If there are two women fascinating royal watchers right now they're Meghan Markle and the Duchess of Cambridge. At first glance they appear very different – one is a sassy, divorced American TV actress raised in Hollywood, while the other grew up in the quiet of the British countryside and married her university sweetheart – but the duo share important similarities. Prince Harry is said to look on Kate as a sister and greatly admire his brother's choice. So it should come as no surprise that his search for The One has led him to someone who shares many of his sister-in-law's best qualities.
Now, with the news that he's presented Meghan to the Queen over tea, it seems to be a question of when, not if, the couple will wed, meaning that these two accomplished women will become not only sisters-in-law, but the powers behind the throne in the 21st century. Here we take a look at what they have in common, how they differ, and why their points of contrast will be an advantage for Team Windsor.
The public seems to have already embraced Harry's choice, with a HELLO! poll finding that 72 per cent of those asked think that now is the right time for the Prince to propose and another 64 per cent convinced that his leading lady would be an asset to the monarchy.
No one seeing him with 36-year-old Suits star Meghan could be in any doubt that this is the grown up, serious relationship that he's been waiting for. Squiring her on their first public outing together, the Queen's grandson seemed protective, proud and thrilled to have her as his plus one.
Last month's apparently casual but carefully stage-managed appearance – "unofficially official" as one royal commentator put it – seemed a strong sign that the Windsors will soon have to dust off the Welsh gold that is traditionally used for their wedding bands. The choice of venue – at the Invictus Games, the Prince's Paralympian-style event for wounded veterans – was laden with symbolism. As was the timing.
For Harry, who has spent 2017 opening up about the decades-long dark night of the soul he experienced while mourning his mother, this was a signal that at last work, love and life are all perfectly aligned. Having processed his painful past, the Queen's grandson is now ready to move forward. Speaking of his royal role, he once said: "It would be great to have someone else next to me to share the pressure." Well, now he has.
And they may even already be engaged. The pair's first public outing came after a blissful three-week African safari when they're thought to have walked the bush at dawn, camped under the stars and made plans for the future. Naturally it had echoes of an occasion in 2010 when Prince William and Kate surprised us by arriving together at a high-profile event, straight after holidaying in Kenya, where they had become secretly engaged. Pictures of Harry and Meghan now show the same glow of love and excitement that we saw back then.
Princesses next door
In the past, royal ladies were encouraged to be regal, even aloof, but now accessibility is prized. Anyone seeing Kate dancing with Paddington Bear recently will recognise that she combines enviable poise with a sense of fun. Right from the start the Duchess won praise for the natural way in which she chats with the public on walkabouts. The future Queen Catherine is often heard sharing stories about "the chaos" of raising George and Charlotte, her worries over Prince William riding a motorbike and how he "isn't good with spices" when it comes to his eating habits.
William's potential sister-in-law shows the same ease and elan. As an actress she's perfected the tricky balance between fame and guarding her privacy.
On responding to requests for autographs or selfies, she says: "Even if I'm having a bad day, I never forget that this might be a fan's only opportunity to meet me and for them it's really exciting, so I have to be present for them."
We know she's the kind of girl that you could chat to about boys and fashion over a glass of rosé, because she is adept at communicating with fans via social media. And those posts reveal a naughty sense of humour that Harry will have found appealing. His love has posted about everything from travelling off the beaten path to her rescue dogs and "taking yourself out to dinner and buying yourself flowers" when single. At the same time, she's admirably discreet about the intimate details of her personal life, which is why it was six months before her royal relationship became public.
Approachable doesn't mean soft or pliable. Both Kate and Meghan have the strength required to deal with life in the public eye. This was seen in Kate's dignified 'keep calm and carry on' demeanour during her 2007 break-up with Prince William. "I wasn't happy about it but you learn quite a lot about yourself," she said during the couple's engagement interview. That steely resolve also stood the Duchess in good stead following the publication of topless paparazzi photos of her on a private holiday in France in 2012.
This summer Meghan addressed the baggage that comes with dating a Prince. In a first for a potential royal bride she gave an interview to Vanity Fair, saying: "Right out of the gate it was surprising the way things changed. But I still have this support system all around me, and, of course, my boyfriend's support."
She went on to insist: "I've never defined myself by my relationship." The support she talks of includes other strong women, such as her friends Serena Williams and actress Priyanka Chopra, who says: "Meghan is not just a plus one. It's nice to have your own identity too."
Should she marry into the the royal family, Meghan clearly won't be crushed by the weight of the monarchy.
Meghan's style might best be described as ladylike chic with an edge – her jeans are sometimes ripped, a white shirt will be untucked and an elegant dress toughened up with a leather jacket. She knows how to look gorgeous without baring too much, and she knows the value of great tailoring. With Kate's help she will learn the rules of royal dressing, while the Duchess may also find her own classic style being influenced by Meghan. Kate, who has already begun including smaller independent labels into her wardrobe along with Alexander McQueen and Jenny Packham, could become even more daring.
As she made her transition to public life, Kate remained very much anchored by her parents Carole and Michael and siblings James and Pippa. "We spend a lot of time together and do a lot together as a family," explained her little sister, adding that "We can treat each other normally. That's kept us all affixed to the ground."
The Middletons have been very involved in the upbringing of Prince George and Charlotte. In fact when Kate first left hospital with her newborn she took him straight to the family home in Bucklebury, Berks – the first time an heir to the British throne started life outside palace walls.
Meghan enjoys a similar bond with her mother, African American social worker and yoga instructor Doria Ragland, whom she describes as a "free spirit". "I'm always proud of this beautiful woman," she wrote on Mother’s Day in 2016. Unlike Kate, Meghan's mother Doria and father, Hollywood lighting director Thomas Markle, are divorced, but they have remained on friendly terms, often sitting down to meals together and taking holidays with their daughter. This background will strike a chord in modern Britain, where the conventional family is increasingly rare.
Dedicated to doing good
The American beauty credits her mother with opening her eyes to the harsh realities of the world through visits to the slums of Jamaica and Mexico. These early experiences nurtured a fiercely compassionate streak in Meghan. "I've never wanted to be a lady who lunches," she has said. "I've always wanted to be a woman who works."
She is a United Nations advocate for women and has visited Rwanda and India to promote sanitation and female empowerment projects. In 2015 her speech at the UN for Women's Day was met with a standing ovation led by then Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Kate, of course, has emerged as an equally passionate charity campaigner, with her husband revealing that she was the inspiration for the groundbreaking mental health crusade she spearheads with himself and Harry. She is also a great supporter of the arts and culture as patron of the National Portrait Gallery and the Natural History Museum, and volunteers with the Scouts.
A breath of fresh air
As a mixed-race woman and a divorcée – she was married to producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 to 2013 – Meghan would be something of a departure for the royal family. But the House of Windsor has moved with the times, and her addition to the fold is likely to be seamless. We shouldn't forget that it was Kate who paved the way. She was the first university graduate to become a British Princess, the first to have lived with her husband before marriage – and the first to release professional standard, official family photos taken by herself.