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The rise of Meghan Markle: From relative unknown to most-Googled actress to royalty

Britain's Prince Harry and U.S. actress Meghan Markle made their first public appearance Nov. 27, after announcing their engagement. (Video: Reuters)

After more than a year of social media speculation, gossipy headlines and rampant rumors, it’s finally official: Meghan Markle will marry Prince Harry in the spring.

The royal palace made the highly anticipated announcement Monday morning, confirming that the couple became engaged in London earlier this month and will live together at Nottingham Cottage, Harry’s home at Kensington Palace.

It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind for Markle, who sent the Internet into a Google-frenzy in October 2016 when tabloids broke the news that the American actress appeared to be Prince Harry’s new girlfriend.

Who is Meghan Markle? asked seemingly everybody, and the answer was perfectly charming: Before she made headlines as the love interest of a royal family member, Markle had established herself as an actress and star of the USA network’s legal drama “Suits,” as well as a vocal humanitarian who served as a U.N. women’s advocate for gender equality and a global ambassador for World Vision. She founded a lifestyle blog called the Tig in 2014 and attracted a robust following with posts about political and social issues, food and travel. Her Instagram feed was filled with aesthetically flawless images of her home, the “Suits” set and her two rescued dogs, Bogart and Guy.

Meet Prince Harry’s (apparent) new girlfriend. She’s American, and she seems awesome.

But news of Markle’s blossoming relationship with Prince Harry drew plenty of vicious criticism nonetheless, as she didn’t quite fit the typical archetype of a would-be princess: Markle is American, born and raised in Los Angeles. She is older than Harry. She is biracial, with an African American mother and white father. And she’s been divorced (fans of “The Crown” will recall that, where prospective royal spouses are concerned, a previous divorce has historically been frowned upon).

Cheers, Prince Harry! But the last time a British royal married an American, it didn’t go well

The onslaught of racist and sexist attacks on Markle was intense enough to prompt a rare response from Kensington Palace, which came to her defense in a statement in November 2016:

“Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her. It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm,” the statement said. “He knows commentators will say this is ‘the price she has to pay’ and that ‘this is all part of the game.’ He strongly disagrees. This is not a game — it is her life and his.”

Prince Harry condemns racist and sexist abuse of girlfriend Meghan Markle

Beyond presenting a strong rebuke of Markle’s treatment by the tabloid media, the statement also offered official confirmation of the blossoming relationship, which immediately fueled more rumors about if and when an engagement might be expected.

And for royal watchers, there were certainly plenty of tantalizing clues.

In December 2016, a “palace source” told Us Weekly that a spring 2017 engagement seemed likely (off by a few months, as it turns out). Markle bid farewell to her lifestyle blog and reportedly planned to depart the cast of “Suits.” Rumors circulated that Markle was preparing to move from Toronto to London. Daily Mail columnist Richard Kay wrote last month that Markle and Harry had visited Buckingham Palace for a private meeting with Queen Elizabeth, Harry’s grandmother.

Amid a rush of speculative headlines last week, Palace officials remained — unsurprisingly — mum. But on Friday, a major London bookmaker offered yet one more hint that an engagement was likely, if in fact it hadn’t happened already: Ladbrokes said that it would no longer accept bets on a 2018 royal wedding, adding that it seemed an engagement announcement “is to be confirmed imminently,” according to the Associated Press.

Monday’s announcement swiftly consumed social media, with Markle’s name once again trending on Twitter, alongside “Prince Harry,” “Harry and Meghan” and #Royalengagement. The couple’s names ranked among the top trending Google searches, and in response to one common question — what will Markle’s title be? — the British press reported that the actress will likely soon be officially known as the “Duchess of Sussex” (per royal tradition, the Queen is expected to bestow the title of “Duke of Sussex” upon Harry on the couple’s wedding day).

The palace announced that the pair would pose for photos outside Kensington Palace on Monday afternoon and give a broadcast interview in the evening. More details about the wedding venue and timing are expected to follow this week, the Guardian reported.

Fans and followers of the royal family will now have months to ponder the upcoming nuptials — What will she wear? Who will be invited? — as the bride-to-be prepares for her new role, one that will grant her an even more prominent platform for the philanthropic work that has always been a priority for her and Harry. Last year, Markle wrote an essay for Elle magazine about the challenge of balancing the glitz and glamour of Hollywood with her commitment to humanitarian work:

“Reflecting on where I came from helps me to appreciate and balance what I have now,” she wrote, adding that her hardworking parents emphasized a sense of compassion and responsibility. “With fame comes opportunity, but it also includes responsibility — to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings. And, if I’m lucky enough, to inspire.”

Prince Harry through the years

In this undated photo issued on Sunday Dec. 17, 2017 by Kensington Palace courtesy of the Obama Foundation, Britain's Prince Harry, right, interviews former US President Barack Obama as part of his guest editorship of BBC Radio 4's Today programme which is to be broadcast on the December 27, 2017. The interview was recorded in Toronto in September 2017 during the Invictus Games. (Kensington Palace courtesy of The Obama Foundation via AP)