While the ceremony will be taking place several thousand miles away, this year’s Royal Wedding is particularly relevant on the North Shore. The bride, Meghan Markle, an alumna of Northwestern University, is someone whose time in Evanston emphatically shaped the person she is today. We asked Charles Rae, the now retired Royal Correspondent at The Sun, the UK’s biggest-selling daily newspaper, to provide us an insightful guide to what really influenced Meghan, and why Prince Harry’s choice of bride will deservedly make her one of the most talked about people of 2018.
It’s official. A Northwestern Wildcat is joining Britain’s Royal Family. While some of us won’t look much beyond this being further evidence of the global nature of celebrity culture, make no mistake. The upcoming nuptials will rock the centuries old institution like never before. Tradition is being shaken so hard it’s removing even the crease ironed into Prince Charles’s chinos!
Yes, as an alumna of Northwestern University, Meghan Markle is that Wildcat. But let’s not get this wrong; she’s no threat; instead this is someone who will envelop and invigorate the Royals; a face and a personality who will drive forward the sort of modern image the family desperately crave. And while we’re at it, she’s also someone whose friends—past and present—have every right to be fiercely proud of. After all, within minutes of saying “I do” to Prince Harry at their wedding at St George’s Chapel in Windsor on May 19, the philanthropic export and former star of the hit TV series Suits will be a real-life Duchess and a sort of Princess.
So, let’s get to titles, first—often the subject of so much conjecture. In this case, it appears Harry, 33, and Meghan 36, are expected to become the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—a gift from the Queen—and Meghan’s official title will be Her Royal Highness Princess Henry of Wales (Henry being Harry’s real name). She cannot be Princess Meghan in her own right because like Prince William’s wife Catherine, she is not of royal birth.
Names are only really superficial though. The greater reality is this is all such a long way from Northwestern University where Meghan honed her acting and humanitarian skills. And, rather impressively, this is not the first Royal link to Northwestern University. In 1996, Harry’s mum Princess Diana visited the campus. Alas, less than three months later she was no longer with us.
After getting straight As in her High School graduation exams, Los Angeles-born Meghan was offered three scholarships, but turned them all down to study theater and international relations at Northwestern, where the drama department was renowned for nurturing talent. She arrived at the university in 1999 when she was just 18 and was the first person in her family to graduate college. Within four years she double-majored in international relations and theater, which led her to working at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina and also kicked off her career in acting.
During her time at Northwestern, Meghan was the recruiting chair of the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority where she screened suitable girls for membership. And while Prince Harry was having a fine old time in England, she was pretty much doing exactly the same in Evanston.
A fan of Thai food, she would try a number of Evanston eateries, usually on the way to a theater performance, and when in the mood to imbibe with other college students she stopped by The Keg.
Interviewed in 2014, after returning to the Northwestern campus for a Q&A session alongside fellow Suits cast members, she said: “It’s surreal as I’m walking around I remember things like the schlep of getting to South Campus from up north. The 24-hour Burger King also definitely helped me put on the Freshman Fifteen.”
KKG member Melania Hidalgo says Meghan had been a popular member of the student body. “People were drawn to Meghan because she had such a thirst and an explosive personality. She was very persuasive, and in her role as recruitment chair of the sorority that was obviously an important asset. New girls she brought in loved her energy and confidence.”
Classmate Ann Meade commented, “I think some people were put off by her assertiveness as some can find that type of person threatening. But with Meghan it wasn’t an arrogance, it was just real, beautiful confidence that came from within.”
Although treading her own path now, Meghan is not the only famous actor to have attended Northwestern. Many including Warren Beatty and Julia Louis-Dreyfus also learned their trade at the school, going before her in the acting world to achieve great things. A host of former pals have come out in the press to tell how Meghan had her eyes firmly set on Hollywood even during her college days—often slipping off for TV commercial auditions.
Despite the attractions of the entertainment world, Meghan still found time to let her hair down in the Windy City. Rather than troubling the sensibilities of royal onlookers, these sorts of observations seem to be reassuring. The prim and properness associated with the Royals is becoming a tiresome relic, and to have a fun-loving American in their rank does the aristocracy’s image no harm.
While the world knows her as Meghan, that is actually her middle name. Rachel is the name given by her parents Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland. And photos discovered in the KKG house on campus show one picture of the actress captioned “Rachel Markle” and another captioned “Meghan Markle.” The find suggests it was during her college years that she switched her names.
It was in Evanston, too, that she met dear friend, Larnelle Quentin Foster. Now 35, Larnelle was a flamboyant, larger-than-life student who also aspired to an acting career. Though they were in different classes they became close friends and remain so today.
Larnelle lived locally with his parents, who were both pastors, and Meghan would have meals with his family on the weekends and attend services at their church. They also enjoyed cooking exotic meals together—Indian dishes were Meghan’s speciality—and “just hanging out.”
“There was always a connection, a respect. You know when you meet a special person because you don’t even have to try, and that’s always how it felt with Meghan. It still does today,” he says. “I am so grateful of that, and happy that we were there for each other. I’d like to think we’ve both contributed in a very small way to each other’s future.”
That much is certainly true. They met up again in London earlier this year, where he was visiting friends and she was in the UK seeing Prince Harry.
Regarding life on campus, Larnelle told a UK newspaper recently: “We were always doing different things, having fun. She was ambitious to be an actress, but we didn’t want to be in rehearsals all day like a lot of the others. We would much rather watch a show than be in one.”
Larnelle, now a professor of drama, continues: “She was very kind, very genuine, someone who cared—and still cares deeply about her family, her friends, and the world. She was also very quirky, and always smiling. I never saw her mad.”
Of those in authority at Northwestern, Professor Harvey Young remembers a young woman ready to take on the world. “My lasting memory of Meghan is her profound sense of self, as she knew who she was. It’s that perspective that I suspected would prepare her well for the world outside,” he says. “I was impressed by her awareness of what it means to be a biracial woman. She was thoughtful, and understood what it means to face prejudice and discrimination.”
He called her a “determined and passionate student,” who began as a briefcase model on the game show Deal or No Deal, but adds that she’s much more than her roles or photo shoots. “She is a proud feminist who speaks out for the UN Women organization.”
And while London’s opulent King’s Road now presents the actress with an abundance of top designers and a limitless budget, she was just as likely to be seen in one of Evanston’s budget hardware stores.
Young continues: “She had presence but was perfectly down to earth. I think that’s a credit to her but also to the university itself. It’s exactly what we want our students to be.”
Larnelle and Young aside, whether others from Northwestern are fixed in Meghan’s memory for long enough to receive an invitation to the wedding remains to be seen. To be held at the 800-capacity chapel within the walls of Windsor Castle, the May 19 event is already seeing a mad scramble for an invitation, with the actress’s Suits peers and good friend Serena Williams solid bets. Harry can choose from military colleagues and veterans right through to athletes and pop royalty—Elton John being the safest bet there—but whether President Donald Trump or Harry’s good friend Barack Obama get the nod is likely to be a touchy subject in the lead-up.
Knowing our Northwestern flag bearer, she will be happy to steer clear of the politics around guest lists and focus on what she does best—being Meghan Markle.