The royal biographer behind an explosive portrait of Princess Diana has described Meghan Markle as a "supreme networker" who wanted to be "Diana 2.0" in a new biography of Prince Harry's bride-to be.
British journalist Andrew Morton generated international headlines when he published Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words in 1992, based on secret recordings where the "People's Princess" revealed the battles with depression, self-harm and infidelity in her marriage to Prince Charles.
Now, he's published a new biography charting the rise of Meghan Markle from California's suburbs to the first bi-racial woman to enter the House of Windsor based on interviews with old friends, boyfriends and teachers, among others.
It paints a picture of a smart, driven, considered and sometimes cold woman who was "hardwired" to be an activist from the age of 10 when she began writing to companies and politicians.
"She's a networker supreme really and what I do find interesting is that many career women find her something of a role model because she's been able to be a feminist but also feminine," Morton said ahead of the book's publication in London.
"When she was in the TV show Deal Or No Deal, what was striking for her colleagues was that she was the one who was never caught with a glass in her hand, never caught in a silly pose. She was very careful about Brand Meghan."
"She's always been very aware of the right kind of camera angle and the right kind of behaviour."
'The stars were aligned'
The man who has also written about Prince William and Kate, Wallis Simpson, Angelina Jolie and Monica Lewinsky said he believes the "stars were aligned" for Prince Harry who is said to be "besotted" with his American fiancee.
The two were introduced via mutual friend Violet Von Westenholz and had a whirlwind romance that Morton described as a "sliding doors moment, because Harry, 10 years ago, he was falling out of bars drunk, picking fights with paparazzi".
"The Queen would have looked at Meghan and thought, 'American divorcee, let's think again, Harry,'" he said, adding that the monarch's blessing was "vital" for the wedding to go ahead.
"When you think about it, Diana was 36 when she died, Meghan was 36 when she arrives, and she's, in a way, physically picked up the flag that was dropped by Diana."
In a twist of fate the book also describes Meghan's idolisation of Princess Diana for her fashion sense and humanitarian work, describing how she watched the September 1997 funeral including the moment the cameras zoomed on a handwritten card to "Mummy" tragically written by her future husband.
"Inspired by the Princess, [Meghan] and her friend Suzy collected clothes and toys for less privileged children. In fact, such was her interest in the Princess that Suzy's mother Sonia even gave her a copy of my biography, Diana: Her True Story, which remained on her bookshelves for the next few years. As her childhood friend Ninaki Priddy observed: 'She was always fascinated by the royal family. She wants to be Princess Diana 2.0," Morton writes.
Now, he said the public are thrilled to see the "gingerhaired roustabout" happy, and despite some underlying scepticism, he believes it's a "great love story that in 100 years' time people will be saying they were destined for each other".
"He's absolutely crazy about Meghan. We've got a young man who is very much in love, a spring in his step and a smile on his face and everybody wishes him the very best," he said.
"I sincerely think this is a genuine love match. That both their hearts are united but it's a question of getting their heads united in a way that is good for the monarchy and good for themselves."
The comprehensive book details Meghan's unconventional Hollywood upbringing with parents Doria Ragland and Thomas Markle Snr, who split when she was two and her status as a beloved child nicknamed "flower" in the dysfunctional family that includes two half-siblings reportedly excluded from the royal wedding.
She went to a school famous for educating the children of Hollywood heavyweights with classmates like Scarlett Johansson and became renowned for her star quality. Her teenage years were spent between Catholic school and the set of Married ... With Children, where her father worked as lighting director.
She grew up writing letters to companies and managed to get Proctor and Gamble to change the wording in a washing up advertisement, before volunteering in homeless shelters, going to Northwestern University and considering a role in the US State Department while auditioning for TV commercials on the side.
The book also describes a cold side to the woman who returned her wedding rings to her first husband, Trevor Engelson, by post and would deliver a "Meghan chill" to friends "she no longer had the time for" as her star began to rise. Morton notes how she seemed to be "recalibrating her life" with friendships that could "burnish or develop" her career. Her first husband reportedly went from "cherishing Meghan" to feeling "like he was a piece of something stuck to her shoe".
The book claims Meghan's bi-racial identity and activism are core aspects of her personality that will shake up the royal family and could force them to "up their own game because she's a smart new girl on the block".
Although she gave up her lifestyle blog and 1.9 million Instagram followers to join the institution, he expects Harry and Meghan to be a new international "power couple" as William and Kate focus on formal duties at home.
"She will have grasped instantly that here we have a situation where she's giving up a lot in order to hopefully achieve a lot more. She's exchanged her megaphone … for the world wide web and for international influence and ongoing influence."
But she's also going to have to adjust to the "genuine conflict" of being a feminist inside an archaic institution where events as minor as whether or not to wear a black dress to the BAFTAs experience a harsh degree of scrutiny.
"The narrative is always, 'You build them up and knock them down'. I'm sure that the Fleet St mavens will be sharpening their quills to attack her at some point," Morton said about the UK tabloids. "About what? It may be that she's too voluble, she's too confident, there'll be some kind of criticism but so far she's had a pretty good run."