Coupled Up

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry: The Making of a Modern Royal Fairy Tale

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are not a typical, stiff royal partnership, and their wedding will symbolize how they intend to do things differently.

Handout via Getty

On May 19, almost exactly two years after Meghan Markle first laid eyes upon Prince Harry, they will walk down the aisle of St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and be married in one of most extraordinary fairy tale romances of modern times.

After Meghan and Harry’s marriage has been noisily and triumphantly heralded by six gold-jacketed trumpeters from the Household Cavalry brass band, they will walk to an open top horse-drawn carriage (weather permitting) and ride through the streets of Windsor to the cheers of thousands of joyous well wishers.

Saturday, May 19, will be the most extraordinary day of an already extraordinary romance that came out of nowhere and rescued a heartbroken and despairing prince who had, sources say, after a string of romantic disasters more or less given up hope of finding a bride altogether, at least in the short or medium term.

After he was dumped by Chelsy Davy, a wild-at-heart free spirit who grew up on a private safari park in Africa, who couldn’t bear the prospect of marrying into the royal family after she saw the horrific level of scrutiny that Kate Middleton and her family were subjected to in the run up to and during her wedding, Harry became involved in a relationship with blue-blooded Brit Cressida Bonas.

Harry was actually dating Cressida in secret when he told Sky News, while on a trip to New Zealand in 2015: “I would love to have kids right now but there is a process one has to go through. Hopefully I’m doing all right by myself. It would be great to have someone next to me to share the pressure but the time will come and whatever happens happens.”

Soon after he made those comments, his relationship with Cressida became public.

On paper, she looked like a perfect bride, and it all seemed to be going swimmingly until, quite suddenly, it wasn’t. Just a week after they made their first joint public appearance, Cressida was photographed weeping in a Soho street, the relationship broken asunder by the relentless pressure of media attention and the paparazzi.

The fact that a picture was taken of her in such an intimate moment only proved her point—being involved with Harry has been consistently a horrendous and bruising experience for the women who have had relationships with him.

Although Harry did not “sit at home and weep” as his biographer Penny Junor told The Daily Beast, and it is known that he did see some other women, “he was in despair, because the two women he had really had a lot of fun with had both been seen off.”

All the chat at all the dinner parties I go to is either about having babies, trying to have babies, or what to do with them once they arrive.

Who could have blamed him if he felt “doomed,” as Junor describes it, and incredibly lonely, as he saw his brother start a family, and his gang of old mates break up.

One by one, his wingmen—Tom “Skippy” Inskip (a fellow traveler on the infamous Las Vegas trip), Jake Warren, Tom Van Straubenzee, and even his oldest, naughtiest chum Guy Pelly—abandoned the pleasures of bachelor life and slipped off into the calmer waters of marital bliss.

According to a report in the Sun at the time, Harry confided in a friend: “All the chat at all the dinner parties I go to is either about having babies, trying to have babies, or what to do with them once they arrive.”

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But Harry was still social. A key haunt became the isolated private members club Soho Farmhouse in Oxfordshire, where he spent several weekends with groups of male and female friends.

Then, in May 2016, Harry’s life changed when he and Meghan Markle first met.

Although Harry and Meghan have always sought to protect the identity of their matchmaker, it is widely believed that the female “mutual friend” they referenced in their BBC interview was American fashion designer Misha Nonoo, who was married to the British socialite Alexander Gilkes, the co-founder of New York-based online auction house Paddle8.

They had wed in a glamorous ceremony in Venice in 2012, but are now believed to have separated.

Alexander and Harry go back to Eton days, and Alexander is also friends with Harry’s cousin Princess Eugenie who was, for a short while, employed by Paddle8 in New York.

The couple—who have since split—were firmly part of the young royals world. They were guests at Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011 and Alexander’s younger brother Charlie also dated Pippa Middleton for several years.

The only thing that I had asked her when she said that she wanted to set us up, was, ‘Well is he nice?’ Because if he wasn’t kind, it didn’t seem like it would make sense and so, we met for a drink, and then I think very quickly into that we said, ‘Well what are we doing tomorrow? We should meet again.’

In the video interview with the BBC that Meghan and Harry recorded shortly after their engagement was announced Meghan said that due to her American upbringing the British royal family had never been a subject of fascination for her and she had different priorities: “The only thing that I had asked her when she said that she wanted to set us up, was, ‘Well is he nice?’ Because if he wasn’t kind, it didn’t seem like it would make sense and so, we met for a drink, and then I think very quickly into that we said, ‘Well what are we doing tomorrow? We should meet again.’”

