Little more than two weeks after arriving in the UK, Meghan Markle has dived straight into her new role as Prince Harry’s fiancee with an introduction to that royal staple, the walkabout.
Nottingham was chosen for her inauguration into “the firm”, and her first step in a career that will include an abundance of royal waves, handshakes, tree plantings and ribbon cuttings. Crowds keen to catch a first glimpse of the American actor and fledgling royal, who will marry Harry in May next year, lined the streets.
The former Suits actor may previously have known little of Nottingham beyond the Hollywood versions of Robin Hood, and the fact that her first marital home will be Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace.
In their engagement interview on Monday, Markle expressed eagerness to get her “boots on the ground”, and four days later she was enjoying a civic reception in the city that is home to the pharmaceutical chain with the aforementioned footwear name.
On their first official joint royal engagement, Harry, 33, who has visited the city eight times in the past five years, was keen to introduce his 36-year-old fiancee to a community “that has become very special to him”, his spokesman said.
On the walkabout, along a stretch of a couple of hundred metres, the crowd shouted congratulations as the couple shook hands with people, accepting bouquets and good wishes.
Abbie Goodband, 22, an administration worker at Boots HQ, and Kathryn Moran, 25, a barrister, had arrived early with coffee and an unshakeable faith in “the fairytale”.
“You’ve got to believe in the fairytale. That’s part of the excitement,” said Moran, as the two signed a giant engagement card to be presented by Radio Nottingham. Markle’s background as an American and a divorcee made her “more relatable”, Goodband said.
She was “Hollywood pretty” and a “modern woman who has made her own way”, the two agreed. “I do think she looks like Pippa,” said Goodband, referring to the Duchess of Cambridge’s sister, but her friend disagreed: “No, I don’t think she does at all.”
Helena Bottomley, 63, Zoe Scott, 55, and Carole Bingham, 58, fortifying themselves with coffee laced with cherry brandy, came equipped with union flags and optimism.
“We have always followed the royal family. We absolutely adored Princess Diana and we follow her boys,” said Scott, who said the three friends were retired. “I think she’s fantastic. She doesn’t need the royal family. She’s made it on her own and she has obviously fallen in love.”
“We’ve bought the fairytale, yes,” Bottomley said. “Well,” added Bingham, referencing the marriage of Harry’s parents, “we bought into another too, didn’t we, and that didn’t quite work out. So let’s hope this one does.”
They all agreed Markle was a tonic for the royals.
Physiotherapists Rhianan Hutchings, 26, and Beverley Tidy, 32, and her 11-month-old son, Jacob Tidy, said they had arrived early to get a good spot. “She’s beautiful and a modern woman,” Hutchings said. “She’s had a good career and so it’s probably the right time to concentrate more on charity work.”
The couple appeared to be colour-coordinated, both in navy and camel. “So smart. They even matched,” sighed one woman to her friend. Unlike the Queen, Markle went gloveless, which was all the better for showing off the sparkler on her ring finger. Like the Queen, she clutched a handbag, though hers was a little larger than the monarch’s. The tri-tone leather tote from the Edinburgh-based luxury brand Strathberry costs about £495 and bears a marked resemblance in silhouette to the Queen’s signature Lautner handbags.
The navy-and-black wool coat is by Mackage, a Montreal-based label that prices it at US0 (£585). It also gave a nod to her past and her present: she previously lived in Canada and has been seen in the coat numerous times before.
“Excited, really excited,” she repeated over and over to inquiries about how she was feeling about the wedding.
“Hi, I’m Meghan,” she introduced herself time and again. She told one woman in the crowd: “I can’t believe it. I’ve been made so welcome and I can’t believe it.”
Mindful of the cold, Markle slipped a hand-warmer heat pack into the hands of Emily Harland, 21, from Australia, a student at Coventry University, who was struggling to shake hands because of the low temperature.
“How does it feel being a ginger with Meghan,” one red-haired man yelled at a beaming Harry. “It’s great, isn’t it? Unbelievable,” the prince grinned. Wellwishers turned out in the cold with flowers, cards, babies, pet dogs, even a barn owl. Frank Shelton, 79, who had the owl, called Kim, on his arm, quipped: “Harry’s brought his bird so I’ve brought mine.”
The couple were each given a Robin Hood badge by the local council as a memento of their visit. Fans were prepared, bringing union flags, US flags and Canadian flags to wave. “I’ve come all the way from Manchester,” said one flag-seller. How many had he sold? “Just three,” he admitted dolefully.
The couple were visiting the Nottingham Contemporary, which is hosting a Terrence Higgins Trust World Aids Day charity fair, and the Nottingham academy, to meet headteachers from local schools and those working for Full Effect, a programme aimed at combating youth crime set up by the Royal Foundation, of which Markle is set to become a patron.
The local newspaper’s website nottinghampost.com said it had tracked down a replica of Markle’s three-diamond engagement ring – the “Meghan Sparkle” imitation was being sold for £10 at a jewellery stall as part of the city’s Winter Wonderland market.
Markle, who began dating the fifth in line to the throne 16 months ago, is to be baptised and confirmed before the Church of England wedding at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She will also apply to become a British citizen, but is expected to spend some time back in the US with family and friends before the wedding.
Best known for her role as a lawyer in the legal drama Suits – which is shot in Toronto, where she had been living until she packed up her rented house this month – Markle has decided to give up her previous charity ambassadorships to “start afresh” and concentrate on the Royal Foundation, set up by Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Previously, Markle was a global ambassador for World Vision Canada, which campaigns for better education, food and healthcare for children around the world, and had visited Gihembe refugee camp in Rwanda as an advocate for UN Women.
There is speculation that Markle will join the Queen and royal family for their traditional Christmas break at Sandringham, in Norfolk, although the Duchess of Cambridge did not do so before her marriage to Prince William.
Though Harry has yet to meet him, Markle’s father, Thomas, 73, an Emmy award-winning television lighting engineer who lives in Mexico, is reportedly keen to give his daughter away at the wedding, which will also be attended by her mother, Doria Ragland, a 62-year-old social worker and yoga teacher who lives in Los Angeles.
Markle proved she was no slouch in picking up royal walkabout
protocol. When Barbara Miller, 63, requested a quick selfie, the actor apologised. “Sorry, we are not allowed to do selfies,” Markle said.
Later, at the Nottingham academy, the couple watched young actors perform an improvised play appropriately about a young couple going public with their secret relationship. “We wanted to make it a fun play and involve the royals,” said one of the actors, Taynika Jarrett-Bennett, 19, from the Community Recording Studio. The cast were thrilled when Markle praised their talent.
The couple heard about work carried out in the Full Effect programme, which is supported by the Royal Foundation and is aimed at combating youth crime in the city.
After a rap performance and poetry recital, the couple left for their train to London, waved off the school premises by excited, screaming schoolchildren.
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