Oh thank the Lord!
Prince Harry, long time enfant terrible of the Royal Family, has finally made a sensible decision when it comes to his personal life.
Yes, His Royal ‘Naked Billiards’ Highness is at last settling down and getting married.
I was delighted when I heard the big news today, not least because his bride-to-be Meghan Markle is a friend of mine.
Or rather, she was until she met him, more of which later.
‘When did you know she was the one?’ journalists asked Harry.
‘The very first time we met,’ he replied.
I was delighted when I heard the new that Harry was engaged, not least because his bride-to-be Meghan Markle is a friend of mine. Or she was, anyway
I can believe it, because I first met Meghan Markle the very same week Harry wooed her, and she’s a highly impressive lady.
Our encounter involved a pub, several (for her….) dirty vodka martinis, lots of laughter and fascinating revelation.
By the time we parted, I came away – not that I could have ever guessed it at the time – with a very clear idea of the woman who is now going to be a royal bride. And frankly, I can’t think of a more perfect choice for a Princess than Ms Markle.
‘I’m in London for a week of meetings and Wimbledon,’ read the Twitter Direct Message from Meghan on June 29, 2016. ‘Would love to say Hi!’
‘Fancy a drink in my local pub?’ I suggested.
‘Love to!’ she replied.
On the day, Meghan sent me another message.
‘See you this evening. I may be there a little early because I have a dinner at 8. Looking forward to our pint!’
She added her two phone numbers but warned: ‘They’re both acting up – champagne problems!’
Meghan was at Wimbledon tennis that day (June 29, 2016) to watch our mutual friend Serena Williams.
‘Serena sends her love,’ she said a little later, ‘you’re very popular as it turns out, who knew.’
Suffice it to say, I suspect Harry’s now put her firmly right on that score!
Meghan turned up at my local, the Scarsdale Tavern in Kensington, West London – less than a mile from Kensington Palace, and a place Harry has himself been known to frequent.
I first became friends with Ms Markle over Twitter, as her show Suits is a favorite of mine
She looked every inch the Hollywood superstar – very slim, very leggy, very elegant and impossibly glamorous. She was even wearing the obligatory big black shades beloved of LA thespians.
The landlord Ray, not a man easily impressed or given to raw emotion, was dumbstruck.
‘Blimey,’ he whispered as I ordered the drinks, ‘she’s a stunner – who’s THAT?’
Judging by the eye-popping way the handful of other customers reacted when she glided inside, Ray was speaking for the whole pub.
I explained that Meghan was an actress in Suits, one of my favourite US dramas, about a New York law firm.
We’d gotten to know each other a year earlier after I followed her and some of the other stars of the show on Twitter.
‘Well hello there, thanks for the follow,’ she immediately responded by Direct Message. ‘Big fan of yours!’
We had an amusing discussion about my Suits addiction, which culminated in Meghan offering to send me early links to forthcoming episodes so I could watch them before anyone else.
She did, too.
We regularly exchanged messages over the next few months, usually about shocking new plotlines involving her character, paralegal Rachel.
‘OMG, you’re out of hospital and cheating on Mike with that sleazeball!’ I wrote in August, 2016.
‘Hahahaha,’ she replied. ‘Oh this is when everyone starts to hate Rachel. Brutal. People wanted to kill me. Not Rachel… ME. I never knew there were emojis of knives and guns. Thankfully, Rachel gets back on her pedestal.’
Meghan loved Suits but hated the long hours filming in Toronto, Canada.
‘How are you? Hope all is well?’ she messaged me one morning. ‘We just wrapped filming at 4am so I am the walking dead.’
As the host of Good Morning Britain, which involves 4am alarm calls, I was able to perfectly empathise.
So, to our (strictly platonic, I hasten to add.. ) date in the Scarsdale.
You can tell a lot about a woman by how she behaves in a pub, and I thought Meghan was fabulous; warm, funny, intelligent, and highly entertaining.
She seemed real, too; not one of those phony actress types so prevalent in California.
We discussed her biracial upbringing, highly significant now she will become the first non-white royal bride. ‘My dad’s Caucasian, my mother’s African-American,’ she said, ‘so I’m half-white, half-black. It caused me a lot of confusion when I was young because it’s not easy to be ethnically ambiguous in America. But I learned to embrace being a mixed-race woman.’