Harry said that the two of them instantly detected a strong connection, saying they immediately asked each other, “What are we doing tomorrow? Let’s meet again.” He said they then got “the diaries out… I was off to Africa for a month, and she was working. And we just sort of thought, ‘Where is, where’s the gap?’ And, the gap happened to be in the perfect place.”

There then followed five or six magic months for the young couple, when, completely beneath the media’s radar, they fell in love.

When we realized we were going to commit to each other, we knew we had to invest the time and the energy and whatever it took to make that happen.

In order for the two to be together, they had to adopt an extraordinary schedule and attitude, often flying halfway round the world just to spend a few hours together.

“When we realized we were going to commit to each other, we knew we had to invest the time and the energy and whatever it took to make that happen,” said Meghan, while Harry joked she “had no idea what time zone you’d be in for the last year and a half… Coming over here four days or a week, and then going back and then straight into filming the next day… just trying to stay as close as possible.”

Meghan said she frequently went “right off the plane and straight to set,” as the young lovers sought to cement their relationship.

Incredibly, Meghan and Harry never went longer than two weeks without seeing each other.

One of the key staging posts in the early days of the relationship was when Harry managed to persuade Meghan to take some time off work and join him in Botswana for five days in August 2016.

Of that magical trip, Harry has said: “We camped out with each other under the stars. We were really by ourselves, which, I think, which was crucial to make sure we had a chance to get to know each other.”

The two kept the relationship as quiet as possible, but couldn’t help but tell some friends.

In a new Sky documentary, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, Markle’s friend and then-agent, revealed that the actress had shared the news she was dating Prince Harry during a whispered conversation over lunch, and spoken about her hopes of having a family.

Appearing in the Sky documentary, Harry and Meghan: A Love Story, which screened in the U.K. this week, the agent said: “Meghan and I were at lunch and she was really excited that day at lunch and I said to her, ‘You look fantastic Meghan. What’s going on in your life, you seem excited?’

“She [Meghan] said, ‘Well yes, I have a date tonight.’

“And I said, ‘Really, with who, do I know him?’

“She said, ‘Yes I’m sure you’ll know him, I’m meeting Prince Harry.’

“In a whisper she sort of said it.

“And I said ‘Who?

“And she said, ‘Prince Harry, I’m meeting Prince Harry tonight.’”

The news was bound to leak out eventually and in late October, Camilla Tominey of Britain’s Sunday Express broke the news that Harry was no longer on the market having found love with the Suits actress, whose name instantly became the most searched term on the internet.

As October turned to November, the couple did nothing to deny the story of their new royal romance. Reports surfaced that Harry had celebrated Halloween with Meghan at the Toronto branch of Soho House.

Internet sleuths as good as confirmed the rumored affair when they unearthed several photographs of Markle wearing a blue beaded bracelet remarkably similar to one once worn by Prince Harry. She would later post a picture of two bananas, wrapped in Union Jacks, spooning each other.

The papers went into overdrive, exhuming every detail of Meghan’s previous relationship with L.A.-based British producer Trevor Engelson. They had split two years after their 2011 wedding ceremony in Jamaica. The fact that her mother is black and her father is white was remarked on endlessly. 

In November 2016, an opinion piece written by Rachel Johnson (Boris Johnson’s sister) in the Daily Mail said that “the [royal family] will thicken their watery, thin blue blood and Spencer pale skin and ginger hair with some rich and exotic DNA,” and called Markle’s mother “a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.”

Just a few days earlier, the same outlet ran a story about Markle’s mother’s home in Los Angeles, with the headline “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton: Gang-scarred home of her mother revealed—so will he be dropping by for tea?”

Their love affair was formally announced, effectively as a side note, in an otherwise furious statement made on Harry’s behalf which berated the media and internet trolls for their “sexism and racism.”

The statement, which was issued on Nov. 8, the same day as the U.S. election, for all its fury, did serve as confirmation that Meghan was Harry’s “girlfriend.” It remains one of the most extraordinary public pieces of communication ever issued by the royal palaces.

By mid-November, the couple appeared more willing to allow their love affair to be documented: Meghan was spotted grocery shopping at Whole Foods, wearing Harry’s brown baseball cap, and there were overnights in Toronto—Harry even broke royal rules to divert via Toronto on his way home from a royal tour of the Caribbean on Dec. 4, traveling 1,700 miles out of his way to see Meghan en route to home.

Harry’s team played this one badly. They actively lied to reporters when asked direct questions about whether Harry was going to Canada on his way home from the tour.

Richard Palmer, an experienced royal reporter at the Daily Express, wrote that “a few moments before the Prince and his party left Ogle Airport in Georgetown, Guyana, on a charter plane bound for Barbados on Sunday afternoon to join a scheduled British Airways service to Gatwick, a Daily Express reporter asked one aide: ‘Can I just check, is Prince Harry flying on BA to London from Barbados tonight?’ The aide replied: ‘Yes.’”

