Meghan Markle will not be your traditional royal.
The 36-year-old bride will be the first divorced, biracial, Jewish American actress to join the British royal family, and it doesn’t stop there.
Markle has broken royal protocol since her engagement to Prince Harry last November to become a unique and relatable public figure in the British monarchy.
“It was known before Meghan got engaged to Harry that she alone of his many girlfriends could cope with the interest and publicity and work the crowds,” says British public relations consultant and royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams. “Meghan-mania is the result.”
Although she won’t officially be a royal until after the couple weds on May 19, Markle is already making the role all her own.
She broke one major rule from the start of her engagement: She didn’t wear stockings at the announcement of their impending nuptials at Kensington Palace.
“Nude stockings, though not her usual style, are expected” by the palace, Fitzwilliams says.
Also a no-no? That sold-out denim she wore on her first public appearance with Prince Harry. “The ripped jeans she wore at the Invictus Games are a thing of the past,” Fitzwilliams says.
While Princess Diana and Duchess Kate carried clutches to head off unwanted handshakes, Markle has switched it up with a mix of bags with shoulder straps and handles.
“She wants to be more approachable, as her role will be different from Kate’s,” Fitzwilliams says. “A handle or shoulder strap is therefore more her style if she wants to reach out, shake hands and touch more or hug.”
Outside of fashion, Markle will likely have to tone down some of the warm tendencies she cultivated in Hollywood. “She will find some protocol challenging, and signing autographs is absolutely out of bounds.” In January, Markle responded to a young fan’s request for an autograph by writing a greeting without signing her name.
She has continued to display affection for Prince Harry at their public engagements, often holding his hand or touching his arm. She also hugged a young girl at an appearance on International Women’s Day.
“She has been careful to avoid breaking the rule about selfies, but there is no actual ‘rule’ regarding holding hands and also hugging someone,” Fitzwilliams says.
Although she left her job on TV’s Suits, don’t expect her to stay silent about issues she deems important. Along with her and Harry’s dedication to philanthropic work, Markle has spoken up about the Time’s Up and Me Too movements.
“Women don’t need to find a voice,” Markle said at a Royal Foundation forum in February. “They have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use it, and people need to be encouraged to listen.”
As far as other basic royal protocol, both Prince Harry and Duchess Kate are thought to be helping Markle master it all, including “who curtsies to whom when alone and how this alters if their husband is present,” Fitzwilliams says.
“What is so precious is Meghan’s independence of spirit,” Fitzwilliams says. “She will abide by basic protocol — whether or not it is written down — whilst cultivating her own distinctive style.”