Who is Meghan Markle? From prom queen to princess, the lowdown on Prince Harry's fiancee

Exactly who is Meghan Markle? We explore her childhood, school years and love life. [Photo: Getty]

She is the 36-year-old American divorced actress who won the heart of a British prince and on May 19 she will become a member of arguably the most prestigious club in the world; the British Royal Family.

But, who is Meghan Markle

California Valley girl to ‘global citizen’

Rachel Meghan Markle (she chose to go by her second name in her mid teens) was born on August 4, 1981, in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, Thomas Markle Snr and Doria Ragland met on the set of the US soap ‘General Hospital’ where he was a lighting director and she a studio temp. 

“I like to think he was drawn to her sweet eyes and her Afro” says Meghan of her parents’ meeting. “Plus their shared love of antiques.”

Shortly after she was born, the family moved to the prosperous area of Woodland Hills in the San Fernando Valley. Although this brought the comfortable lifestyle of a “valley girl”, the biracial family experienced challenges in the predominantly white suburb.

Markle says her mother, who is black, was often mistaken for her nanny.

A photo of Meghan with her father Thomas Markle, which Meghan posted to her Instagram account when it was still active [Photo: Instagram/Meghan Markle]

In 1988, when Meghan was just six, her parents divorced. Although she continued to live with her mother in Los Angeles, she also spent a great deal of time with her father.

The breakdown of her parents’ marriage was doubtless a time of great emotional upheaval for Meghan but she remains close to both to this day.

Her mother Doria still lives in California and works as a social worker and yoga instructor. It is perhaps from her that Meghan inherits her passion for life and free-spiritedness.

“She’s got dreadlocks and a nose ring,” said Markle of her mother in an interview in 2017. “She just ran the LA Marathon. We can just have so much fun together, and yet, I’ll still find so much solace in her support.”

Meghan believes her mother’s aim was to raise her “as a global citizen”.

When Meghan was 10 years old, her mother took her to Jamaica and Mexico where they visited slums and witnessed first-hand the brutal realities of extreme poverty. Meghan has taken this inspiration on board, undertaking charity work in impoverished areas of the world such as Rwanda.

Meghan and her mother, Doria Ragland, at a UN Women event in 2015 [Photo: Getty]
Meghan’s mother Doria attended the Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017 [Photo: Getty]

Her father – who had been married once before and already had two children – Meghan’s half-siblings Samantha and Thomas Jr – continued to have a positive influence on Meghan’s life. 

An Emmy Award-winning lighting director, it was through Thomas’ career that a young Meghan got her first experience of the world of television; often going straight from school to visit her father on the set of US sitcom ‘Married… with Children’.

Meghan once said: “It’s safe to say I have always been a daddy’s girl.” She credits her father for her work ethic and jokes that after her acting career blossomed he would often call her and give her tips on “finding her light.”

“A longing to know where I came from”

With a Caucasian father and an African American mother, Meghan describes herself as “a strong, confident, mixed-race woman.”

Her great-great-great grandfather on her mother’s side was forced to work on a plantation in the cotton fields of America’s Deep South until slavery was abolished in 1865.

But there are connections to Britain too. On her father’s side genealogists have identified links to Winston Churchill, William Shakespeare and even King Edward III. Technically speaking, that makes her and her future husband 17th cousins.

There are even suggestions that one of Prince Harry’s ancestors, King Henry VIII, beheaded one of Meghan’s ancestors, Lord Hussey, in the 1500s. Any family bitterness has clearly since dissipated.

She has spoken of “a longing to know where I come from” and her mixed-race heritage has undoubtedly been a major factor in the development of her strong, independent personality.

Asked in her early teens by her school to complete a form detailing her racial identity, she was uncertain which box to tick. Her father told her if it happened again to draw her own box. They appear be words she has lived by.

Immaculate Heart High School, the prestigious all-girls Catholic school, attended by Meghan Markle [Photo: Getty]

Her father’s high salary meant that Meghan could attend Immaculate Heart High School, an all-girl, fee-paying Catholic school in Los Angeles, with a fine reputation.

