A dashing British prince. A beautiful American actress. A whirlwind romance... It sounds like a storyline ripped straight from a made-for-TV movie. But the fairytale became reality on November 27, 2017, when Prince Harry and "Suits" star Meghan Markle announced their engagement.
Though the couple had reportedly been dating since the summer of 2016, the news was still rather unexpected, given Harry's playboy past and Markle's American roots. And while protocol is likely more lax for 33-year-old Harry, as he's long been "the spare" to brother William's heir (he's currently sixth in the line of succession) it's no less noteworthy that an American divorcee is marrying into the very traditional British royal family. (Remember, the last time a British royal married an American divorcee, he had to abdicate the throne.)
What made this union possible? How will Markle fit into the family? And, most importantly, how will she help redefine the very idea of royalty? Those are questions FOTO posed to two (possibly prescient) royal watchers, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (below). The duo, known as The Fug Girls, wrote the 2015 novel "The Royal We," a cheeky romance that finds a British prince falling in love with — you guessed it — an American civilian.
"I'm not going to lie: I'm pretty sure we high-fived each other from our various houses across the miles in L.A.," jokes Cocks of their reaction to the engagement news. "Although it's kind of fun to think we might have willed it into being, it was still such a surprise to see it play out in real life."
A surprise indeed, and one that wasn't met with universal praise: Racist trolls spewed vitriol online about Markle, who has described herself as "a strong, confident mixed-race woman," while publications such as the Daily Mail ran crude headlines ("Now that's upwardly mobile! How in 150 years, Meghan Markle's family went from cotton slaves to royalty..."). Even before the couple announced their engagement, Prince Harry took the uncharacteristic step of directly denouncing the bigotry via his communications office.
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"The past week has seen a line crossed. [Prince Harry’s] girlfriend, Meghan Markle, has been subject to a wave of abuse and harassment... He has asked for this statement to be issued in the hopes that those in the press who have been driving this story can pause and reflect before any further damage is done," read the 2016 release.
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The official missive may have been an unusual move, but it was a necessary one, say Cocks and Morgan.
"They just need to call it out where they can and otherwise just be who they are," says Cocks. "That's going to be the shining example to teach these people to think differently."
For her part, 91-year-old Queen Elizabeth has reportedly embraced Markle — perhaps influenced by the royal family's past romantic tumults.
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"The implosion of Charles and Diana's marriage went a long way toward opening the door for William and Harry to choose who they want to marry and not who they should marry," says Morgan. "Also three out of four of the Queen's children's first marriages ended in divorce, so obviously what they were doing beforehand was not working out. And the Queen herself, from what I understand, put her foot down and said she was going to marry Prince Philip, and by all accounts it was a love match. So I think that she is probably empathetic for various reasons."
With the Queen's blessing, it is now up to Markle, 36, to carve her own path as a royal, while also taking note of the experiences of those who've gone before.
"Kate is somebody who handled the transition Meghan is going through extremely gracefully," says Cocks. "However [Kate] pulled off that alchemy is something that Meghan would do well to compare herself to. 'What can I take from that? How did she do that?' And then put her own spin on things."
Of course, Markle is very much her own woman with unique tastes, signified by everything from her sleek, menswear-inspired wardrobe to her wedding vendor selections.
"It seems to me the wedding is going to be very elegant but a little bit more modern. The thing that I've really liked that they've done is she's including a lot of nods to her American — and specifically to her Californian — background," says Morgan. "For example, the woman [Clair Ptak] who is doing her cake is a very well-known baker in London, but she is originally from California. I'm sure that is intentional. In addition to the cake, the invitations are printed with American ink, which I thought was sweet."
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How Markle's "American-ness" will manifest in her role as a royal is an ongoing question. For Cocks, the hope is that Markle will be a sort of ambassador for her home country — a much-needed force for good in a time of political and social upheaval. She already boasts a long résumé of charitable work, having served as an advocate for the UN and a counsellor for the leadership program One Young World. "It is a rough time out there for those of us who aren't thrilled with the way we're being represented on the global stage, and she's a great antidote to that," says Cocks. "She is smart, she is thoughtful, she cares about the world around her, she's sophisticated. She is all those things because she is American."
As for her effect on the monarchy, that's harder to predict. "The hope is that she helps bring them a little bit into the modern era," says Morgan.
"If there's any Meghan Effect, let's hope it continues to be building on what's been done before — really get out there with the philanthropy both locally and globally," says Cocks. "One of the most valuable things someone with that notoriety can do [is to] turn your attention to causes, shine a light on the darker corners.
"But beyond that, Harry is obviously marrying for love. He looked further outside the borders than people expected, so let's hope that the kids that they have and the kids that Will and Kate have can look at their parents' marriages and say, 'I too am going to wait until I'm a little more settled with myself before I find a partner — I'm not going to be constrained about who I can be with.'"
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