Rise of Meghan Markle: From relative unknown to most-Googled actress to royalty

Meghan Markle sent the Internet into a frenzy in October 2016 when tabloids broke the news that the actress appeared to be Prince Harry's new girlfriend. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (WASHINGTON POST) - After more than a year of social media speculation, it is finally official: Meghan Markle will marry Prince Harry in spring.

It has all been a bit of a whirlwind for Markle, who sent the Internet into a frenzy in October 2016 when tabloids broke the news that the American-born actress appeared to be Prince Harry's new girlfriend.

Who is Meghan Markle, asked seemingly everybody, and the answer was perfectly charming. Before she made headlines, she had established herself as an actress and star of the legal drama Suits as well as a vocal humanitarian who served as a UN Women's Advocate for gender equality and a global ambassador for World Vision.

She founded a lifestyle blog called The Tig in 2014, and attracted a robust following with posts about political and social issues, food and travel.

Her Instagram feed was filled with aesthetically flawless images of her home, the Suits set, and her two rescued dogs, Bogart and Guy.

But news of her blossoming relationship with Prince Harry drew plenty of vicious criticism as she did not quite fit the typical archetype of a would-be princess.

Markle, born and raised in Los Angeles, is older than Harry.

She is biracial, with an African-American mother and white father.

And she has been divorced.

The onslaught of racist and sexist attacks was intense enough to prompt a rare response from Kensington Palace in November 2016. "Prince Harry is worried about Ms Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her. It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms Markle should be subjected to such a storm," a statement said.

"He knows commentators will say this is 'the price she has to pay' and that 'this is all part of the game'. He strongly disagrees. This is not a game - it is her life and his."

Amid a rush of speculative headlines about an engagement last week, palace officials remained mum. But on Friday, a major London bookmaker offered yet one more hint that an engagement was likely, if in fact it had not happened already.

Ladbrokes said it would no longer accept bets on a 2018 royal wedding.

Monday's announcement swiftly consumed social media, with Markle's name once again trending on Twitter. The couple's names ranked among the top trending Google searches, and in response to one common question - what will Markle's title be? - the British press reported that she will likely soon be officially known as the Duchess of Sussex.

More details about the wedding venue and timing are expected to follow this week, the Guardian reported.

Fans of the royal family will now have months to ponder the upcoming nuptials - What will she wear? Who will be invited? - as Markle prepares for her new role, one that will grant her an even more prominent platform for the philanthropic work that has always been a priority for her.

Last year, she wrote an essay for Elle magazine about the challenge of balancing the glamour of Hollywood with her commitment to humanitarian work.

"Reflecting on where I came from helps me to appreciate and balance what I have now," she wrote, adding that her parents emphasised a sense of compassion and responsibility.

"With fame comes opportunity but it also includes responsibility - to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings. And, if I'm lucky enough, to inspire."

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