Cosy: Model Oliver Cheshire with Meghan at a charity event in 2013
Her wedding in the chapel of Windsor Castle just over a year ago was a roll call of royalty mixed with the choicest sprinkling of celebrity friends.
TV host Oprah Winfrey, Hollywood actor George Clooney and his glamorous barrister wife Amal, Wimbledon champion Serena Williams, and David and Victoria Beckham were just some of the A-listers who witnessed the marriage of Prince Harry to former actress Meghan Markle.
It was a fitting, if somewhat untraditional, congregation considering the Duchess’s acting past.
But spool back a little further, to the days when she was just another rising American starlet, and Meghan can be found fishing in the shallower end of the showbiz pond.
Indeed, not long before she was introduced to her Prince, you could find her cosying up to a male model on the red carpet, flirting on social media with a former X Factor winner and deliberating whether to go on a date with footballer Ashley Cole.
Of course, hanging out with D-listers was never really going to be the right fit for ambitious and sophisticated Meghan Markle.
But her determination to climb the celebrity ladder — and to jettison anyone who did not fit into the parameters of her new persona — provides a fascinating insight into Meghan’s mindset.
This week, it was revealed that, a few months before she found her Prince, the Duchess of Sussex had flirted on social media with X Factor winner Matt Cardle.
Flirty: Meghan complimented x Factor winner Matt Cardle
Meghan complimented the singer, now 36, as he prepared to hit the West End in 2015.
Cardle, who had won the talent show five years earlier, knew of Meghan from her role in the hit U.S. TV series Suits, and was said to be ‘stunned’ when she started sending him messages. She said that she was a ‘big fan of his work’.
‘Matt couldn’t believe a star like Meghan would even know who he was, so he was very flattered and they chatted a little bit online before she suggested meeting up,’ a source said.
‘But then he met his girlfriend and knew it wasn’t appropriate to keep talking to Meghan, so he ended up ghosting her.
‘It felt like there could have been a connection, but the timing was wrong. He didn’t reply to her last message.’
So what is the story of Meghan’s life before she met Harry?
I can reveal that Meghan spoke of plans to quit Suits and start a new life in London, hoping to find an upper-crust boyfriend from the Made In Chelsea set and possibly even become a fixture on the show.
Television presenter Lizzie Cundy, who was friends with her at the time, said: ‘She told me she wanted to be on an English reality TV show and that she wanted an English boyfriend.
Meghan was warned off dating footballer Ashley Cole
‘She set her sights on Made In Chelsea and worked hard to get in with that crowd. She said that she could only be in Suits for so long and that Hollywood was a really brutal place. She had not made a breakthrough, and said she would feel at home in London.’
Meghan made two visits to London — in 2013 and 2016 — and both appear to have been networking exercises.
By the time of her first trip, she had two advisers helping her with what she called ‘hustle’ — turning her little bit of fame into a little bit more.
One of them was Neil Ransome of the talent agency Insanity Group. He got in touch with people in the media, including journalist Katie Hind, at that time working for the Sunday People newspaper, and said that he was desperate to get some publicity for Meghan.
I’m told Ransome was all but begging journalists to come out to meet Meghan, who was pretty much completely unknown and newly divorced from husband Trevor Engelson.
Ransome, who declined to comment on his very famous former client this week, now has an eclectic range of clients, from model Alexa Chung and singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor to a Tattoo Fixer, from the TV show on E4, and a man who pimps out sports cars for a series on the satellite channel Dave.
The best known of his current clients are radio hosts Vick Hope and Roman Kemp, who present the Capital Breakfast Show in London. He also has The Only Way Is Essex’s Lydia Bright and former rugby player Thom Evans on his books.
Meghan was fortunate also to work with PR man Nick Ede, and his influence can be clearly seen in what happened next.
