Meghan Markle will face her toughest royal test yet when the Queen hosts the biggest gathering of heads of state ever to be held in the UK during a Commonwealth summit – and Meghan and Prince Harry are poised to take on roles usually reserved for Prince William and Kate.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, known as CHOGM, takes place in London in April and will have added significance this year because of Brexit.
The Government is hoping to use the summit of 52 Commonwealth countries, which is being held at venues including Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, as a platform to kick-start free trade talks with non EU countries in preparation for Britain’s exit from the bloc on March 29, 2019.
The Royal Family will be central to the week-long event, with the Queen, Prince Charles, Camilla and younger royals including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry all expected to take part.
Meghan, 36, expressed a desire to find out more about the Commonwealth during an interview with Harry following their engagement last November. It is thought she will accompany Harry, 33, on a number of appointments – with speculation the couple may even need to step in for William and Kate because their third baby is due around the time of the conference, which starts on April 16.
This could see Harry and Meghan attend a glittering state banquet at Buckingham Palace, where the American actress could be asked to don a royal tiara for the very first time – just weeks before her wedding on May 19.
A royal insider said: “A huge amount of planning has gone into making CHOGM a success and members of the Royal Family will have a significant presence throughout the summit. Prince Harry will definitely have a role to play, and now he is engaged to Meghan Markle, CHOGM would provide the perfect opportunity for her to find out more about the Commonwealth.”
In previous years not all 52 heads of state have been able to attend the bi-annual conference, but Government sources say they expect an unprecedented attendance, making it the biggest summit ever held in Britain.
The Commonwealth is home to 2.4 billion people – a third of the world’s population – and includes countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which have already indicated a willingness to strike free trade deals post Brexit.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is also expected to take part in the summit, and Foreign Office staff are thought to be keen to harness the popularity of Ms Markle, who was cheered as she has accompanied Harry on engagements in Brixton and Cardiff in recent weeks.
A Whitehall insider said: “The Royals pack a formidable soft power punch around the world as it is, but Meghan’s presence at the summit would propel CHOGM coverage to the front pages, which is just what we want when projecting a positive vision of Britain overseas.”
On Commonwealth Day last year, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “In hosting CHOGM, the UK is committed to working with all members not only to reaffirm these shared values, but also to re-energise and revitalise the Commonwealth to cement its relevance to this and future generations.
“As we look to create a truly global Britain, the deep partnerships that we share through a 21st century Commonwealth can help us strengthen the prosperity and security of our own citizens, and those of our many friends and allies across the world.”
The 2018 Commonwealth Day service will be held at Westminster Abbey on March 12 as a prelude to CHOGM, which Harry and Meghan are also expected to attend. The Commonwealth Games is being held in Queensland, Australia, in the first two weeks of April, ending the day before CHOGM starts.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “Further CHOGM related events will be announced in the coming weeks.”