The marriage of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry is going to give us the royal wedding we've been dreaming of and herald a new chapter for both the American actress and the House of Windsor.
The man, who as a boy was thrust into the spotlight as he mourned the death of his mother 20 years ago, had finally met a woman he can spend the rest of his life with while simultaneously erasing the heartbreak of his past.
His unconventional choice, an actress from L.A., is proof that the era of a predictable monarchy is well and truly over. As Meghan and Harry sat side by side to describe how they fell in love, we witnessed the beginning of a revolutionary new chapter. The last time a British royal picked an American divorcee as a partner it caused a constitutional crisis and almost brought down the family. Eighty-one years later, times have changed and now Harry is free to put his heart before his duty; but while his choice hardly makes for an international scandal, it's arguably just as radical.
Meghan's initiation into one of the most famous clans in the world marks the beginning of a Hollywood makeover for the centuries-old institution. Not only is she confident and headstrong, but she also possesses an ingredient that so far seems to have been missing from the DNA of most new royal additions: an ability to handle the intense spotlight, which accompanies being born without a HRH title.
It's a skill even Prince William and Harry, two heirs who have been media trained since their very first photo shoots as toddlers, have found elusive. It's taken both of them well into adulthood to feel truly at ease when the press is around. The launch of their charity, Heads Together, helped slightly in forcing them to break protocol and express emotion, but such candor is still alien for the blue-blooded brothers.
For now former TV star Meghan, who has spent years in front of the camera, most recently starring on Suits, performing comes naturally to her. Her engagement interview showed just how easy she finds it to answer personal questions about her relatively new (she's only been dating Harry for 16 months) but very private romance.
With their hands intertwined, she happily made quips and whole-heartedly laughed as her adoring husband-to-be looked on. At times, she appeared to be the one steering the conversation. Her confidence was infectious and her sparkling demeanor definitely won over some of the more cynical royal observers. Despite her limited exposure to Harry's inner circle, she's proving she's more than qualified to handle her future life as a duchess (it's expected Harry will be gifted a dukedom by the Queen on his wedding day).
In some ways, it was Prince William's engagement to commoner Kate Middleton that really began the current royal family shake-up. His college sweetheart wasn't part of the usual aristocratic gene pool royals traditionally fish in; she had no titles associated with her family name and yet she managed to capture the heart of the future king, breaking through any class differences. Kate has helped make the Cambridges more relatable than previous generations; they insisted on being more hands-on with their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte's upbringing, holding down their day jobs and not having a huge staff of helpers.
But British classism is nothing compared to what Harry and Meghan have the potential to break through. Like Kate, her new next-door neighbor at Kensington Palace, Meghan didn't grow up with a silver spoon in her mouth (her mom is a social worker and yoga instructor and her dad, Thomas, used to be a TV lighting director, including here at E!). For a royal family whose longevity has been reliant on selective breeding, the future union of Meghan and Harry represents a love match free of geographical boundaries, racial divides, class differences and inequality.
Eddie Mulholland/Daily Telegraph/PA Wire
Meghan is bringing a much-needed injection of American friendliness to blow away the cobwebs at Buckingham Palace. Case in point, the openness with which she described Harry's grandmother during her engagement interview painted a picture of a matriarch who is not just the leader of a nation but also of a family. "To be able to meet her through his lens, not just with his honor and respect for her as the monarch, but the love that he has for her as his grandmother, all of those layers have been so important for me," Meghan told the BBC.
There is no doubt the combined star power of Meghan and Harry will match William and Kate's international allure (and take some of the pressure off the Cambridge family). Just like her future sister-in-law, Meghan is becoming a style icon, with the outfit she wore for her big engagement announcement already selling out. And the ripped jeans she donned for her and Harry's first public appearance at the Invictus Games prove she's going to have more freedom when it comes to her wardrobe thanks to Harry's place in the pecking order (he's currently fifth in line to the throne, soon to be sixth when Will and Kate's third child is born).
While it's inevitable this marriage will require Meghan to give up a lot, namely her privacy and career (she shut down her lifestyle brand, The Tig, earlier this year and has confirmed she's "transitioning out of" acting), in gaining a husband, she's also acquiring a new platform through which she can make an even bigger impact on the world.
Harry has always felt that his purpose in life is to continue his mother's groundbreaking charity work and, we now know, it's Meghan's shared interest in philanthropy that helped secure her a second date. As someone who studied international relations (as well as theater studies) at university, when she wasn't on the Suits set Meghan devoted herself to using her fame for good. She traveled the world, acted as a global ambassador for World Vision and was a United Nations advocate for women.
It led to Harry, two months into meeting Meghan, to sit her down and explain the realities of what being his life partner would really entail. As he explained, "…I had to have some pretty frank conversations with her. To say, 'look, you know what you're letting yourself in for, it's a big deal and it's not easy for anybody.'"
He continued, "…she'll be really unbelievably good at the job part of it as well, is obviously a huge relief to me because she'll be able to deal with…everything else that comes with it."
With the wedding set to take place sometime in May, our soon-to-be-newest and most modern princess will be making history and singlehandedly erasing the ghost of Wallace Simpson once and for all. She will likely be the mother to the first American born into the British royal family (her children will be entitled to joint U.K. and U.S. citizenship) and her celebrity background will give her an opportunity to rejuvenate a centuries-old and sometimes stagnant institution.
As Harry explains, it was a love match that was meant to be: "The fact I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was sort of confirmation to me that everything—all the stars were aligned, everything was just perfect. It was this beautiful woman just sort of literally tripped and fell into my life, I fell into her life."
And just like that, the Meghan-ization of the monarchy had begun.