Meghan and Kate: Will these royal sisters-in-law really shake up the monarchy?
Meghan Markle is expected to be a modernising figure within the royal family, just as Kate has been for the past six years. Phoebe Luckhurst draws comparions between the two
As the spotlight beamed on Meghan Markle on Monday, the Duchess of Cambridge might have experienced a pang of nostalgia. As a former civilian who has also married into the monarchy, Kate likely had some sense of how Meghan was feeling as reporters clamoured for shots of the ring.
Kate is close to Prince Harry and unsurprisingly declared herself delighted at the news. "William and I are absolutely thrilled," she told reporters yesterday. "It's such exciting news. We wish them all the best and hope they enjoy this happy moment."
Notably, Meghan is a modernising figure for the monarchy - which puts her in the same league as Kate, who has been credited with transforming its public face over the past six years. And on that theme, it is likely the pair will have plenty to talk about: engagement anecdotes, philanthropic work and life in W8.
This is a tale of two sisters-in-law.
The love stories
Kate and William's is a meandering tale. The pair met in 2001 when they were both undergraduates at St Andrews, living in the same hall, St Salvator's. The setting has been enshrined in the town's lore: a current undergraduate says the halls are "practically the first place prospective students are shown on official tours, and you often see tourists there".
Reportedly it wasn't Pot Noodles in the communal kitchens that ignited the spark, but William scouting Kate when she modelled a translucent black slip at the college's charity fashion show. It cost designer Charlotte Todd £30 to make at the time - it's estimated to now be worth £100,000.
The couple famously broke up during a skiing holiday to Zermatt in 2007, but the separation lasted only a few months and William proposed in October 2010. They wed at Westminster Abbey on April 29, 2011, in a ceremony attended by the Beckhams, Elton John and David Furnish, and Samantha Cameron. It was viewed on television by more than 300 million people worldwide.
Harry and Meghan's story is pacier - though Meghan has pointed out that it wasn't a "whirlwind" romance. They met in June 2016 having been introduced by a mutual friend - thought to be the fashion designer Misha Nonoo, the estranged wife of Alexander Gilkes, a friend of Harry's from Eton.
In their first televised interview on Monday, Meghan claimed that she didn't know much about Harry before she met him - and the only question she asked was: "Is he nice?" It was a match. "We met for a drink and I think very quickly into that we said: 'Well, what are we doing tomorrow?'" she continued. "We should meet again."
Harry says it was love at first sight. The pair had two "back-to-back dates" in London before he convinced her to join him in Botswana on holiday, camping under the stars for five days.
Despite rampant speculation the pair didn't comment on their relationship until November 2016, when Clarence House confirmed they were dating in a cautionary statement noting that Harry was concerned for Meghan's safety. They were seen hand-in-hand for the first time in February, having dinner at Soho House, and in May 2017 she made her first official appearance as a royal consort, watching Harry play polo. That month, the pair also attended Pippa Middleton's wedding. They were together again at the Invictus Games in Toronto last October.
Zealous royal-watchers said the portents pointed to an engagement after Meghan gave an interview to Vanity Fair, calling theirs a "great love story". They will marry at Windsor Castle next May.
A decent proposal
William pulled out all the stops for his proposal: he asked Kate during a 10-day holiday to Kenya and gave her a massive sapphire ring that used to belong to his mother, Princess Diana. The ring was passed to Harry after Diana's death, who is said to have given it to his brother for the occasion. There are still replicas available, now selling at just £12.60 from House of Fraser.
By contrast, his younger brother kept things quieter. Harry asked Meghan over a roast chicken dinner at Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace - one Twitter wag called it a "classic Sloane move".
Like Harry and Meghan, Wills and Kate conducted a televised interview shortly after the announcement - Kate wore a £575 blue Issa dress that matched the ring on her wedding finger. Meghan's first appearance as a fiancée took place in Kensington Palace's walled garden, wind whistling through the trees, so she wore a thick white coat, which costs about £450 and is by Canadian brand Line The Label - the website crashed shortly after the royal couple made their appearance.
The ring is bespoke, designed by Cleave & Company with input from Harry, who offered two diamonds from Princess Diana's collection and a stone from Botswana. Yesterday, replicas were already going for three-figure sums.
Keep it in the family
Kate is the eldest of three siblings who all grew up in the Berkshire countryside, where parents Carole and Michael ran a party supplies company. She's close to her siblings: sister Pippa was a bridesmaid at her wedding and brother James gave a reading.