Left behind? Lizzie Cundy interviewing Meghan at the Global Gift Gala in 2013. The presenter says the Duchess ‘ghosted’ her
Nick, a flamboyant and popular figure on the showbiz circuit, is best pals with Maria Bravo, an actress who founded the Global Gift Foundation.
The non-profit organisation hosts events at selected spots around the world each year, including a celebrity-heavy gala.
Guests include the likes of Victoria Beckham, singer Nicole Scherzinger and the charity’s ambassador, actress Eva Longoria. Celebrities are honoured for their philanthropy, and there is an auction to raise money for global charities.
Ede proposed the almost unknown Meghan be the co-host of the London gala in November 2013. He has since said he has ‘worked with’ Meghan and describes her as ‘too good’ for the Royal Family.
He said: ‘She ticks every single box, from the way that she looks to the way she thinks and speaks. There is nothing that is wrong in her, apart from maybe writing on bananas. But nothing else. She has never put a foot wrong.’
At the 2013 gala, Meghan took on presenting duties with model Oliver Cheshire, one of Ede’s close friends. At the time, Cheshire was dating pop star Pixie Lott, who is now his fiancee.
Meghan and Oliver Cheshire walked the red carpet together and posed with their arms around each other for the cameras.
Former WAG Lizzie Cundy — another of Nick Ede’s friends, who was married to footballer Jason Cundy — went to the event and did a short, filmed report from the red carpet.
The previous day, Lizzie and Meghan had met at a pre-awards dinner hosted by mobile phone tycoon John Caudwell. Others present included tennis star Boris Becker and Eva Longoria.
Lizzie, whose book Tales From The Red Carpet has just been published, was seated next to Meghan, and they became friends.
She said: ‘She’s a great laugh and we had fun straight away. She’s a girlie girl.
‘We were having a chat and then she said: ‘Do you know any famous guys? I’m single and I really love English men.’ So I said: ‘We’ll go out and find you someone.’
‘I was thinking about some of the Chelsea lot and I thought of Ashley Cole, as he had split from Cheryl. I showed her a photo of Ashley and she was like: ‘Oh yeah, he’s cute.’ ‘
Not long afterwards, Meghan went out for drinks with journalist Katie Hind and asked her what she knew about Ashley Cole.
Katie said that, over a bottle of prosecco in the Sanctum Soho Hotel, Meghan revealed that Cole followed her on Twitter and had been ‘trying really hard’ to persuade her to go on a date.
Once close friends: Meghan with Made in Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh
After being told of Cole’s reputation as a cheat, Meghan replied: ‘Thanks, I appreciate it. Some of my friends told me to stay away from him, too. I think I’ll leave it.’
She then returned to Canada and soon started a romance with high-profile chef Cory Vitiello. They were an item from 2014 to 2016.
She settled into a social circle in Toronto which revolved around the exclusive members’ club Soho House.
Her best friend, Jessica Mulroney, is married to Ben, the son of former Canadian PM Brian Mulroney.
The Mulroneys introduced Meghan to crooner Michael Buble at a dinner party at their house in 2015. Buble even put together a Christmas playlist (and plugged his own track, Cold December Night) for her lifestyle blog The Tig, which she has since shut down.
Another prong of the Toronto nexus was Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the wife of Canadian PM Justin. Most important of all was Markus Anderson, a Soho House executive who is her closest male friend and who attended both her hen night and her baby shower. He was positioned at the front of the chapel at her wedding, too.
Not that her elevation in Canadian social circles put an end to her fascination with the British hall of fame.
Shortly after her messages to Matt Cardle, Meghan was followed on Twitter by Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan.
Again, he was surprised when she followed him back right away and started messaging him, saying that she was a big fan of his work.
Morgan recalled: ‘She sent me a private direct message: ‘Well hello there — thanks for the follow. Big fan of yours!’ ‘
He says that they spoke over Twitter regularly about everything from Rwanda to cycling classes, and that she would send him preview episodes of Suits.
