When Meghan Markle was 11 years old, she watched a television commercial during class for dish soap with the tagline: “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” Several of the boys in the class remarked, “Yeah, that’s where women belong – in the kitchen.” Shocked and angered by the misogynistic tagline and ensuing response from her male classmates, Markle ended up writing letters to attorney Gloria Allred, then U.S. First Lady Hillary Clinton, and journalist Linda Ellerbee in protest.
She also contacted Procter & Gamble, outlining why this commercial was insensitive. With her voice heard by both the strong female figures she reached out to and the soap manufacturer, Markle effected change. A few months later, the word “women” in the commercial was replaced with “people”. Markle related this heartwarming story of early feminist advocacy to a crowded room at the UN Women’s 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference of Women in Beijing in 2015, well before she became one of the most well-known faces of the manic media cycle.
Even then, she was demonstrating the kind of charming personality, intelligence, and activist tendencies that make a wonderful leader. At the time, she didn’t have the faintest idea that she would soon become British royalty. It’s no wonder Prince Harry proposed after only one (rather whirlwind) year of courtship and with a ring that he designed himself – which featured two of Princess Diana’s personal diamonds, no less.
But let’s backtrack. Markle was born to yoga instructor Doria Ragland and Emmy Award-winning lighting director Thomas W. Markle on August 4, 1981 in Los Angeles. Although she had previously recalled difficulty “not fitting in” as a biracial female, she chose to view her blended ethnicity as a point of pride. “While my mixed heritage may have created a gray area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident, mixed-race woman,” she penned in a personal essay.
In 2003, Markle – whose passion was acting – graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in Theater and International Studies. She quickly landed background work on various soap operas, as well as guest roles on shows like CSI: NY. Because of her ethnic ambiguity, she had difficulty booking bigger roles; “I wasn’t black enough for the black roles and I wasn’t white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn’t book a job,” she once shared.
Her breakthrough moment came in 2011, when she landed the coveted role of a paralegal on the American attorney drama Suits. She has also starred in films like Get Him to the Greek and Horrible Bosses. In addition to acting, Markle has a strong passion for philanthropy. In fact, she wrote an essay that discussed how fame and recognition could be strategically used to effect positive change in the world. Not only did she start her own website called thetig.com (which is now defunct) that aimed to “integrate social consciousness and subjects of higher value than selfies”, but she also has been named a UN Women’s Advocate and worked with communities in struggling nations.
“I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches,” she expressed back in 2016. “I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works. And this type of work is what feeds my soul.” She has steadily incorporated humanitarian work into her life in conjunction with organizations like World Vision, even at the risk of foregoing some of the more glamorous aspects of being a celebrity. In fact, it’s safe to assume at this point that part of the appeal of marrying into a royal family would be the ability to effect global change at the highest level possible. After the couple’s engagement announcement, Prince Harry speculated that his mother “probably would have been best friends with Meghan” – they do share similarities that have forged Markle into the new “People’s Princess”.
Her huge heart for helping others, her beaming smile, and her impeccable sense of style are all traits she shares with Princess Diana. Markle and her husband also recently launched Sussex Royal The Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, which will allow them to operate independently, but globally, to achieve their personal philanthropic goals. In keeping with her prestigious royal title, Markle has also been named a patron of National Theatre, The Association of Commonwealth Universities, animal welfare organization Mayhew, and a charity that helps vulnerable women find employment and support by the name of Smart Works.
Just two weeks shy of her anniversary, Markle gave birth to her first son, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, who was born on May 6, 2019. She and Prince Harry tied the knot in grand style on May 19, 2018, which means her first year as a royal was packed with everything from attending high-profile royal engagements, setting up her home, traveling the world, launching charity initiatives and, now, enjoying motherhood.
However glamorous it seems on the outside to become a royal overnight, Markle experienced a lot of downsides. Relentless media harassment pursued her since the early days of her courtship with Prince Harry, giving rise to mean-spirited coverage that cast constant aspersions on her intentions and her behavior. The same treatment was never assigned to other members of the royal family. In early 2020, Buzzfeed provided an overview of how Markle was treated in the press in comparison to Kate Middleton. The results are shocking. Prince Harry came to his bride’s defense, slamming the media in public, and suing several tabloids for alleged phone hacking that depicted deeply personal texts between Markle and her father, with whom she has a troubled relationship.
Instead of passively accepting the coverage, the Sussex royals made a historic decision: they decided to renounce their royal titles and move out of the UK, not only to protect themselves, but to protect their son Archie. You can find out more about what the couple has been up to since they made their royal exit here.
Today, in honor of Meghan Markle’s 39th birthday, we’re looking back at her best red carpet moments both as an actress and a duchess. Which side speaks to you more?