Meghan is an LA girl: she was born in 1981 to Doria Ragland, a psychotherapist and yoga instructor, and Thomas W Markle, an Emmy-winning lighting director who often took the young Meghan on set with him. Meghan's mother is African-American and her dad Caucasian: her mixed heritage is an important modernising moment for the monarchy. Meghan has said that she has "come to embrace" her heritage and "voice my pride in being a strong, confident, mixed-race woman".
Unlike Kate, Meghan was brought up as an only child - although she has two elder half-siblings through her father, Samantha and Thomas Jr, both are said to be estranged from the rest of the family. Thomas Jr was a teenager when his younger half-sister was born. He has said his sister has "always been a princess - she's carried herself on that level from day one", and added that he felt a sense of pride in her success.
Meanwhile, after Meghan and Harry's relationship was confirmed, half-sister Samantha gave a series of mean-spirited interviews in which she called Meghan "narcissistic and selfish... a shallow social climber" with a "soft spot for gingers". She later backtracked, though is rumoured to be writing a book called, The Diary of Princess Pushy's Sister.
The side hustles
Before her engagement Kate worked as an accessories buyer for the British fashion firm Jigsaw, and also part-time for her parents' company, Party Pieces, focusing on catalogue design, marketing and photography.
Meghan's career is more storied: she's spent the past six years playing the role of Rachel Zane on US TV drama Suits, which is filmed in Toronto. She has now finished filming its seventh season. In her BBC interview this week she said she wouldn't be returning. "But I don't see it as giving anything up. I just see it as a change," she told presenter Mishal Husain. "It's a new chapter. Right? And also, keep in mind, I've been working on my show for seven years, so we were very fortunate to be able to have that sort of longevity on a series, and for me, once we hit the 100th episode I thought: 'You know what? I have ticked this box.'"
Meghan and Kate can swap front-line tales: both are ambassadors for high-profile charities. Meghan is currently an ambassador for the charity World Vision and a UN women's advocate working on the high-profile He for She campaign, though she will be giving up these positions in order to work on charities that relate more directly to the UK and Commonwealth.
It has been announced she will join the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, which has worked with addiction charities and children's hospices.
Kate's other project is Heads Together, a mental health initiative that William and Harry are also very involved in - will Meghan make it another foursome?
Kate's crew is a cloistered set that includes school friends Emilia Jardine-Paterson and Trini Foyle, the wives of William's school friends such as Sophie Carter, and aristocratic couples like the Van Cutsems and Van Strauzenbees.
Meanwhile, Meghan's set has one gilded ace: she's close to tennis star Serena Williams, and feverish commentators are wondering whether she might be a bridesmaid. Other friends include Made in Chelsea's Millie Mackintosh - Meghan and Millie went on holiday to Soho Farmhouse together last summer, and Meghan shared an Instagram post of them on vintage bicycles, captioned, "the best afternoon".
She is also said to have bonded with Julia Samuel - a close friend of Diana's who has been a sort of surrogate mother to both princes since their mother's death in 1997.
Kate is a champion of British brands, both high and low. She recruited British designer Sarah Burton, of Alexander McQueen, to make her wedding dress, and also wore McQueen to Prince George's christening. Other favoured brands include Emilia Wickstead, Jenny Packham and Temperley London.
From the high street, it's Reiss - she wore a nude Reiss dress to meet the Obamas in 2011, which sold out immediately - with the occasional piece by Zara and shoes from LK Bennett. Kate's style is demure and elegant: necklines are high, hemlines quite long. She does go for the occasional sparkle - last week, she was pictured resplendent in beaded Jenny Packham for an appearance at the Royal Variety Show. She favours monochrome, pastel blue, and regal tones of plum, red and emerald green.
Meanwhile, Meghan has benefited from the fashion freedom of relative obscurity: her arsenal includes short suits, LBDs and bodycon. She flirts with trends: colour-blocking, peplums, one-shouldered styles, and wears black stiletto sandals - a polished LA look.
She and Kate have worn the same Diane von Furstenberg lace dress - though Meghan's was a shorter version. Meghan's favourite white shirt - which she wore to the Invictus Games - was by her close friend Misha Nonoo, and other favourite brands include J Crew, Aquazzura and Ralph Lauren. For now, though, it is all about the wedding dress: the front-runner could be Erdem Moralioglu, a British-based Canadian who would balance both influences.