Meghan Markle’s life before Harry: The Duchess of Sussex’s upbringing, first marriage and early career

Meghan achieved a lot before she met husband-to-be Harry, with a glittering acting career and hit lifestyle blog.
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  • Nowadays, we all know Meghan Markle as the Duchess of Sussex. But of course, long before she met her husband, Prince Harry, she lived a completely different life.

    She and the Duke of Sussex may now be starting a transitional new role together inside the royal family, but the couple’s worlds arguably couldn’t have been further apart when they were growing up.

    While Harry came of age within the walls of English palaces (mostly, Kensington Palace), Meghan called Los Angeles, California home.

    Meghan Markle upbringing: what was her childhood like?

    Long before getting married and starting a family of her own, the Duchess lived with her mother, Doria Ragland, a social worker and yoga instructor, and father, Thomas Markle Sr., a former lighting director, in View Park-Windsor Hills, just minutes away from Downton Los Angeles.

    She was (and presumably, is), proud of her West Coast heritage, having joked on her now-defunct lifestyle website, The Tig, “I was born and raised in Los Angeles, a California girl who lives by the ethos that most things can be cured with either yoga, the beach or a few avocados.”

    Meghan Markle upbringing, Doria Ragland

    Credit: Getty Images

    Meghan was actually born Rachel Meghan Markle – meaning Meghan is her middle name, by birth.

    Her parents divorced when she was just six years old, and after that, Meghan lived mostly with her mother, but spent lots of time with her father.

    In an essay for Elle in 2015, Meghan wrote about how proud she is of her dual heritage, saying, “My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white …. While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that.

    “To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.”

    Now, she works full time to raise awareness of important charitable causes, and Meghan has always been an activist – even at the young age of 11. Whilst at home, she saw a Proctor and Gamble advert, with words that suggested ‘doing the dishes’, is just for ‘mum’, or women in general. Meghan disliked the messaging, deeming it sexist, and wrote a powerful letter of indignation to influential women such as Hillary Clinton to try to get it changed. It worked, and the wording was changed to ‘people’ instead, to include everyone, of all genders.

    Meghan Markle’s school years

    Meghan was educated at private schools her whole life, attending Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse nursery when she was just two years old.

    The Duchess of Sussex later attended the Immaculate Heart High School in LA, which is a private girls school.

    Meghan has revealed in the past that she’d often spend her afternoons after the school day with her dad, on set of Married…with Children. Speaking to Esquire magazine back in 2013, she said, “Every day after school for 10 years, I was on the set of Married … with Children, which is a really funny and perverse place for a little girl in a Catholic school uniform to grow up.

    “There were a lot of times my dad would say, ‘Meg, why don’t you go and help with the craft services room over there? This is just a little off-color for your 11-year-old eyes.'”

    Whilst there, the Duchess’s passion for acting was clear, as she reportedly performed in many theatrical productions over the years, before graduating in 1999 at the age of 18.

    Meghan Markle

    Credit: Getty Images

    After her school years, Meghan scored a place at the prestigious Northwestern University in Illinois, widely regarded as one of the best schools in the US. She chose to double major in two subjects, Theatre and International Relations – arguably, a brilliant indicator of her future careers both as an actress and as a member of the British royal family…

    In fact, in an interview with Marie Claire, Meghan revealed that she almost didn’t go into acting, instead thinking she might like a career in politics. She confessed, “I had always been the theater nerd at Northwestern University. I knew I wanted to do acting, but I hated the idea of being this cliché—a girl from L.A. who decides to be an actress.

    “I wanted more than that, and I had always loved politics, so I ended up changing my major completely, and double-majoring in theater and international relations. By my junior year I had finished most of my credits, and I applied for an internship at the U.S. Embassy, so I ended up working in the embassy in Buenos Aires for a few months.”

    Meghan Markle’s first marriage

    Credit: Getty Images

    Before Prince Harry, the Duchess was married to Trevor Engleson. Trevor is a 43-year-old TV and film producer, and the pair first started dating in 2004, when Meghan was 22.

    They were together for just over six years before getting married in 2011 on a beach in Jamaica, which was reportedly attended by Meghan’s mum Doria.

    However, Meghan and Trevor split after just two years of marriage, reportedly ending things in August 2013.

    Meghan Markle’s early career years

    Just like many aspiring actresses, things weren’t exactly easy for Meghan in the early days of her acting career, with the Duchess revealing that she worked as a freelance calligrapher, and even taught bookbinding, in order to support herself in between acting work.

    Prince Harry’s wife landed small roles on a range of shows, included Deal or No Deal, CSI, and later, two films – Remember Me, and Horrible Bosses.

    Meghan Markle’s big acting break

    After a few years trying to establish herself in Hollywood, in 2011, she landed herself the role of paralegal Rachel Zane on US law drama Suits, and catapulted into the world of fame and celebrity in America.

    Suits filmed in Canada, and during that time, Meghan developed a tight social circle in the city of Toronto. She met one of her now closest friends, Jessica Mulroney, and her husband Ben, as well as Markus Anderson, a good friend and director of the Soho House chain.

    Meghan Markle

    Credit: Getty Images

    Meghan worked on Suits between 2011 and 2017, for seven seasons, before leaving after announcing her engagement to Prince Harry.

    And the rest, as they say, is history!

    Meghan Markle’s life now, as the Duchess of Sussex

    The Duke and Duchess of Sussex married in May 2018, before welcoming their son Archie Harrison Mountbatten Windsor a year later.

    Now, of course, the royal couple are navigating a new path away from the monarchy, as they step back from their roles as ‘senior royals’, in order to pursue financial independence.

    So what will the future hold for the Sussexes? Only time will tell..