Meghan Markle: from TV actress to royal duchess

© Agence France-Presse

Since joining the royal family, Meghan appeared determined to do things her own way

London (AFP) - Meghan Markle has experienced remarkable highs and lows during a tumultuous period in which she married into royalty and became a mother before souring on life in Britain and returning to the United States.

The 39-year-old American former television actress shot to global stardom with her engagement to Prince Harry in 2017 and their fairytale wedding six months later.

She gave birth to their son, Archie, in 2019.

While initially hailed as a breath of fresh air for the stuffy royal family, it gradually became clear she was struggling to cope with the strictures and scrutiny of royal life in Britain.

The couple announced they wanted to step back from their frontline duties at the start of 2020, then permanently relocated to Los Angeles in a move dubbed "Megxit". 

She and Harry have since signed exclusive deals with streaming giants Spotify and Netflix, which recently launched the latest series of its hit series "The Crown", focusing on Diana.

They have launched a non-profit, which they say focuses on compassionate community building.

Meghan also wrote a frank piece in The New York Times in November last year about having a miscarriage after Archie's birth. But on Valentine's Day this year, the couple released a relaxed-looking picture to announce they are expecting another child.

The couple -- rarely seen apart -- have sought the limelight on their own terms, while fighting for their right to privacy.

Last month, Meghan won a court victory against Associated Newspapers, which owns the Daily Mail, after it published a letter she wrote to her estranged father without her permission.

But beyond a slew of court cases, it is an escalating war of words between the couple and the royal family that has gripped attention -- closing the door for good on any possible return.  

Buckingham Palace announced in February that they had permanently quit royal life and would lose honorary appointments and patronages.

Ancestors, royals and slaves

Rachel Meghan Markle was born in Los Angeles in 1981 to Thomas Markle, a white, Emmy Award-winning TV lighting director, and Doria Ragland, a black social worker and yoga instructor.

On her mother's side, her ancestors were slaves on cotton plantations in Georgia. Her mother's surname is taken from a slave owner.

Meghan's parents separated when she was two and divorced five years later. She is now estranged from her father and his other children, her older half-sister and half-brother.

Before her May 2018 wedding, her father took part in staged paparazzi photos, then suffered chest pains and needed heart surgery, causing him to miss her big day.

His leak to the press of a handwritten letter from Meghan pleading with him to stop feeding journalists stories seems to have irreparably damaged their relationship.

Meghan spoke of her "very real sadness" after winning a privacy claim over its publication.

She went to a private Catholic girls' school where she is remembered for her strong sense of right and wrong. She went on to study theatre and international relations at university.

The future Duchess of Sussex graduated in 2003, after which she landed a six-week internship as a press officer at the US embassy in Argentina.

'Suits' springboard

Back in LA, in 2004 she fell in love with go-getting film producer Trevor Engelson, who helped her get on the acting ladder as she struggled for bit parts.

Soon after their engagement, Meghan landed her signature role in US legal drama "Suits" as savvy paralegal Rachel Zane.

She cultivated a high profile for herself outside the show, attracting millions of followers on her now-closed personal Instagram account and lifestyle blog, The Tig.

Meghan was also revealed as the anonymous blogger behind The Working Actress, which chronicled the struggles of hustling for parts in Hollywood.

As her career took off, Engelson's faltered, and their marriage collapsed in 2013 after two years.

Through a mutual friend, she met Queen Elizabeth II's grandson Harry in July 2016 while visiting London. 

Their romance quickly blossomed on a whirlwind camping trip to Botswana.

Their engagement was announced in November 2017 and their glittering wedding, including a gospel choir and an evangelical preacher, was seen as a moment of renewal for the royal family.

Media coverage however became increasingly negative, with talk of rifts with her sister-in-law Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Staff reportedly quit in droves because of her pushy style.

A vastly expensive New York baby shower also attracted criticism, as did costly repairs at public expense to their house in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which they couple eventually paid for themselves.