Here she developed her acting skills in school plays. Her step-brother Thomas Markle Jnr recalls: “I’d go to her school productions. When you saw Meg on stage, even as a kid, it was clear she was going to be a star. She came alive.”

An early taste of royal celebrity came when she was elected Prom Queen in 1998.

The girl who ran out of petrol on her way to an audition

Having graduated from Northwestern University in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in Theatre and International studies, Meghan’s TV career did not launch overnight.

She worked as a calligrapher to help pay the bills and fleetingly appeared as one of the briefcase models on the TV game show ‘Deal or No Deal’.

Spot Meghan: The 36-year-old appeared on the US version of ‘Deal or No Deal’ before starring in ‘Suits’ [Photo: Getty]
Meghan pictured promoting season two of ‘Deal or No Deal’ [Photo: Getty]

“I was not a girl who grew up buying $100 candles. I was the girl who ran out of gas on her way to an audition,” she has said.

Despite her photogenic looks, Meghan believes her mixed-race features made acting roles hard to come by, claiming “I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones.”

However, persistence paid off and in 2011 she landed the part of legal-eagle Rachel Zane in the hit USA Network show ‘Suits’.

Landing a part in ‘Suits’ was how Meghan Markle made her name known [Photo: Getty]
The actress appeared in ‘Suits’, playing paralegal Rachel Zane, for seven seasons [Photo: Getty]

The path to love

But behind the scenes, things were not going quite as smoothly in her personal life. In 2004, Meghan had entered a relationship with Trevor Engelson, an actor and producer from Long Island.

The couple tied the knot in 2011, but the marriage was not to last long.

Some have suggested Meghan’s TV career was to blame for the breakdown. She landed her role in Suits just a few months before the wedding. With Trevor based in LA and Meghan frequently in Toronto, filming, it was not long before relationship difficulties emerged.

The marriage ended in divorce just two years later with the couple citing irreconcilable differences.

Meghan Markle and former husband Trevor Engelson photographed at an awards dinner in October 2011 [Photo: Getty]

In June 2016, Meghan met Prince Harry, 33, on a blind date set up by a mutual friend (thought to be Violet von Westenholz, a Baron’s daughter). Sources close to the couple spoke of the “definite chemistry between them.”

After initially keeping the relationship under the radar, the couple went public later that year. Perhaps aware of issues his lifestyle has raised in the past, and the pressures a potential Royal partner could face, their courtship was marked by a keenness to avoid media scrutiny. Joint appearances were limited and carefully controlled.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement in November 2017 [Photo: Getty]
The duo celebrated their engagement with a photocall at The Sunken Gardens at Kensington Palace [Photo: Getty]
One of the pair’s official engagement photos, taken by photographer Alexi Lubomirski [Photo: Getty]

In November 2017 it was announced the couple were engaged. Harry had proposed earlier that month at the couple’s Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace during “a cosy night in” when the couple were roasting a chicken.

“It was so sweet and natural and very romantic. He got down on one knee,” says Meghan. She could barely let him finish proposing, jumping in with “Can I say yes now?”

Harry had already incorporated a tribute to his mother Diana in her engagement ring, which contains two diamonds from one of the late princess’ brooches.

Click below to view Meghan and Harry’s relationship timeline: 

Immediately, Meghan acknowledged the life-changing nature of her decision. She announced she would forego her career as an actress, get baptized and confirmed in the Church of England before marrying Harry, and become a UK citizen.

Now, as she prepares for her wedding, there can be little doubt that Meghan Markle is a global citizen who has indeed found her light.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook for non-stop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day. For Twitter updates, follow @YahooStyleUK.

Read more from Yahoo Style UK:

Meghan and Harry’s wedding: Absolutely everything you need to know 

How well do you know Meghan Markle? Take our quiz

Meghan Markle’s style file