IN 2016, Suits actress Meghan Markle combined business and pleasure when she travelled to London for
As Meghan Markle nestled back in her seat in preparation for landing at Heathrow Airport, she had love and marriage on her mind. It was June 2016 and the Suits actress had just enjoyed a long weekend on the Greek island of Hydra — savouring wine, fresh seafood and yoga alongside her best friend from college, Lindsay Jill Roth, who was soon to be wed. As the maid of honour, Meghan had planned the luxe bachelorette bash, considerately organising the party in this beautiful location rather than some raucous club.
“There is something wholly cathartic about being able to turn it all off — to sunbathe with no one watching, swim in the briny Mediterranean Sea, eat copious amounts of Greek salads and fried red mullets and toast to the day,” she wrote on her blog, The Tig.
The women, including Roth’s other bridesmaids, had undoubtedly discussed romance, the past and future. Meghan had also arranged a surprise wedding dress fitting for Roth — a TV producer who met the actress at Northwestern University — at the Toronto location of Kleinfeld Bridal boutique (the New York institution made famous by the TV show Say Yes to the Dress).
Meanwhile, Meghan’s own relationship with Canadian chef and restaurateur Cory Vitiello had recently ended, having withered on the vine as both of their lives became busier and busier, and she likely relished time away from Toronto and the house they had shared there.
She was officially flying to London for a week to promote the upcoming season of Suits and to attend Wimbledon as a guest of Ralph Lauren’s fashion house. And, although the newly single actress was open to finding new love, she never expected to be set up with a real-life prince charming.
After watching her friend, legend Serena Williams, play in the tournament, Meghan reached out to Piers Morgan.
The morning show host — with whom she was Twitter buddies — was a favourable media friend for an up-and-coming actress seeking her name in headlines.
The two agreed to an early evening drink at his local pub, the Scarsdale Tavern in Kensington. Morgan was a Suits fan, but this was his first time meeting the woman who played paralegal Rachel Zane. “She looked every inch the Hollywood superstar,” he later recalled. “Very slim, very leggy, very elegant and impossibly glamorous.”
Meghan sipped a dirty martini as they chatted about the series, her days as a “briefcase girl” on the game show Deal or No Deal, gun control in America, women’s rights, her passion for calligraphy and her one-time ambition to be a TV presenter. She also admitted to Morgan that she was “out of practice” with the dating scene and trying to fend off “persistent men.”
Morgan was impressed. “Fabulous, warm, funny, intelligent and highly entertaining,” he later recalled. “She seemed real, too. Not one of those phony actress types so prevalent in California.”
While in London, reportedly from the end of June until early July, Meghan was working closely with Violet von Westenholz, a Ralph Lauren public relations executive. “How much more can I adore this gem,” an effusive Meghan wrote on Instagram of her new bestie. Not only is von Westenholz a well-connected fashion maven, but her father, interior designer Baron Piers von Westenholz, is a friend of Prince Charles.
For years Violet and her sister Victoria had joined Princes Charles, William and Harry on annual skiing trips to Switzerland. In fact, Victoria was once seen as a possible match for Harry.
Instead, it seems likely that Violet set up Meghan and the prince on their blind date, which probably took place at Soho House during her visit to the city.
It is certain that Meghan was excited the day of her first date with Harry. On that day, the actress had lunch with her friend Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne at the Delaunay restaurant in the chic Covent Garden neighbourhood. The two women met in 2014 while both working on the One Young World youth summit; Nelthorpe-Cowne later became Meghan’s agent. She told the Daily Mail last week how Meghan broke the news.
“[She] told me, ‘I’m going on a date tonight … With Prince Harry!’ … She whispered it so quietly I had to ask her to repeat it,” Nelthorpe-Cowne recalled.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but I think she could barely believe it either. We were both extremely excited.
“I jokingly asked if she knew what she was letting herself in for and she said: ‘Well, it’s going to be an experience and at least it will be a fun night.’ ”
Had Meghan met Harry a few years earlier, she might have had a different expectation.
The prince would be the first to admit that during his 20s, his life had descended into “total chaos” as he struggled to process the black cloud of grief that had enveloped his life since the tragic death of his mother, Princess Diana, in a 1997 car accident in Paris.
Drilled with grief and absent a steadying, nurturing influence in his life, Harry had gone off the rails. He became notorious as an angry drunk who lurched out of London nightclubs, ready to throw a punch at the paparazzi who dogged his every footstep.
For years, he was carefully protected by highly paid public relations professionals who smoothed over his public escapades.
