Who is Doria Ragland?
She loves yoga, dancing to soul music and has strong humanitarian values. William Langley says Prince Harry’s mother-in-law will be a breath of fresh air in the sometimes-stuffy House of Windsor.
She’s a 61-year-old yoga teacher and New Age-style therapist who lives in an ochre-painted bungalow around the corner from rock star Tina Turner’s former Los Angeles home. In the history of the House of Windsor, there hasn’t been a mother-in-law like Doria Ragland.
Doria raised her only child alone after her marriage broke down. Meghan was six when her parents divorced, and she and her mother have an extraordinarily close relationship. One which has known difficult times, family fractures, romantic heartbreak, and may now be tested in ways that neither of them can quite calculate. “Sure, everyone’s happy about things,” says Meghan’s uncle, Joe Johnson, a 68-year-old retired sign-painter, “but let’s not pretend there won’t be problems for Doria.”
The chilled, faintly bohemian world that Doria inhabits could scarcely be further removed from the one her 36-year-old actress daughter now enters as wife of the sixth-in-line to the British throne. Doria’s modest home sits on a winding, palm-lined stretch of LA’s busy Angeles Vista Boulevard, in a socially-mixed district of the sprawling Californian metropolis.
A random sampling of Doria’s neighbours suggests that few have even heard of Prince Harry, or can muster very much interest in the glittering nuptials.
“It’s always nice when two people fall in love,” says Bernice Neely, who lives a few doors along from Doria, “but I didn’t know a thing about any of this until all the news crews came along. I think they’re good people.
Will this be on TV?”
“Harry’s the one with red hair, right?” chuckled neighbour Sherrie Quinn. “It’s great, but I don’t think it’s going to affect people’s lives much around here.”
Before her engagement last November, Meghan described her mother in a social media post as: “Dreadlocks. Nose ring. Yoga instructor. Free spirit. Lover of potato chips and lemon tarts. And if the DJ cues Al Green’s soul classic Call Me, just forget it. She will swivel her hips into the sweetest little dance you’ve ever seen, swaying her head and snapping her fingers to the beat like she’s been dancing since the womb. And you will smile. You won’t be able to help it. You will look at her and you will feel joy. I’m talking about my mom.”
Which is just as well. For, amid all the excitement over the royal wedding, the woman who shaped this most intriguing of royal brides has been largely overlooked.
Doria was born into a poor black
family, the descendants of slaves, in Cleveland, Ohio, where her father, Alvin Ragland, sold second-hand furniture from a market stall. Hoping to improve their lot, the Raglands uprooted to California in the late 1950s, and settled in Fairfax, a Los Angeles district. Alvin and his wife, Jeanette, divorced soon afterwards, but not before securing Doria a place at one of the better local schools, Fairfax High, where fellow former pupils remember her wearing a “wild Afro” and grooving to soul music.
After leaving, Doria took various short-lived jobs, including selling incense and crystal mala beads to local hippies, before landing an apprenticeship as a make-up artist at a Sunset Boulevard studio making the still-running TV soap opera, General Hospital.
The show’s lighting director was a big-framed, bearded divorcee called Tom Markle. He was white, 12 years older than Doria and twice her size, but they hit it off immediately, and were married within a few months of meeting. The 1979 wedding was an Eastern mystic-style affair, conducted by a saffron-robed local Yogi known as “Brother Bhaktananda”. Meghan arrived on August 4, 1981.
Doria isn’t giving interviews but it is safe to say that she hasn’t changed too much since those free-wheeling early days. Her pet name for Meghan is “Flower” (as in flower child), and she has instilled her daughter with those same strong liberal values that come both from her 1960s upbringing and Doria’s own personal experience of discrimination.
As Joe, her half-brother, says: “Doria has seen life from both sides, and she’s very okay with what she is now. I don’t think she’s going to be too worried about meeting royal people.”
In the early days of their marriage, Tom’s career flourished (he later won an Emmy award), and the Raglands lived comfortably in a hacienda-style villa on the Pacific coast. But his long work hours and perfectionism are said to have taken a toll on his home life, and in 1987 the couple divorced.
Doria has never remarried, and there are no accounts of post-Tom relationships. For several years after the divorce she appears to have
“Doria has seen life from both sides, and she’s very okay with what she is now.”
struggled financially, moving home several times, and eventually being declared bankrupt in 2002, with large credit card debts and reporting only $10,000 in assets.
Since then her fortunes have improved. She retrained as a therapist, working at an LA hospital, and developed a sideline as a yoga instructor. A further boost came with the take-off of Meghan’s career – beginning with small, walk-on parts, which led to her landing the part of Rachel Zane in the hit US television legal drama, Suits.
Now Doria has her own role to play. Suggestions that she will move to London to be at her daughter’s side may be wide of the mark, but as the biggest influence on Meghan’s life, her presence will inevitably be felt. How should Harry cope?
British relationship specialist and author Linda Blair says it would be highly advisable for the prince to stay on the right side of his mother-in-law. “Intentionally or not,” she warns, “women tend to model themselves on their mothers. So falling out with your mother-in-law is really like criticising your wife.”
Harry can take some encouragement from the warm relationship between his brother, William, the Duke of Cambridge, and his hands-on motherin-law, Carole Middleton. Carole is a constant presence in the lives of the Duke, his wife Kate and their three children. “Carole has succeeded in being involved and appreciated, while knowing how to give the couple some space,” says royal writer
Marcia Moody. “She’s set something of a template.”
Some pundits have speculated that Harry and William, having lost their mother, Diana, tragically early in life, are the kind of men who will instinctively bond with their mothers-in-law. Not necessarily as substitutes, but as representatives of maternal love.
Yet Carole, 63, hails from solid, English, middle-class stock, and understands the nature of royalty in a way that Doria – 8000km away in a place where the aristocracy consists of movie stars – can’t be expected to. Still, the early signs are good, with Harry, who first met Doria at last year’s Invictus Games in Toronto, describing her as “amazing”.
“Intentionally or not, women tend to model themselves on their mothers.”
Meghan has a close relationship with her mother and proudly supported Doria when she graduated with a masters degree in social work (opposite).