There's something a little bit different about the British royal family nowadays. Sure, 2018 is going to bring us some extra family members: Prince George and Princess Charlotte will be getting a new sibling and we have a wedding to look forward to. But with Meghan Markle in the mix, it feels like we may also be gaining a new People's Princess.
Meghan Markle's influence has jokingly been referred to as the "Markle Sparkle," a phrase that seems particularly fitting considering her glamourous past. But as we edge closer to her May wedding date, it's becoming clear she's having a much bigger impact on the House of Windsor than any of us could have possibly predicted.
It's been less than three months since Prince Harry got down on one knee and yet already his bride-to-be is winning over public hearts and evoking memories of another former Kensington Palace resident, Harry's mom, Princess Diana.
The comparisons became glaringly obvious last week when it emerged Meghan has been making a number of top-secret visits to comfort victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Undercover charity operations such as this are highly unusual considering Royal schedules are planned weeks, if not months, in advance. "Meghan's visits mean so much to us. She has a special place in our hearts," said one community member who was lucky enough to meet her. Her actions are reminiscent of the days when Diana would sneak out of Kensington Palace to visit hospital patients and the homeless, unannounced. She even took a then 12-year-old Prince William on one of her trips to visit a shelter so he could understand how different life really was on the other side of the palace gates.
At first it might have seemed as though Meghan and Harry's brief courtship would have ill prepared her for the level of attention Meghan will undoubtedly receive in the decades to come.
It's no secret that getting engaged after just 12 dates was not enough time to brace a young Diana Spencer for life as a queen-in-waiting. And it's certainly one of the reasons why Kate and William dated for almost 10 years before they felt ready to settle down without repeating the mistakes of the past (while at the same time earning Kate the unflattering nickname of "Waity Katie"). After her wedding, it took Kate an entire year before she undertook her first solo royal appearance. In contrast, Meghan and Harry were together just 18 months before they announced their engagement (and Meghan spent most of that time on the Toronto set of Suits, fulfilling the last of her professional obligations to the series).
And yet, in retrospect, Meghan's lack of guidance about life within the royal fishbowl may actually have set her up to become the biggest game changer in the family for decades. Being an inexperienced outsider has become an asset, allowing her to maintain the same sense of authenticity as Diana.
During the handful of joint appearances she has made with Harry so far, Meghan has come across as approachable and even greeted fans with a very normal, "Hi, I'm Meghan." She's dominated headlines by hugging fans, taking selfies and she even gave an autograph. It's a level of intimacy that's so rarely exhibited by her future family members that it's helping to win over the often-cynical British public in record time.
When Meghan's not interacting with the droves of well-wishers that are turning up at her official appearances, she's breaking other royal traditions by showing affection toward her husband-to-be. From holding hands to snuggling up to him in the cold, or giggling over an inside joke, she's coming across as a confident young woman in love. No matter how much we adore seeing William and Kate out together, their PDA moments, in their now almost seven-year marriage, can be counted on one hand.
The similarities between Meghan and Diana don't seem to be lost on Harry, either. As he admitted during their first post-engagement interview, if Diana was still alive she'd likely have been best friends with Meghan. "Oh, they'd be thick as thieves, without question," he admitted joyfully.
Seeing Harry so happy on camera, sitting alongside the woman of his dreams, who is now wearing a ring containing two diamonds that used to belong to his mother, it's clear he's feeling more confident compared to some of his previous media appearances. Naturally both William and Harry have a complicated history with the press. And who can blame them?
Whether it was the tabloid intrusion into what became the bitterest break up in modern royal marriage history, between Charles and Diana, or the paparazzi's role in Diana's tragic car crash, learning how to handle that dynamic has been difficult for the boys.
But Meghan is someone who is used to dealing with the attention. As a Hollywood star who has walked many red carpets and sat down for countless interviews, she's used to that give-and-take relationship with the media that celebrities have. It was a balance that Diana also had to learn how to handle, especially as she and Charles both began to tell their respective sides of the story in their ugly divorce battle.
Right now, it's that understanding of the power of celebrity that is helping Meghan navigate her new role to her full advantage. There is no doubt that Meghan and Harry are the current superstars of the royal family, so much so that some of the press pack covering William and Kate's official tour of Scandinavia earlier this month ended up leaving the future King and Queen to fly back to Britain to report on a Meghan and Harry appearance instead. The Cambridges might be closer to the throne but right now Harry and Meghan have bigger star power (don't feel too sorry for William and Kate, this is likely a welcome relief after years of being hounded by the newspapers).
And yet Harry, as fifth (soon to be sixth) in line to the throne, has more freedom than his older brother, and that also extends to Meghan. The couple, while never able to fully avoid inquiring minds, will always be less scrutinized than William and Kate.
But they can have just as much impact.
Getting to capture the hearts of the British public is a gift for Meghan who, as a family friend once noted, has always looked up to the charity work Princess Diana carried out. As Meghan herself once wrote, in an article for Elle magazine, "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."
Diana did just that. Single-handedly she helped break down the stigma of HIV and her work to eradicate landmines saved thousands of lives. She was a true heroine of her generation. And as Meghan becomes more comfortable with her new power and influence, who knows, maybe one day she too will be able to say she's done her best to make just as much difference in the world.
For more on how Meghan could make an impact like Diana, watch E! News tonight at 7 and 11 p.m.