She was passionate and knowledgeable about political issues, like US gun violence. ‘I just wish more people in my country would make a stand about it,’ she told me. ‘I’ve enjoyed living in Canada for the past five years, without Rambo & co. People say it’s not the guns but mental illness, to which I say, so then why give mentally ill people legal access to buy guns? It’s staggering. So many needless deaths.’
She also had a healthy view of critics, which she will need more than ever now she’s becoming a member of the Royal Family: ‘There’s a great quote from the artist Georgia O’Keeffe,’ she said. It’s “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain, and I am quite free.” That really resonates with me,’
Ms Markle didn’t always want to be an actress, she told me. She told me she wanted to be a broadcaster or even president. She’s even a calligrapher and did all the cards and envelopes for Robin Thicke’s wedding
I asked her if she’d always wanted to be an actress.
‘No! As a kid, I wanted to either be President of the United States or a news broadcaster like you. I’m also a trained calligrapher. I did all the cards and envelopes for Robin Thicke’s wedding! We’re losing the art of handwriting and it’s such a shame. There’s still something incredibly romantic and special about a guy writing to a girl and putting pen to paper rather than emailing it, whether his writing is chicken scratch or looks like a doctor’s note.’
I found Meghan engagingly honest about her life.
‘What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done,’ I asked.
‘Oh God,’ she cried, laughing out loud in shame, ‘I was one of the briefcase girls on Deal Or No Deal [the US version]. I cringe myself when I think about it now, but it paid the rent.’
‘What number case were you?’
‘24, which nobody ever chose. I’d stand there for hours in very cheap very high heels waiting for someone to pick me so I could sit down again, and it hardly ever happened.’
Meghan’s a fierce campaigner for women’s rights and told me a fascinating story that says a lot about her spirit.
‘When I was 11,’ she said, ‘I saw this ad for dish soap powder that said: “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.” I was so angry. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t say men as well. My parents always told me if I believed something was wrong, I should try to fix it. So, I wrote to all sorts of people including Hillary Clinton and the soap’s manufacturers Procter and Gamble, demanding they change it. It worked. They altered the wording from “women” to “people”.’
Around 7.45pm, Meghan received a flurry of text messages and eventually apologised and checked her phone.
She read them, smiled, slightly blushed and then shook her head.
‘I’m recently single again,’ she explained, ‘so I’ve got a few guys being a little… persistent!’
‘Sounds fun,’ I laughed.
‘I guess. I’m just out of practice with the dating scene.’
We ordered an Uber and Meghan left for her dinner party at 5 Hertford Street, London’s most exclusive private members club.
‘That was such fun!’ she texted a few minutes later, ‘let’s do it again next time I’m in town.’
The story of Meghan’s romance with Harry broke in the UK press several months later.
We met up at a pub when she was in London, and she was marvelous, charming and smart. Later that same night she met Harry at a dinner party, and I haven’t seen her since
Buried away in the details was a line saying they got together during her trip to London back in June, after a dinner party in a Mayfair private members club.
It must have been THAT dinner party at 5 Hertford Street.
And those flirtatious texts she received in the pub, I’m pretty certain, were from Harry.
Now they’re getting married, and I’m genuinely delighted for them.
The Prince, after nearly two decades of wild, often reckless partying and carousing with women all over the globe, has finally found his Princess, and what a great choice he’s made.
Meghan’s got beauty, brains, charm and a great sense of humour.
She’s also an ambitious, hard-working and talented woman with a commendable zest for life.
‘My mantra is, “Don’t give it five minutes if you’re not going to give it five years,”’ she told me in the pub.
I didn’t hear from Meghan again after her royal romance erupted into the public gaze, which is perfectly understandable under the circumstances (though I desperately miss her sending me those early Suits episode links!)
I’m guessing the words “Hey darling, fancy going to the pub with my ex tabloid newspaper editor mate Piers?” were never going to go down very well with His Royal Highness, even if we are neighbours and I was once quite pally with his mum Diana.
All will be forgiven though if I get an invite to the wedding of the year.
Or better still, an invite to Harry’s stag night, which has all the potential to be an even more historic event.
In the meantime, I congratulate them both on their engagement.
She most definitely Suits you, Sir.