There was nothing at first to catch the eye – just two smartly dressed businesswomen at the packed and rather grand Delaunay restaurant in London's Covent Garden, the sort of place where jobs are proffered and deals are struck.
Discretion, it would seem, was key, not least when the women started leaning in across the starched white tablecloths and whispering in high excitement.
And amid the noisy buzz of lunchtime conversation, only those skilled in lip-reading could have guessed at the cause of their girlish animation. Or, for one of them, its life-changing significance, reports Daily Mail.
"Meghan had just told me, 'I'm going on a date tonight', recalls her dining partner that day, friend and former agent Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne. 'With Prince Harry!'
"I looked at how stunning she was and I just thought: 'There's no way he's going to be able to resist her.'"
She was right, which is not surprising because Gina was the colleague, companion and confidante of the woman who will shortly become the newest and most glamorous member of the Royal Family.
In two years working together, Gina, 52, and Meghan Markle travelled the world for corporate and charity events, enjoying the best restaurants, taking selfies and exchanging intimate anecdotes.
Today, just weeks before the May 19 wedding at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, Gina pays tribute to 36-year-old Meghan, who she describes as unique in her determination to succeed.
Gina is one of only a handful of people who know the inside story of the whirlwind courtship between Meghan and Harry and her account of their romance, by turns candid and affectionate, is compelling.
What emerges is an image of a woman of intelligence and ambition, someone who has survived a broken home and the notorious vagaries of Hollywood to have a fairytale romance with one of the most eligible men on the planet: the Prince who – as Gina reveals – she calls "Haz".
Gina says it was just weeks after their first meeting, when the couple were on holiday in Botswana, that the deal was sealed, and Harry and Meghan knew they would be together.
As Meghan told Gina at the time, with Harry by her side, they could change the world.
Yet, the princess-in-waiting is also ruthless with her time, her attention and her priorities.
She is "picky", not only when it comes to her clothes but also her colleagues, instantly dismissing those who didn't share her "vision".
"Meghan," says her former agent, "likes to move on". Speaking in her London office – a converted warehouse on the Chelsea embankment overlooking the Thames – Gina is clearly fond of Meghan, and it is easy to see why the two women had such a strong connection.
A self-made entrepreneur and businesswoman with an easy charm and piercing green eyes, she worked as a model before moving from her native South Africa to Britain, where she had connections, including her brother-in-law, BBC journalist John Simpson.
Gina and her husband Mark established Kruger Cowne Talent Management and today, more than 20 years on, their clients include Sir Richard Branson, Cher and Elle Macpherson.
She has spent decades rubbing shoulders with celebrities, yet Meghan has made a lasting impression.
It started with the first time they met in October 2014, when Gina and Kruger Cowne were working with the One Young World conference, a youth summit to inspire 18 to 30-year-olds – and Meghan, who was starring in US legal drama Suits, expressed a keen interest in becoming involved.
"When I arrived at Meghan's hotel room, her then boyfriend, Toronto chef Cory Vitiello, opened the door. She was in a towelling bathrobe with her hair tied back.
"We just clicked. We spoke on the phone and through emails a number of times before actually meeting, but it was an instant connection.
"We hugged as if we had known each other for ages. She was delightful – warm and personable. And hugely charismatic.
"I've been in the business a long time and I know that's not something you can train someone to be.
"You've either got it or you haven't and Meghan is a really warm and genuine person. She just has it.
"There's the eye contact and then the connection. She instantly brings you right into her world.
"What people don't realise about Meghan is that she is ferociously intelligent. Even then she was starting to think about her career after Suits.
"She was interested in humanitarian and philanthropic causes – and in animal rights issues, too, but her main focus was and I believe still is women's rights. She wanted to be recognised as a humanitarian.
"She wanted to develop her own causes and the youth summits were perfect for her. Soon after the conference, I asked if she'd like to do more events and she said 'Yes!', so we signed a contract to represent her and I became her agent."
When Meghan was back on set, she would fire off emails to Gina, thanking her for her support.
Her messages, full of exclamation marks, were always signed off the same – very American – way: "Sending love, XOXOXO [hugs and kisses], MM".
"She's a girl's girl and we shared many stories," Gina says.
"She didn't talk much about her ex-husband or her divorce. For her, that was in the past and had no relevance.
"I'm still fond of Meghan and there are things she told me that I'll never repeat but it was clear to me that her relationship with Cory was coming to an end.
"She was getting older and she had been married before so she didn't want to make another mistake.
"She knew then that she wanted children and had planned to have them from a young age. Perhaps that's why she broke up with Cory and wanted to leave Toronto."
But everything was about to change.
As Meghan said in her BBC engagement interview in November, she met Harry on a "blind date" in June 2016, suggesting she had no idea who she would be meeting.
