“Ms. Markle is looking forward to hitting the ground running,” were the famous words uttered by a Kensington Palace spokesman to a room full of journalists, including this one, during a briefing just over a year ago.
After months of speculation about Meghan’s potential as a member of the royal family, a November 28, 2017 press conference in Buckingham Palace, just a day after her engagement to Prince Harry was announced, offered a glimpse of what was to come.
Having already used the small platform she created while on Suits to spread the word of women’s rights in India and female empowerment for the UN, it was clear Meghan had big plans for her life as a duchess. But even those with the highest of expectations didn’t imagine she would be closing out 2018 with 105 royal engagements under her belt, a four-country tour completed, and a New York Times bestseller. Hit the ground running indeed.
In all honesty, Meghan needn’t have lifted a finger to leave so many impressed this year. Her May wedding to Prince Harry carried powerful cultural meaning, with its sensitive mix of African-American worship tradition and Windsor custom showing us the monarchy was more open to change than we once believed. And to those watching around the world? I’d like to think their marriage has helped further shape how people perceive interracial relationships.
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But, of course, Meghan did do a lot more than just that. In the seven short months she’s been a working member of the Royal Family, we’ve watched as the skilled public speaker effortlessly championed universal education and women’s suffrage in speeches, outlined her fight for gender equality in her official royal website bio, and carried out engagements alongside the Queen with aplomb.
In September, Meghan really brought it home with her work alongside the women of the Hubb Community Kitchen in west London, a communal space first started to help those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire. Inspired after private visits, Meghan teamed up with a diverse group of women from an under-represented community to produce the Together cookbook to ensure the kitchen’s financial survival. After establishing an interest in food on her old blog, The Tig, the clever project was totally on brand. It was also the first real show of how Meghan intends to bring her unique style to future philanthropic endeavors.
After spending time of my own with the women of Hubb this year, it’s been incredible to witness the love and respect they have for Meghan, whom they met when she was still new to London. While all from different parts of the world, these women are united by their simple desire to give back. And now, with a best-selling book to their names, a number of the ladies at Hubb are now involved in new charity projects of their own. As Meghan said at the Royal Foundation Forum in March, women don’t need help finding their voices; they just need to feel empowered to use them—and for people to listen.
This empowerment was something we saw during her oceanic tour with Prince Harry in the fall. Young girls and boys in each of the four countries they visited told me how much the duchess has inspired them, how she represented a new chapter for the royal family. And the tour itself was smash hit, kicking off with the announcement of the impending birth of their first child and then 70 back-to-back engagements, as they tried to meet as many people as possible in Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, and Australia.
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In some ways, this is the humanitarian role for which Meghan has been preparing her entire life, from her advocacy as an 11-year-old fighting for women’s rights to her desire to focus more on charity than acting as she approached her final season of Suits. It’s one of the things that stood out to me about Meghan when I first met her as an Us Weekly editor at a showbiz party in 2015. Even then, she seemed ready to take on something more rewarding, away from the shallowness of our industry.
But while it’s been a year full of highs, there have been lows. We watched as Meghan did her best to remain focused and composed as her father Thomas ignored pleas for silence and proceeded with an onslaught of embarrassing interviews, all part of some ill-conceived bid to get the attention of his daughter (and the press). And the attacks didn’t just come from family members—columnists dog-whistled, tabloid articles tried to rebrand her as “Duchess Difficult,” and even a courtier or two attempted to sully her name.
Little damage was done, but it’s a reminder of how difficult this journey will continue to be for Meghan. Nonetheless, her head remains held high. Perhaps the naysayers forgot who they’re dealing with. This is a woman who earned her stripes in an industry full of gossips, backstabbers, and prejudice. And while she may now be standing on somewhat of a different stage, this is not her first time at the rodeo. It will take a lot more than breathless reports on breaks in nail polish protocol or so-called feuds with Duchess Kate to bring her down.
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In the mean time, Meghan will no doubt bring her “kill ‘em with kindness” approach to life in 2019 and beyond. And if she needs further support, she still has the same loyal tribe by her side in the shape of her loving husband, protective mother Doria, and fiercely loyal group of friends, who have been there for their “Meg” through the good and bad since the very start.
That team will be growing in the New Year (hello Baby Sussex!), but before then, Meghan has a couple more things to tick off the list, including that much-talked about first patronage—or should I say, patronages. It won’t just be one; Kensington Palace is preparing to announce a number of new charity affiliations within the next two months—a mixture of organizations that reflect Meghan’s own interests and some of the Queen’s work in another space. It’s been a process that Meghan has taken seriously and spent several months quietly preparing for.
With little time until Meghan begins maternity leave, it seems like there’s still a lot to get done, but I’m told she’s doing well, in good health, and busy behind the scenes. “She’s focused on what matters,” says a source, who notes that building works on her new home, Frogmore Cottage in Windsor, are on track for completion by Easter. “Both Meghan and Harry are very excited for the year ahead.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s Bazaar US.