When he dressed up in a Nazi uniform for a “Colonials and Native” fancy dress party shortly before Holocaust Memorial Day in 2005, his minders accepted that it was a “poor choice of costume,” but that there was no malice in his decision. Similarly, when he was caught on video referring to a fellow officer cadet at Sandhurst as “our dear little Paki friend” and another as looking like a “raghead,” a pejorative term for an Arab, once again his p.r. minder Paddy Harverson came to the rescue.
If Meghan had been in his life at that time, she would not have been impressed by his casual racism. Nor were others. “He was a very lost young man,” a former royal official told me. “Harry was deeply troubled, unhappy, and immature, imbued with the slanted, quietly racist views of those from his class and background.”
In 2012, he was pictured cavorting naked in a Las Vegas hotel room during a game of strip billiards with a bunch of strangers, some of whom had camera phones and uploaded photos of his antics for the startled world to watch. “Too much army, not enough prince,” was his rueful response.
But, in fact, the army had also helped give him a sense of purpose. At the end of his first tour of duty in 2008, he travelled with the coffin of a dead Danish soldier, which had been loaded on board his flight home from Afghanistan by his friends, along with three British troops all in induced comas who were being transported with their missing limbs, wrapped in plastic.
“The way I viewed service and sacrifice changed forever,” he recalled. “I knew it was my responsibility to use the great platform that I have to help the world understand and be inspired by the spirit of those who wear the uniform.” That flight set him on the trajectory that would culminate in the Invictus Games, an international multisport jamboree in which sick, wounded or injured servicemen and women compete.
In September 2014, after a year of planning, the first games, which involved army personnel from around the world, were held in London. The games were a triumph, giving the prince, who was due to leave the army in 2015, new focus and impetus. He was fully committed to using his unique position to help and encourage those who were at the sharp end of modern warfare.
“Since then, he has become the man he is today,” observes a former royal courtier. “It has not been an easy process. He has become more open and developed into someone who genuinely cares about social issues.”
By the time he met Meghan, Harry was also — after a series of failed romances — warming up to another big life change.
At a birthday party in January 2016, he told TV presenter Denise Van Outen: “For the first time ever I want to find a wife.” Three months later when he was in Orlando, Florida, for the Invictus Games, he again brought up the subject of love and marriage: “At the moment my focus is very much on
But the difficulty of finding someone “willing to take me on” was an issue that always stayed at the back of his mind every time he met someone new. Were they attracted to him for his personality or his title?
As one of his friends pointed out to London’s Sunday Times, “You have to be a very special girl to want to be a princess.”
While Violet von Westenholz had the royal connections, Meghan’s friend Markus Anderson, the brand ambassador for Soho House who had just vacationed in Madrid with the actress, was on hand to rustle up a private room at the members-only club for an intimate evening away from prying eyes.
On July 1, 2016, Harry had just returned from France, where he had joined the then prime minister David Cameron, Prince Charles, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and other dignitaries at a service to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest days of warfare in British history. At an evening vigil for the fallen, Harry had read Before Action, a poem penned by Lieutenant W.N. Hodgson, who died in action. The event had been a moving reminder of the enormity of that day. He returned to London in sombre spirits.
Until the day of the blind date.
Upon meeting Meghan and learning that she had given a speech at a UN forum, the prince realised — as he subsequently confessed — that he would have to up his game.
At the end of the evening, they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways, he to Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace, she to a hotel room at the Dean Street Townhouse in Soho, London. Both were buzzing. As Meghan relived the fateful evening in her mind, she perhaps wondered if she had been too eager to accept his invitation to meet again the following day.
“After the date, [Meghan] was telling me what a great guy he was, a real gentleman, genuinely nice,” Nelthorpe-Cowne told the Daily Mail. “When I asked if she would see him again she said: ‘Well, it looks like it.’ ”
As Harry later confirmed, the couple enjoyed back-to-back dates, making every minute matter before she had to fly back to Toronto on July 5 to continue promoting the new season of Suits.
The normally self-contained actress was smitten. Unable to keep her feelings to herself, her Instagram account gave away just a little; on July 3 she posted a picture of two Love Hearts candies that bore a simple message: Kiss me. Next to the photograph Meghan posted “Love Hearts in #London.”
She had even taken herself by surprise. When Harry asked if she would be interested in joining him on a safari for a few days in August — mere weeks after their first meeting — she found herself saying, “Yes, please.”
“I’m sure that the Botswana trip is what clinched the deal,” Nelthorpe-Cowne said. “When they were back, she showed me the most wonderful photographs of the two of them on her phone. They were so clearly already in love. She told me it was serious and they had started discussing the future.
“She said they’d said to each other: ‘We’re going to change the world.’ ”
This excerpt from rom the book MEGHAN by Andrew Morton, first appeared in the New York Post and is republished with permission.