Meghan Markle is royal family's unconventional bride-to-be

What you didn't know about Meghan Markle
What you didn't know about Meghan Markle

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What you didn't know about Meghan Markle 01:42

Story highlights

  • As a TV star, Markle has managed to keep a low profile
  • She and her prince share a passion for helping the less fortunate

London (CNN)Sure, social media has been super excited that #blackgirlmagic is coming to the royal family in the form of Meghan Markle. But the biracial American actress is actually pretty magical in other ways, too.

The 36-year-old seems to be more than fulfilling what fans want from a princess (even though she won't become an official princess) in a fairytale royal romance: She's smart, beautiful and passionate about humanitarian efforts around the world.
Prince Harry's new fianceé is also a rarity in Hollywood: a star who has managed to become both beloved by fans and yet so under the radar that its hard to find tabloid fodder on her.
    Her balance of celebrity and regular person can best be described in the story of how Prince Harry proposed.
    They were enjoying a cozy night at home, trying to roast a chicken for dinner, when he popped the question.
    Even the most hardened royal watcher must admit that's pretty damn delightful in its quaintness and normalcy.

    Dating in secret

    The pair revealed Monday, in their first joint interview after their engagement was announced, that their London cottage on the grounds of Kensington Palace has been a refuge.
    It's how they have been able to keep their relationship so private in the face of global scrutiny of anything having to do with the royal family.
    Markle spoke to Vanity Fair about her life and relationship with Prince Harry in an interview published in September.
    "We had to sort of reverse the whole process and (have) cozy nights in, in front of the television, cooking dinner with just the two of us by ourselves in our little cottage rather going out for dinner and being seen in public," Prince Harry said of their dating life.
    "So we, we reversed the whole process ... it's provided different opportunities. And has made us a hell of a lot closer in a short space of time."
    What the prince learned was that the Los Angeles native who once wrote that she "lives by the ethos that most things can be cured with either yoga, the beach, or a few avocados" has more in common with him then might be expected from one with such humble beginnings.

    Parental influence

    Like Prince Harry, Markle was a child of divorce.
    Her father, Thomas Markle, and her mother, Doria Ragland, met at a Hollywood studio in the late 1970s where he was working as as a lighting director and she was a temp.
    Her parents split when Meghan was young, but she told Vanity Fair this year that they remain on good terms and even take vacations together as a family.
    Markle says her parents supported her in her quest to become an actor.
    "I was doing calligraphy, and I was a hostess at a restaurant — and all those things that actors do," she said. "My father knew how hard it is for an actor to get work, so he above all people was so proud that I was able to beat the odds."
    Bit roles in shows like "CSI: Miami," "90210" and "General Hospital" and small parts in such films as "Remember Me" and "Horrible Bosses" kept her working before her 2011 breakthrough role as ambitious paralegal Rachel Zane in the hit TV series "Suits," now in its seventh season.
    Markle has a lead role in TV series "Suits" as paralegal Rachel Zane.
    In a 2015 essay for Elle UK, Markle wrote about the difficulty of forging a career as a biracial actress. "I wasn't black enough for the black roles and I wasn't white enough for the white ones, leaving me somewhere in the middle as the ethnic chameleon who couldn't book a job."
    Markle's parents had already prepared her for the challenges of being the child of a white father and black mother.
    She told the story of her father putting together a special Christmas gift for her when she was a little girl.
    "On Christmas morning, swathed in glitter-flecked wrapping paper, there I found my Heart Family: a black mom doll, a white dad doll, and a child in each colour," she wrote in Elle UK. "My dad had taken the sets apart and customised my family."

    'Proud to be a feminist'

    That sense of being "other" also helped Markle develop compassion for the disenfranchised. In another Elle essay from 2016 she wrote about how her mother, a psychotherapist and yoga instructor, raised her to be "a global citizen, with eyes open to sometimes harsh realities."

    No filter. Just happiness with my mama bear. #homesweethome #LA #californialove #iloveyoumom

    A post shared by Meghan Markle (@meghanmarkle) on

    Markle has used her platform as a TV star to champion gender equality, clean-water campaigns, pet adoption and the eradication of modern day slavery.
    "I'm proud to be a woman and a feminist," she said in a speech at a United Nations conference on International Women's Day 2015. She had just been named the UN Women's Advocate for Political Participation and Leadership.
    Her commitment to gender equality began many years earlier, Markle explained. As an 11-year-old she saw a soap commercial with the tagline "women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans."
    She described how two boys in her class said that women belonged in the kitchen and how the she, "shocked and angry," decided to take action in response. On the advice of her father, she wrote several letters, including one to the soap manufacturer and one to then-first lady Hillary Clinton.
    In the end, Markle explained, the commercial was changed: The word "women" was replaced with "people."
    "It was at that moment that I realized the magnitude of my actions," she said.

    Partners in philanthropy

    In her future husband, Markle will have a strong partner in wanting to help others.
    In 2006, Prince Harry co-founded Sentebale, a charity to help orphans in Lesotho, Africa. He's also supported conservation efforts in Africa and has helped promote the Invictus Games, an international sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.
    And he's continued work by his mother, the late Princess Diana, in helping those suffering from AIDS and HIV.
    Prince Harry said in their joint interview that he believes Markle is "capable of anything."
    "And together, as I said, there's a hell of a lot of stuff, work that needs doing," he said. "At the moment for us, it's going to be making sure that our relationship is always put first, but both of us have passions for wanting to make change, change for good."
    She said their passion for philanthropy is actually what helped led to their passion for each other.
    "It was really one of the first things we connected on, it was one of the first things we started talking about when we met was just the different things that we wanted to do in the world and how passionate we were about seeing change," she said. "I think ... that's what got Date 2 in the books, probably."
    Kensington Palace announced Tuesday that Markle will join Prince Harry for an event Friday marking World AIDS Day.
    A palace spokesperson also told CNN Tuesday that following their May 2018 wedding, Markle will become the fourth patron of The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

    Markle: We're 'really happy and in love'

    It won't be a first wedding for Markle, who was married to film producer Trevor Engelson for two years before they divorced in 2013.
    Interestingly, Fox is reportedly developing a TV comedy from a team, including Engelson, about a man who has to share custody with the British royal family when his ex marries a prince.
    Markle met her prince in July 2016 when a mutual friend set them up on a blind date.
    Markle and Prince Harry attend the Invictus Games in Toronto in September.
    They dated in secret before Prince Harry issued a rare public statement last November in which he confirmed their relationship and warned the press against harassing his girlfriend.
    Almost a year later Markle told Vanity Fair their relationship is simple to explain.
    "We're two people who are really happy and in love," she said.