It’s being dubbed Operation Princess – the masterplan to prepare for when Meghan Markle takes on what could be the most challenging role of her life.
The American actress and her boyfriend Prince Harry (33) are on the verge of announcing their engagement, according to sources close to the royal family, and behind the scenes palace officials are working hard to make sure her transition from commoner to royal goes as smoothly as possible.
According to some insiders, the couple, who have been dating for just over a year, are “as good as engaged” after their romantic holiday in Botswana last month.
But it was decided that the pair should hold off breaking their news until after the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death because of fears it would overshadow the remembrance events held in honour of Harry’s beloved mother.
It is also thought they further delayed making an announcement when Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge’s severe morning sickness meant she and husband Prince William needed to reveal they were expecting their third child.
Meghan’s admission in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine that she and Harry were “happy and in love” was seen as a stepping stone to an official engagement announcement. The pair are expected appear publicly for the first time at the Invictus Games in Toronto, where Meghan (36) is based to film the TV series Suits.
If they are not engaged by then, an announcement is expected to come not too long afterwards.
In the meantime, palace officials are quietly getting ready for a new member to join the family firm. The royal solicitors, Harbottle & Lewis, who act on behalf of Prince Charles and his sons, have been asked to represent Meghan as well.
Plans have been approved to build a huge basement office and storage area at Kensington Palace, thought to be necessary because administration staff are being moved out of an apartment currently being used as offices.
Rumours have been rife that Harry and Meghan will move into that apartment, rather than staying in Harry’s current home, the cosy two-bedroomed Nottingham Cottage, located in the palace grounds.
Since her relationship with Harry was revealed, Meghan has been more circumspect on social media. In April, she shut down her lifestyle website The Tig, supposedly on advice from royal staff who thought it provided too many insights into her life.
She signed off saying, “After close to three beautiful years on this adventure with you, it is time to say goodbye to The Tig. What began as a passion project (my little engine that could) evolved into an amazing community of inspiration, support, fun and frivolity.”
It’s also understood that royal courtiers have been playing a role in reducing Meghan’s publicity commitments for Suits.
Her contract includes promoting the show, which is why she did the Vanity Fair article. The interview was sanctioned by Harry and Kensington Palace, but senior royal staff are concerned that she doesn’t do too many, given the intimate nature of some of the comments she made.
“The palace will want to be able to take a degree of control over Meghan’s public life,” says a source.
Whether she gives up acting once the two are married remains to be seen. Love scenes in particular could prove embarrassing once she’s a royal. As one royal watcher points out, “It would be ground-breaking if she were able to continue in her job.”
It’s likely that Meghan will drop acting to expand on the humanitarian role she has already taken on over the past few years.
It is thought this will give her a sense of purpose and will be in keeping with royal duties she will take on as a member of the family. The palace is keen to make sure she is fulfilled to avoid a repeat of the unhappiness Diana suffered after she married Charles.
It is expected that at some stage before the wedding Meghan will be schooled in royal etiquette as happened to Kate, her future sister-in-law. In the months leading up to her wedding, Kate underwent “princess lessons” with various royal staff on everything from how to get in and out of a car through to how to converse with foreign dignitaries.
Meghan already has the confidence to interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds and speak publicly, along with the experience of attending red-carpet events, but she’ll need to learn about protocol. Schooling in British history and government might also come in handy.
Meghan will face less pressure to be the perfect royal wife than Kate, given that she won’t be marrying a future king.
But since she is breaking the mould for potential royal brides – thanks to being American, in her thirties, divorced and an actress – incorporating her into the most famous family in the world will be a new experience for palace officials and one they’ll want to go without a hitch.