When Haz met Meg
Nicknames, roast-chicken-fuelled proposals, secret museum assignations and safaris… but the course of this royal romance wasn’t without a bump or two, says Sophia Money-coutts
Sophia Money-coutts traces the unlikely romance of the sixth in line to the throne and the American actor, blogger and humanitarian turned royal
It was in March last year that serious talk of marriage started circulating in royal circles, just after Prince Harry took Meghan Markle to Jamaica for the wedding of one of his best friends, Tom ‘Skippy’ Inskip. There had been a frenzy about Harry’s new girlfriend for months, but royal insiders and Sloaney pals of Harry’s know better than to pay attention to excitable headlines. Skippy’s wedding, however, was deemed a more significant sign. A chap doesn’t invite his girlfriend to a wedding halfway around the world without serious intentions, after all. ‘They’ll be engaged by the end of the year,’ I was told by a well-connected friend.
Indeed they were, with the Prince of Wales announcing their engagement in November, just 15 months after their first date at Dean Street Townhouse, a Soho House-owned hotel and restaurant in London. Less a whirlwind, more a tornado compared to Prince William, who took a relatively sedate seven years to get down on one knee. The speed of Harry’s romance has raised eyebrows among some of his friends but, on the other hand, he’s 33 and Meghan is 36. They’re hardly love-struck teens rushing into marriage to spite their parents.
They’re certainly love-struck, though. That much was clear from the very beginning. No blonde Sloane stood a chance after that first date, set up by one of Harry’s closest friends, Violet von Westenholz. ‘Vi’, a fashion PR for Ralph Lauren, met Meghan when the American label invited the actor to Wimbledon (which the fashion house sponsored) for a day in the royal box. How prophetic. Meghan duly Instagrammed a smiley selfie of her and Vi, caption: ‘How much more could I adore this gem?’ At the time, Harry had a secret Instagram account with a disguised profile picture. Did he happen to see the Insta photo of Meghan with his friend Vi and Whatsapp her pestering for a date with the hot woman from Suits? It’s a cheerfully modern way for a royal to go about things if so.
Meghan, incidentally, thought nothing of making influential friends via social media and the internet. The Californian had spent several unglamorous years in Hollywood, hostessing at a restaurant and taking bit parts in soaps and on Deal or No Deal, before she landed the role of Rachel Zane in Suits and started
networking in starrier circles. She made friends with Serena Williams at a Super Bowl charity football game and wrote about their friendship on her blog, The Tig, named after an Italian wine she likes called Tignanello (she’s reassuringly into wine); she enlisted the likes of Heidi Klum and actor Emmy Rossum to contribute to the blog. She messaged Piers Morgan on Twitter and arranged to have a drink with him on the same trip to London, in The Scarsdale Tavern, a pub just off Kensington High Street. Over dirty martinis, they discussed Suits, gun control in America and Meghan’s TV ambitions. Piers says she was ‘fabulous, warm, funny, intelligent and highly entertaining’. But her drink with him was hardly her most important diary engagement that week.
Meghan’s first date with Harry at Dean Street Townhouse – a
For their third date, Harry ramped up his courtship and invited Meghan to Botswana
proper ‘blind date’, they insisted in their engagement interview – was immediately followed by a second date the next day because Meghan then had to fly back to Toronto, where she lived at the time, for the filming of Suits. In his recent biography of Meghan, Andrew Morton goes very Barbara Cartland at this juncture: ‘As they say in the movies, they had each other at “hello”. She was immediately sensitive to him, aware that this was a man who, between the banter and the surface chatter, was looking for a safe harbour.’ Perhaps, but I imagine Harry – a typical Old Etonian in suede shoes and a collared shirt – was also impressed by Meghan’s American polish, given that posh English girls often appear on dates with grubby fingernails and messy hair.
For their third date, Harry ramped up his courtship and deployed what had become a seductive trademark move – he invited Meghan to spend five days in Botswana with him, as he’d done with former girlfriends Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas. Meghan’s Instagram account, normally fairly active (and shut down since their engagement), went quiet for a week in