Filed in Royal Tour Royal Tour: Australia Royal Tour: Fiji Royal Tour: New Zealand Royal Tour: Tonga Royal Visit

Meghan Markle Proved She’s Her Own Kind of Royal on Her First Major Tour

In many ways, it seemed like Meghan Markle was entering an impossible situation when she married Prince Harry in May. No matter what she did, she would be seen as an American outsider in the British press, her every move scrutinized to an absurd degree, her every outfit or gesture compared immediately to either that of her new sister-in-law, Kate Middleton, or to any number of the royal women who had come before her. And in her first few months of her Duchess of Sussex-dom, though they went fairly smoothly, Meghan was accused multiple times of “breaking protocol” or committing some nearly invisible “faux pas.” She closed a door on her own! She isn’t wearing a hat when she should be wearing a hat! She shows P.D.A. with Harry!!!!!!

All the while, Meghan—at least publicly—appeared to take it all, even as her father and half sister added additional tabloid drama to the mix, in stride. And on the royal tour she and Harry just completed, a 16-day sprint across Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Tonga, Meghan seemed more assured than ever in her brand-new royal role. Just a few months into life as a duchess, and with her first child already on the way, Meghan is turning the role into something very much its own—incorporating aspects of her previous jobs (as actress, advocate and lifestyle blogger) and making it clear she is going to use the platform to speak out about the causes she cares about.

Before Meghan was Meghan, of course, she was an actress on Suits, and she also had a lifestyle blog, the Tig, and a well-curated Instagram account, all with a sort of Gwyneth Paltrow-esque vibe. Much of that “Tig” Meghan, in a literal sense, is now behind her—the Web site, and her social-media accounts, were wiped ahead of her royal wedding—but that essence does seems to be shining through more and more as she finds her royal footing. Her first solo project, after all, was the publishing of a cookbook with victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, after she spent much time with the women affected working on the recipes. And the “standout” moments from the tour all seemed to have a sense of whimsy, spontaneity, and intimacy about them, Instagram-friendly moments that are now immediately and automatically shared with the world. On her second day in Australia, jet lag be damned, Meghan stayed up late in their residence baking banana bread for the group of farmers she and Harry would be visiting the next day. (She incorporated chocolate chips and ginger into the recipe, but the Palace, frustratingly, refused to share it.) Later on in the trip, she asked the aides to bring some leftover treats from one of the venues out for the children waiting outside to enjoy. When a young boy handed her a “pasta necklace” that he had made himself at a particular stop, she put it right on; one could imagine an alternate universe where she would have Instagrammed the necklace, maybe even tagging the boy who made it for her.

Meghan also made three public speeches over the course of the tour, an unusual amount of public speaking from royals who are so often seen but not heard. She spoke about causes that she has championed in the past, including female empowerment and women’s suffrage. While she has a background as both a performer and someone committed to advocacy work, she now has a platform of a vastly different scale, and she’s embraced it with remarkable ease. Instead of waiting a bit to begin making regular solo speeches, she’s immediately begun speaking about causes close to her heart—and, while not political, exactly, causes that are more pointed than the average run-of-the-mill royal talking point. Meghan seems to be sending a message that she is going to discuss what’s important to her, and use her platform in an active and intentional way.

And in the moments of the tour when Meghan wasn’t speaking, she made sure her clothes spoke for her. The Duchess of Sussex changed multiple times a day, wearing more than 30 outfits over the entirety of the royal tour. That she was newly pregnant also proved an added challenge in terms of determining her wardrobe: some of her looks were definitely meant to accentuate the “bump,” as Harry would refer to it during an address later in the tour, whereas others seemed to cover it up. (For part of the tour, Meghan posed touching her stomach, though she stopped doing so as much by the tour’s end.)

For the most part, Meghan was savvy in terms of mixing in Australian designers (almost all of whom saw major spikes in their sales), and eco-friendly brands, like the Veja sneakers she wore for one outdoor trip. She worked in the major labels, too, representing Givenchy, Burberry, Stella McCartney, and more, too. For this stage of her public life, at least, she seems committed to playing it pretty safe. There was a lot of white and gray and navy and black, often a solid-colored trench or overcoat, with a few notable outliers, like the black and white Oscar de la Renta she wore in Sydney or the pink ruffled dress she wore in Fiji. She has come far from the ripped jeans she wore for her first public outing with Prince Harry, back in 2017 for the Toronto Invictus Games, though there is still a pretty low-key feel to her wardrobe choices, while also a sense that she is still experimenting with what exactly she wants her “royal look” to be.

Meghan and Harry were warmly embraced at every stop, and Meghan appeared to be fully embraced; crowds chanted her name, sang the Suits theme song, held up gifts in every direction, making her feel every bit the arriving royal, if not a superhero. There were two notable moments when Meghan came off particularly “human,” events verging slightly off-script—when crowd-management issues forced her security detail to cut a visit in Fiji short, and when she stepped off the plane in Tonga with a tag still visible on her Self-Portrait dress. And yet, the confidence she exhibits—perhaps it’s that acting background—makes even those sorts of “missteps” seem somehow part of the plan. One can imagine a “Regina George” sort of effect taking place, where within weeks, women and men worldwide decide to stop cutting off the tags of their own clothes.

It will be interesting, and telling, to see what comes next. Back in London, the tour behind her, her first project a success (the charity cookbook was a best-seller), Meghan will presumably be able to hone in on the causes and initiatives she is most interested in, carving out a path for herself in the way that Kate has been able to over these past several years. If the tour is any indication, she will also find ways to incorporate that Tig spirit—the, at the risk of bringing up Diana comparisons, “People’s Princess”–esque moments—where she engages with the community. During the Australia tour, she stopped at one point to speak to a woman who had messaged with Meghan on Instagram before she became a duchess. It was a dynamic moment, her past coming to bear on the present. Naturally, Meghan handled it skillfully, not fazed in the slightest. She embraced the young woman, and let her know that, of course, that she remembered her.