Meghan Markle (R), pictured with Prince Harry, was an actress and activist prior to meeting the British royal. Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE
May 17 (UPI) -- Meghan Markle was a successful actress and longtime activist before she ever met Prince Harry.
The 36-year-old star's engagement and impending marriage to the prince has spurred much interest in the woman who will become the first American to marry into the British royal family since 1937.
Markle was born to Thomas W. Markle and Doria Ragland in Los Angeles, and grew up in the Hollywood area. Thomas was a lighting director and director of photography on the Fox sitcom Married... with Children, and introduced Markle to the entertainment industry at a young age.
"Every day after school for 10 years, I was on the set of Married... with Children, which is a really funny and perverse place for a little girl in a Catholic school uniform to grow up," the actress, who attended Catholic schools, said in a 2013 interview with Esquire.
Ragland, meanwhile, was "a free-spirited clinical therapist," according to a November 2016 essay Markle wrote for Elle U.K. She raised the actress "to be a global citizen" and helped foster her love of service from a young age.
"My parents came from little so they made a choice to give a lot: buying turkeys for homeless shelters at Thanksgiving, delivering meals to people in hospices, giving spare change to those asking for it," Markle recalled. "It's what I grew up seeing, so it's what I grew up being."
Meghan Markle attended Northwestern University in Chicago, where she majored in theater and international studies. She also took an African-American studies class that gave her new insight into her biracial heritage -- her father is Caucasian, while her mother is African American.
"It was the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community, too mixed in the white community," the star recalled in the April issue of Allure.
Markle said in a 2015 essay for Elle U.K. that she experienced heartache in college due to her heritage, including her mom being called a racial slur. She has since come to embrace her heritage and reject efforts to neatly define her identity.
"While my mixed heritage may have created a gray area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I'm from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman," the actress said.
Actress and activist
Meghan Markle made her TV debut on General Hospital in 2002 prior to her college graduation, and later appeared on shows including CSI: NY, 90210 and Fringe. She said in her 2015 essay for Elle U.K. that she found she "wasn't black enough for the black roles" nor "white enough for the white ones," until she was cast on the USA Network series Suits, which premiered in 2011.
"It's the Goldilocks of my acting career -- where finally I was just right," the star said of landing the starring role of Rachel Zane. "The show's producers weren't looking for someone mixed, nor someone white or black for that matter. They were simply looking for Rachel."
Markle's success with Suits gave her a platform to promote her humanitarian work and become a voice for gender equality. The self-described "feminist" was named a U.N. women's advocate in 2014 and a global ambassador for World Vision in 2016.
She has traveled to India in support of women and girls who live in slums and visited Rwanda with World Vision Canada.
"With fame comes opportunity, but it also includes responsibility -- to advocate and share, to focus less on glass slippers and more on pushing through glass ceilings. And, if I'm lucky enough, to inspire," she said in her 2016 essay for Elle U.K.
Romance with Prince Harry
Meghan Markle, who was married to producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 to 2013, was first linked to Harry in October 2016 after meeting some months before through a mutual friend. The romance immediately caused a fervor, leading Harry to speak out in an unprecedented statement after Markle was subject to sexist and racist abuse.
"Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle's safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her," the prince said through Kensington Palace in November 2016. "It is not right that a few months into a relationship with him that Ms. Markle should be subjected to such a storm."
Markle and Harry kept a low profile before making their first official appearance as a couple at the 2017 Invictus Games in September. The pair said in an interview with the BBC in November following news of their engagement that Prince Harry's proposal took place during a typical quiet night at home.
"It was just an amazing surprise," Markle said. "It was so sweet and natural and very romantic. He got on one knee. As a matter of fact, I could barely let [Prince Harry] finish proposing. I was like, 'Can I say yes now?'"
Meghan Markle and Harry have made several joint appearances since their engagement in November, including an official visit to Cardiff, Wales, in January. The trips around the U.K. were meant to acquaint Markle with her new home.
Markle and Harry have also attended a number of service-related events, including the Endeavor Fund Awards in February. The event celebrated the achievements of veterans in sporting and adventure challenges.
"Each of the veterans has overcome adversity and used adventure as a catalyst for their recovery," Kensington Palace said.
Harry, who served in the British army for 10 years, supports a number of veterans organizations. He and Markle spent time with service members and veterans at the Invictus Games U.K. trials in April.
Meghan Markle and Harry will marry May 19 at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. The couple have shared several details about their wedding, including specifics about their ceremony, flowers and cake.
Markle and Harry have asked well-wishers to donate to their charities of choice instead of giving wedding gifts, reflecting their shared commitment to service.
"The couple have personally chosen 7 charities which represent a range of issues that they are passionate about, including sport for social change, women's empowerment, conservation, the environment, homelessness, HIV and the Armed Forces," Kensington Palace said in April.
Kensington Palace confirmed in November Markle intends to become a U.K. citizen after the wedding, CNN reported. The actress will retain U.S. citizenship as she applies to become a U.K. citizen, a process that is expected to take several years.
Markle exited Suits following the Season 7 finale in April. Her departure from the USA Network series will allow her to focus on her humanitarian work and new duties as a member of the royal family.
"I'm excited to really just get to know more about the different communities here [in the U.K], smaller organizations. We're working on the same causes that I've always been passionate about," the actress said in the BBC interview.
"I don't see it as giving anything up," she said of leaving Suits. "I just see it as a change. A new chapter."