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Why 2018 was the year of Meghan Markle

She started the year as Meghan Markle but is ending it as The Duchess of Sussex and soon-to-be mother to the seventh in line to the throne. It has been a whirlwind 12 months for the former actress whose arrival into the royal family has captivated the world.

From Brixton to Bondi Beach, Nottingham to Nuku’alofa, crowds have cheered, chanted and even cried after meeting Meghan, who officially took her place in the history books when she married Prince Harry in May.

For the second year running her name was the most searched on, while “Royal Wedding” and “Royal Baby” topped the charts for news event trends.

It would be difficult to think of another person who has generated such global interest throughout the whole of 2018, and Meghan’s star is not showing any signs of fading as she prepares for a future in the spotlight.

However, the new duchess has also experienced this year what her husband has always lived with – the fact that, when the world is fascinated by you, every little bit of information available is seized on, amplified, analysed, reproduced and sometimes distorted in a way that you cannot possibly control.

Right from the start of 2018 – months before she said “I do” – Meghan demonstrated both her ability to pull crowds and her desire to get “boots on the ground” with royal duties.

The first visit of the year on a chilly January morning to Brixton, south London to see the work of Reprezent Radio Station encompassed so many of the narratives that were to resurface again and again during her first year as a royal.

From the moment the couple stepped out of their car, the click click click of camera shutters was accompanied by the cheers of large crowds as social media coverage exploded.

Meghan’s hairstyle (a messy bun), clothes and jewellery were analysed, identified and – in this case a £45 Marks & Spencer jumper – sold out within hours. Later, she was to use this phenomenon for good by choosing brands that created jobs for those in need through the boost in profile and sales.

As she departed Reprezent Radio, Meghan embraced members of the public, the first of many hugs she was to give and receive throughout 2018. Apparently once saying: “I’m American, I hug”, Meghan has shown that she has Harry’s ability to charm crowds with ease and authenticity.

The former Suits star once said she wants to be known as “a woman who works” and this was evident by the fact she had clearly studied briefing notes about Reprezent 107.3 FM, casually reeling off the information she had memorised during the 45 minute visit. Just a few months later, in September, Meghan was to unveil her first major charity project – a cookbook with the women of the Hubb Community Kitchen in west London which was set up in the aftermath of the devastating Grenfell Tower fire. Meghan made secret visits to the kitchen and spoke without notes at the book launch about the work being a “labour of love”. She also outlined her pride at living in London, a city with “so much diversity”.

Several people in multicultural Brixton in January – and around the country and the world before and since – expressed excitement at the fact Meghan’s presence as a mixed race woman makes the royal family more representative of the diversity in modern Britain.

Meghan’s passion for gender equality was evident from her first visit, where she told DJ YV Shells that she had heard about his work in this field. A few months later on her first milestone royal tour she was to make an impassioned speech in New Zealand – the first country to give women the vote in 1893 – saying: “Yes—women’s suffrage is about feminism, but feminism is about fairness.”

The day Meghan and Harry visited Reprezent Radio it was also announced that Meghan was shutting down the social media accounts she had used to promote her acting and humanitarian work before she met the prince.

She was once followed by 1.9 million on Instagram and more than 350,000 on Twitter – but since joining the royal family her profile and reach have grown to levels she could most likely never have imagined.

However, unlike in her former life, Meghan can no longer post her own thoughts directly online. Now every decision must be made with the institution that she is part of – and represents – in mind.

The loss of the ability to communicate directly with the public on her own behalf may have been challenging for Meghan during the last few weeks of the year, as suggestions of a rift between the young royals – so often centering on Meghan and Kate – has spread like wildfire around the world.

Like many of us, the new duchess may be looking forward to starting 2019 with a fresh outlook, letting go of anything about 2018 that was less than glorious.

With a baby due in the spring, a house move to Windsor and new patronages to be announced, Meghan’s 2019 will undoubtedly be eventful. What The Duchess of Sussex’s lasting legacy within the House of Windsor will be remains to be seen. However, there can be no doubt that she is already making a impact.