In June 2016, she came to London as part of a month-long trip to Europe with friends. Lizzie Cundy saw her again. She said: ‘By now she had become friends with the Made In Chelsea set and she was hoping to get a role on the show. She was close to show stars Millie Mackintosh and Jessica Woodley.
‘She had also got to know TV presenter Natalie Pinkham and Bidders — Adam Bidwell — who was a friend of Harry’s from that trip to Vegas.
‘She still wasn’t much more successful in Hollywood terms and was setting her sights on coming here to live if she could. She wanted it bad, and she did still want an English boyfriend.’ Meghan met with Piers Morgan and spent 90 minutes drinking at his local, the Scarsdale Tavern in Kensington. She asked his advice on the media and requested a favour — that she be interviewed on his breakfast show, Good Morning Britain, on her next visit to help raise her profile.
Then she went to have dinner with friends at 5 Hertford Street in Mayfair. She met Prince Harry at the dinner that night, and Piers never heard from her again.
He said: ‘Meghan Markle is a self-obsessed professional actress who has landed the role of her life and is determined to milk it for all she’s worth.
‘She’s spent most of the past 20 years cosying up to people until they serve no more use to her, then airbrushing them out of her life without so much as: ‘Goodbye, loser!’ I know because I was one of them.’ Harsh? Perhaps. But Piers’s story is echoed in the experience of Lizzie Cundy, who said that she and Meghan exchanged texts when news of her romance with Prince Harry came out.
‘I texted saying: ‘Oh my God, I heard about Harry.’ And she was like: ‘Yeah, I know. We’ll try and hook up.’ She was probably told by the Palace to end contact with people she befriended in the media.
‘I was literally ghosted by her.’
Meghan’s former agent, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, who believed they were friends as well as professional associates, was also ghosted not long after Meghan met Prince Harry.
They had met in October 2014 at a One Young World youth leadership summit. Gina found her ‘hugely charismatic’ and very warm. By 2015, she was Meghan’s agent. In an interview she said it was clear that Meghan’s romance with Cory was coming to an end.
Meghan confided in Gina that she was going on a date with Prince Harry in July 2016.
Gina said: ‘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.’ ‘
Meghan returned from her trip to Botswana with Prince Harry saying: ‘We’re going to change the world.’
By October 2016, after she had been with Prince Harry for three months, she sent Gina an email to say that she was giving up her career and terminating their contract.
Gina later asked Meghan if it was possible to use a photo of her from the youth summit, and was hurt to receive a reply from Meghan’s legal team. As Gina said: ‘Meghan likes to move on.’
Made In Chelsea star Millie Mackintosh is another who can attest to that.
Millie was at Soho Farmhouse over the summer of 2016 when Meghan and Harry were romancing there. Meghan even captioned an Instagram picture of Millie saying how ‘proud’ she was of her friend.
There was talk that Millie was helping her to plan her wedding, but on the day of the ceremony, it became clear this was wide of the mark. Millie was at home, watching events unfold on TV, and minus an invitation.
‘The contact just tailed off,’ says a source. Another suggests Meghan was ‘spooked’ because she suspected Millie was leaking details of their friendship to the Press — which might endanger her romance with Prince Harry.
Nick Ede explained last year: ‘Meghan had a lot of friends. That circle has reduced greatly.’
Lizzie Cundy concurs more bluntly: ‘She ditched everyone.’
Well, not quite everyone.
As Meghan’s make-up artist Daniel Martin revealed in a televised interview with U.S. chat-show host Gayle King recently, she will always make time for life’s A-listers.
Telling King, another new and powerful friend of Meghan, of the moment pop superstars Beyonce and Jay Z accepted a Brit award in February 2018 while posing in front of a portrait of Meghan wearing a tiara, he said: ‘I sent her a pic — I think it was a screen grab of the two of them in front of the portrait. I think all I wrote was: ‘Girl’.
‘She wrote me back like the big eye emoji.’
Startled? Surely not.