Palmer was so enraged at the cover-up that he detailed exactly the lies that were told, and even named names. He wrote that, “At a pre-tour briefing at Buckingham Palace on November 10, Jason Knauf, the communications secretary for William, Kate and Harry, said the Prince would be travelling directly from London to the Caribbean and back again.”

A week later Meghan was in London, and the two went Christmas tree shopping at Pines and Needles in Battersea—where, according to a report in Hello the staff recognized Meghan as “that girl off of Suits” but not Harry.

Another week passed, and the following weekend they made another bold public appearance—hitting a West End play together. Dressed in beanie hats, they stunned London pedestrians as they ran through the crowds on Oxford Street to make a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud Theatre. They were parted for Christmas but reunited in Norway to see in 2017 under the Northern Lights.

In early 2017 they continued the mad dashes back and forth cross the Atlantic, but it wasn’t until March that they were again pictured together—attending one of Harry’s best friend’s weddings in Jamaica.

Pictures of the couple relaxing poolside were not published in Britain due to privacy concerns, but made headlines all over the rest of the world.

Harry was changing under Meghan’s influence; always compassionate, he was becoming a more grown-up individual. He found the courage to speak out about the effect his mother’s death had on him as a child. Meghan was credited with helping him open up.

In May, Meghan kissed Harry at a polo match when she knew there would be photographers watching.

Meghan’s appearance later that month at Pippa Middleton’s wedding was another significant signpost of intent. Although she skipped the service to avoid upstaging the bride, Meghan was pictured being driven in to the after party by Harry.

We’re two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people’s perception.

August 2017 was another big month for the young lovers when they went on an epic three-week safari in Botswana.

And then, in September, came another massive shocker: Meghan gave a candid interview to Vanity Fair, in which she said, “We’re two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people’s perception. Nothing about me changed. I’m still the same person that I am, and I’ve never defined myself by my relationship.”

In another section that seemed to hint at a forthcoming engagement, Markle said: “We’re a couple. We’re in love. I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Personally, I love a great love story.”

On Nov. 27, Harry and Meghan announced their engagement—together with the shockingly domestic detail that Harry had gone down on one knee while cooking a roast chicken.

A few days after the magazine appeared they made their first joint official appearance—at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, arriving hand-in-hand to a wheelchair tennis match. They watched the closing ceremony a few days later from a box with Meghan’s mom, Doria.

In November, Meghan quit Suits, and moved to London.

Just days after her arrival, on Nov. 27, Harry and Meghan announced their engagement—together with the shockingly domestic detail that Harry had gone down on one knee while cooking a roast chicken.

Since then, the couple have toured the United Kingdom—and commanded adoring crowds.

In a press briefing last week, Prince Harry’s press secretary said, “The crowds that have turned out in Nottingham, Cardiff, Brixton, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Belfast, Bath and elsewhere have given Ms. Markle a welcome to the United Kingdom marked by warmth, enthusiasm, and a real sense of fun.”

It’s an accurate summary of the reception they have been given over the last six months. Most British people have long been sick of the stiff upper lip, and are responding in kind to the couple’s spirited openness—and a story which presents a long overdue challenge to centuries of royal discrimination, not just against non-whites but also against foreigners and divorcees, and against people who make mistakes and overcome them.

Meghan and Harry have already made it clear that they will be different—they have, for example, suggested they will focus on LGBT issues as a working royal couple. And their wedding will not feature the usual roster of the grand and upper-crust, instead they have invited 1,200 ordinary people who have connections to their charities to come inside the castle walls in a genuinely meaningful act of inclusion.

It will be a royal wedding, but of a markedly less official feel than Prince William’s. There will be around half the number of guests. No prime ministers (or presidents) past or present will be in attendance. They have chosen to buck centuries of royal tradition and get married on a Saturday, like normal people, meaning a public holiday has not been granted/imposed. If you don’t want anything to do with it, and think it’s all a load of nonsense, which lots of people do, then Harry and Meghan are quietly respecting that too; later in the day, the country’s marquee soccer match, the F.A Cup Final, will play on as normal.

There has never been a royal romance quite like it, with so many elements of the quotidian that are the vital stuff on which the alchemy of fairy stories works its magic.

And Harry and Meghan, are, if nothing else, witnesses to and examples of the magic of second chances.

But the most magical thing of all is that when Meghan steps out of St. George’s Chapel next weekend, a regular American girl transformed into a princess of the United Kingdom, it won’t be the end of the fairy tale, just the beginning.