Alexi Lubomirski / Kensington Palace
From the moment met in the summer of 2016, he was smitten.
His choice to take her to Botswana for their third date, so they could camp out under the stars in the African bush, was all the evidence his friends needed that he had finally met someone exceptional.
It’s not hard to see why he fell so quickly for the American actress. Aside from the obvious, that she’s beautiful and intelligent, she also has a robust empathetic streak, a personality trait we also associate with the fifth-in-line to the throne. Harry’s easygoing and caring nature is often credited as an inheritance from his mother, , and has undoubtedly played a role in his massive popularity.
But there’s something else, a shared experience, that might have strengthened their bond: both are the offspring of couples who fell out of love.
Meghan’s parents, Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle, divorced when she was just 6 years old. Harry was slightly older at 8 when Diana and finally admitted to the world their 11-year marriage was kaput.
Meghan told Vanity Fair last year that despite the split her parents remained amicable: “My dad would come on Sundays to drop me off, and we’d watch Jeopardy! eating dinner on TV trays, the three of us… We were still so close-knit.”
But in a tell-all interview given by her childhood best friend Ninaki Priddy, a different picture was painted. “It could be hard for her,” Priddy said. “Sometimes she felt she had to pick sides. She was always trying to make sure each of them was happy. She’d have to relay messages. It was literally stuff like, ‘Tell your mother…,’ or ‘Tell your father…'”
Chris Jackson/Getty Images for the Invictus Games Foundation
Regardless of the circumstances, Doria had a significant influence on the woman Meghan grew up to be. Even before she met Harry, whenever Meghan wasn’t on the set of Suits, the 36-year-old was heavily involved in humanitarian endeavors.
“Both my parents came from little, so they made a choice to give a lot,” Meghan explained on her now defunct website, The Tig, in 2016. “Buying turkeys for homeless shelters at Thanksgiving, delivering meals to patients in hospice care, donating any spare change in their pocket to those asking for it, and performing quiet acts of grace—be it a hug, a smile, or a pat on the back to show ones in need that they would be alright. This is what I grew up seeing, so that is what I grew up being.”
Meanwhile, Thomas’ job as a lighting director on shows such as Married….With Children and General Hospital gave Meghan an opportunity to learn about Hollywood. She would often visit him once she had finished her day at the Immaculate Heart Girls’ High School.
Having parents who led entirely separate lives is something Harry also had to endure. While Charles and Diana described their split as “amicable,” when their separation was finally announced on Dec. 9, 1992, it was anything but. There was the infamous , Diana’s and, of course, the . A series of scandals, which finally led to the Queen deciding the only option left for the erstwhile fairy-tale couple was to divorce.
For Harry, the impact of bouncing between warring parents has only recently come to light. Last year, he admitted in a documentary marking the 20th anniversary of his mother’s death that he often felt torn between his mom and dad.
“There was a point in which our parents split, and the two of us [ William and Harry] were bouncing between the two of them [Charles and Diana] and we probably never saw our mother enough, or saw our father enough. You know, there was a lot, a lot of traveling, and a lot of fights on the back seat with my brother… of which I’d win. So, there was all of that to contend with, and I don’t pretend that we’re the only people to have to deal with that. But it was an interesting way of growing up.”
Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, also spoke about that time, saying, “It was upsetting for them to watch the fall-out of their parents’ marriage and whenever Diana got upset, they would push notes under her door saying, ‘It will be OK.’ Diana smothered them in love, and they always slept in her room during that time and not the nursery.”
Last Christmas, after Meghan spent her first holiday with the royal family at Sandringham, Harry raised eyebrows among members of the Markle family by proclaiming her cozy experience with his relatives was one “that I suppose [Meghan’s] never had.”
Priddy, who was best friends with Meghan for 31 years before they eventually fell out, backs up Harry’s statement: “The idea of having a family was something Meg very much wanted, particularly because she was from a family that felt very disjointed.”
As anyone who has gone through a personal battle knows, finding solidarity in the company of others can be a much-needed reminder you are not alone. For Meghan and Harry, their similar struggles seem to have helped cement their connection.
Alexi Lubomirski / Kensington Palace
Last month, Meghan joined Harry, William and on stage for their first official appearance as patrons of their joint charity, The Royal Foundation.
All four are highlighting issues that are close to their heart. William, Harry and Kate are trying to eradicate the stigma around talking about mental health. Kate is specifically focusing on young parents; Harry and William are speaking out about bereavement. Then there is their work on behalf of wildlife conservation, as well as Harry’s creation of the hugely successful Invictus Games.
As yet, we know very little about where Meghan will concentrate her efforts once she becomes a Duchess on May 19. All we’ve been told is she wants to take her time deciding, but there have been a few clues. While on stage with her new fiancé and future brother- and sister-in-law, Meghan hinted about the importance of women’s rights. Hardly a surprising choice considering the feminist credentials passed down to her by her independent single mother.
There’s no doubt family is critical for both Meghan and Harry, and it seems inevitable that in the future they will do everything they can to avoid the mistakes of the past.
Watch E! News tonight at 7 and 11 p.m. for more on the family experiences that connect Meghan and Harry.