Little more than two weeks after arriving in the UK, Meghan Markle has dived straight into her strange new world as Prince Harry’s fiancee with an introduction to that royal staple – the walkabout.
Nottingham was chosen for her inauguration into “the firm”, and her first step in a career that will include an abundance of royal waves, handshakes, tree plantings and ribbon cutting. Crowds curious for a first glimpse of the American actor and fledgling royal, who will marry Harry in May next year, lined the streets.
The former Suits actor may previously have known little of Nottingham beyond the Hollywoodisation of Robin Hood, and the fact that her first marital home will be Nottingham Cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace.
In their engagement interview on Monday, Markle expressed eagerness to get her “boots on the ground”, and four days later she was enjoying a civic reception in the city which is home to the pharmaceutical chain with the aforementioned footwear name.
On their first official joint royal engagement in the UK, Harry, 33, who has visited the city eight times in the past five years, was keen to introduce his 36-year-old fiancee to a community “that has become very special to him”, his spokesman said.
The walkabout, a short stretch of a couple of hundred metres, saw the crowd shout congratulations as the couple shook hands with people, accepting bouquets and good wishes.
Abbie Goodband, 22, an administration worker at Boots HQ, and Kathryn Moran, 25, a barrister, had arrived early with coffee and an unshakeable faith in “the fairytale”.
“You’ve got to believe in the fairytale. That’s part of the excitement,” said Moran, as the two signed a giant engagement card to be presented by Radio Nottingham. Markle’s background as an American and a divorcee made her “more relatable”, Goodband said.
She was “Hollywood pretty” and a “modern woman who has made her own way”, the two agreed. “I do think she looks like Pippa (Kate’s sister),” said Goodband, but her friend disagree: “No. I don’t think she does at all.”
Helena Bottomley, 63, Zoe Scott, 55, and Carole Bingham, 58, fortifying themselves with coffee laced with a touch of cherry brandy, came equipped with union flags and optimism.
“We have always followed the royal family. We absolutely adored Princess Diana and we follow her boys,” said Scott who described the three friends as being retired. “I think she’s fantastic. She doesn’t need the royal family. She’s made it on her own and she has obviously fallen in love.”
“We’ve bought the fairytale, yes,” Bottomley said. “Well,” added Bingham, referencing the marriage of Harry’s parents, “we bought into another too, didn’t we, and that didn’t quite work out. So let’s hope this one does.”
They all agreed Markle was a tonic for the royals.
Physiotherapists Rhianan Hutchings, 26, and Beverley Tidy, 32, and her 11-month-old son, Jacob Tidy, said they arrived early to get a good spot. “She’s beautiful and a modern woman,” Hutchings said. “She’s had a good career and so it’s probably the right time to concentrate more on charity work.”
The couple were visiting the Nottingham Contemporary, which is hosting a Terrence Higgins Trust World Aids Day charity fair, and the Nottingham Academy, to meet headteachers from local schools and those working for Full Effect, a programme aimed at combating youth crime set up by the Royal Foundation, of which Markle is set to become a patron.
The local newspaper’s website nottinghampost.com said it had tracked down a replica of Markle’s three-diamond engagement ring – the “Meghan Sparkle” imitation was being sold for £10 at a jewellery stall as part of the city’s Winter Wonderland market.
Markle, who began dating the fifth-in-line to the throne 16 months ago after they met in Canada, is to be baptised and confirmed ahead of the Church of England wedding at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. She will also apply to become a British citizen but is expected to spend some time back in the US with family and friends before the wedding.
Best known for her role as a lawyer in the legal drama Suits – which is shot in Toronto where she had been living until she packed up her rented house this month – Markle has decided to give up her previous charity ambassadorships to “start afresh” and concentrate on the Royal Foundation, set up by Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Previously, Markle was a global ambassador for World Vision Canada, which campaigns for better education, food and healthcare for children around the world, and had visited Gihembe refugee camp in Rwanda as an advocate for UN Women.
There is speculation that Markle will join the Queen and royal family for their traditional Christmas break at Sandringham, in Norfolk, although the Duchess of Cambridge did not do so before her marriage to Prince William.
Though Harry has yet to meet him, Markle’s father, Thomas, 73, an Emmy award-winning television lighting engineer who lives in Mexico, is reportedly keen to give his daughter away at the wedding, which will also be attended by her mother, Doria Ragland, a 62-year-old social worker and yoga teacher who lives in Los Angeles.