And it was true that Meghan had never actually met the prince. But today Gina reveals that Meghan had taken the opportunity to Google him beforehand – hence her delight at the Delaunay, just a few hours before the date.
Gina recalls: "She whispered it so quietly I had to ask her to repeat it.
"I couldn't believe what I was hearing but I think she could barely believe it either. We were both extremely excited.
"I jokingly asked if she knew what she was letting herself in for and she said: 'Well, it's going to be an experience and at least it will be a fun night.'
"After the date, she was telling me what a great guy he was, a real gentleman, genuinely nice, and when I asked if she would see him again she said: 'Well, it looks like it.'"
In fact, Harry asked her out again the next day and after just a few dates, invited Meghan to join him at a secret hideaway in Botswana.
There, he escorted her on her first wildlife safari. For Harry, the location held a special significance: Prince Charles took him and his brother William to Africa shortly after the death of Princess Diana.
On their return, Meghan told Gina how they had stayed in a tent with spectacular views and had bonded over a shared love of wildlife and conservation.
"I'm sure that the Botswana trip is what clinched the deal," says Gina.
"I knew that would do it for them – Africa has that effect. When they were back, she showed me the most wonderful photographs of the two of them on her phone.
"They were so clearly already in love. She told me it was serious and they had started discussing the future.
"She said they'd said to each other: 'We're going to change the world.' I knew then there was no other way than for them to get married. I was certain it was going to happen.
"All this time I kept their relationship secret as she had asked me. They wanted that space and time to themselves before it became public knowledge.
"It was hard to keep the secret but I would never have betrayed her. I've been running my business side-by-side with my husband for 20 years and we've been married for 30, but I didn't even tell him."
Within just a few months, it was clear that Harry was going to propose.
"One day we were having lunch on the Strand in London and it was obvious it was getting very serious with Harry.
"I repeated my previous warning to her, asking if she knew what she was letting herself in for.
"I said: 'This is serious. This is the end of your normal life, the end of your privacy – everything.'
"But she just held up her hand and said: 'Stop. I don't want to hear any negativity. This is a happy time for us.'
"She is so focused on what she wants and she wasn't going to listen to anything that would cast a shadow, so I just said, 'OK. I'm happy for you, Meghan'."
If Meghan was worried about anything, Gina says, it was whether she was spending enough time with Harry. Not least because she had only short breaks between her intensive filming schedule.
"To see Harry, she needed to swap schedules with her co-stars. She was worried about wanting to be here [in London] and how she was going to manage that."
Gina generously puts Meghan's anxiety over her relationship with Harry as the reason for a growing change in her behaviour – gone was the happy-go-lucky American attitude, replaced with a new and more serious demeanour.
Meghan and Gina flew to Ottawa to attend another One Young World event at the end of September 2016, by which time the couple had been dating for three months.
"There was a big change in her then," says Gina, choosing her words carefully. "She did give me a bit of a difficult time."
At the event, when Meghan was asked by a young reporter for "a few words", she snapped: "Talk to my agent."
"The journalist was taken aback and I was a little shocked because she had never done that before.
"She was always warm and accommodating to everyone previously, which I think is her real nature.
"From that moment on, it seemed to become much harder for her to do anything outside the official brief."
Meghan pulled out of the event halfway through, because she was needed back on the set of Suits.
Gina adds: "Meghan told me later on the phone that she had been sitting in the first-class lounge and was asked to move seats to make way for a group of male Columbian dignitaries.
"She was clearly upset and she told me that she got up gracefully, picked up her bag and moved away but I suspect she was seriously irritated. It was as if this would be the last time anyone would ever ask her to move again."
That was one of the last times that Gina would see her. "She wrote a lovely email in October, a week before the news about her and Harry became public, saying that she was giving up her career and we had to terminate our contract.
"I was disappointed, I'll admit. I realised it meant losing her as a friend as well as a client.
"Professionally, we were just about to sign a big deal with a leading skincare brand and there was talk of a book, but of course I understood why her commercial engagements had to come to an end.
"There was no way she could continue her corporate work while maintaining the relationship with Prince Harry."
The last time she heard from her friend was not from Meghan herself.
"When Gina emailed Meghan, asking permission to use a photograph of her from the youth summit, her lawyers responded.
"Perhaps it says something about her new life," reflects Gina.
"She must get thousands of emails. But it would have been nice if she'd just dropped me a line to say her lawyers were handling it, rather than have them reply to me directly. It's a shame."
It's easy to see that Gina remains sad at the abrupt end to their friendship, although she's too professional to say so.
When it comes to Meghan's future, she has only positive things to say.
"She'll be great – it's a positive thing for the whole nation. I do wonder how she'll cope, being in the public eye so constantly, with no private life at all.
"But I think she's right: Meghan and Harry will change the world."