LONDON — Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, on Thursday was named patron of four organizations, including the prestigious National Theater, a role she was handed by Queen Elizabeth II.
Kensington Palace said the charities that the duchess will champion reflect her interest in the arts, access to education, support for women and animal welfare. They also show what kind of work Meghan — born Meghan Markle — will focus on in the years ahead.
As a senior member of the royal family and as a high-profile campaigner before her marriage to Prince Harry, what kind of work Meghan would prioritize as a royal was a matter of intense interest in royal circles.
Two of the patronages handed to Meghan, including the National Theater, London’s flagship theater, were long held by the queen herself.
The National Theater gig, mistakenly announced a day early, seems like a natural fit for Meghan given her previous acting career, which including a starring role in the U.S. legal drama “Suits.”
“She understands about theater, being an actor herself, but also shares with us a deep conviction that theater can bring people together from very diverse communities,” Lisa Burger, executive director of the National Theater, told the BBC.
The palace said that “the Duchess is a strong believer in using the arts to bring people from different backgrounds and communities together.” It also noted that while Meghan has spent 10 years in television, she trained in theater (and international relations) at Northwestern University.
But the theater gig also raised eyebrows.
“The National Theater is extremely prestigious, and I’m quite surprised she was given that one. She hasn’t even been a royal for a year,” said Ingrid Seward, a royal biographer and author of “My Husband and I.”
“I’m surprised that the queen didn’t give it to her youngest son,” Seward said, referring to Prince Edward, who ran a television production company.
“But they probably wanted her because she is so high-profile, and anything she does gets quite a lot of attention,” she said.
Meghan was also named patron of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, an international university network — a role the queen had for 33 years.
The other charities that Meghan will champion are Mayhew, an animal rescue shelter, and Smart Works, a company that supports unemployed women in entering the workforce by helping them dress for interviews and with interview coaching.
The act of a royal becoming a patron — a kind of figurehead for organizations who tries to draw attention to causes — stretches back hundreds of years. According to the British monarchy’s website, the first record of a royal patronage was with King George II, who died in 1760. He lent his name to the Society of Antiquaries.
The tradition continues to this day, with over 3,000 organizations having a royal as a patron or president.
The monarchy’s website says that each royal receives “hundreds of requests” from organizations seeking their support — and the publicity that they hope comes with a royal lending their name. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the queen receives the most requests. She is the patron of over 600 organizations.
Over the past few years, the queen, 92, has slowly scaled back her workload, handing some of her duties to other members of the royal family.
Meghan, who is expecting her first child in the spring, visited Smart Works on Thursday and will visit her other charities in the coming days.