meghan as “exotic” and described her mother as “a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks”.
December 2016 - January 2017: Meeting the (rest of the) family
Meghan spent time in London this winter, and the tabloids snapped up pictures of the couple “enjoying a romantic date” in London’s West End:
In a move that reminded observers just how much the Royals have changed in recent years, Harry and Meghan strolled along Shaftesbury Avenue before watching a play - all with just one protection officer in tow.
Having met Prince William when she was introduced to Harry, Meghan met Kate at Kensington Palace, where she she also met to Princess Charlotte. Prince George, who was at nursery at the time, missed out on the meet-and-greet.
April 2017: Meghan closes her lifestyle blog
But there were signs Meghan’s life was changing. After three years of running TheTig.com, Meghan shut the website down, posting a farewell message to readers on 7 April 2017.
The actress did not specify a reason for her decision and despite once being a frequent user of Instagram, she has not posted a photograph on the app since.
March 2017: Harry and Meghan attend their first wedding together...
By early 2017 there was a growing sense of normality about their relationship, as the couple attended a series of weddings together. Meghan was at Harry’s side as his best friend Tom ‘Skippy’ Inskip wed Lara Hughes-Young in Jamaica. The couple did their best to avoid prying eyes during their stay and managed to do so for the most part, with just a handful of snaps from the wedding itself appearing in the papers.
May 2017: ...Followed by Pippa Middleton’s nuptials
Although Meghan sidestepped the main ceremony, allegedly for fear of overshadowing the bride (more likely because she didn’t actually know her), Harry was spotted leaving the Berkshire venue to pick up his girlfriend ahead of the evening reception.
Ahead of the wedding Meghan had secretly been staying at Kensington Palace, which served as an indicator of the seriousness of their relationship.
June 2017: Meghan brushes off wedding questions
As an actress still with only a limited profile in the US, there were further indications Meghan’s personal life was beginning to collide with her professional career.
Meghan took part in a ‘Suits’ script read-through event as part of the ATX Television Festival in Austin, Texas, and while her co-stars gave interviews to the press before making their way onto the stage, Meghan entered the venue via a back entrance.
When an audience member then asked if she was hoping to marry Harry, Meghan smiled and remained silent.
September 2017: ‘She’s just wild about Harry!’ Vanity Fair cover
Speaking about her “supportive boyfriend” Harry for the first time, Meghan finally addressed her new-found level of fame in October’s Vanity Fair.
“It has its challenges, and it comes in waves - some days it can feel more challenging than others,” she said. “And right out of the gate it was surprising the way things changed.”
The cover was praised for the fact the actress’s freckles remained un-airbrushed, but a number of critics were not happy with the fact the profile focused solely on Meghan’s relationship status.
Her close friend Priyanka Chopra suggested the interview was “a little sexist”, stating: “It would have been nice to write about her not just her boyfriend. I’m just saying.
“I mean, she’s an actor, she’s an activist, she’s a philanthropist. I mean, she does so much more.”
September 2017: First official outing
Harry and Meghan decided against making their first public appearance together at the Invictus Games Opening Ceremony and instead, arrived and sat separately.
Two days later, the couple attended the event for wounded and injured service people and veterans together, sitting front row at a wheelchair tennis match at Toronto venue.
It was here that Harry was snapped meeting Meghan’s mother, Dora, with a low-key introduction taking place in the stands:
Conversely, William and Kate’s first “official outing” came four years before their engagement was announced, when she attended his Sandhurst graduation ceremony in 2006.
It is not clear whether Harry has met his soon-to-be father-in-law, but the Prince did seek Meghan’s parents’ blessing before asking for her hand in marriage.
Early November 2017: Engagement speculation reaches new heights
A post from Meghan’s ‘Suits’ body double, Nicky Bursic, revealed that the actress had left the show behind. “You deserve all the happiness in the world Bella,” she wrote.
And as speculation continued, tabloid outlets began reporting that Meghan had relocated to the UK, with one pointing out her rented Toronto apartment had been vacated.
27 November 2017: The engagement announcement
At 10am, Clarence House announced that the pair had become engaged “earlier this month”, revealing the news on Twitter and Instagram simultaneously - a sure sign of how much the Royal Family has modernism in recent years.
Commentators also applauded Meghan’s decision to use the title “Ms”, while the statement also revealed that the Prince sought her parents’ blessing before proposing.
Following the announcement, Meghan’s parents, Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland - who divorced when she was young - made their first ever public statement.
“Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person,” it read. “To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us as parents.
“We wish them a lifetime of happiness and are very excited for their future together.”