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The day Meghan Markle let her ruthless side show

Meghan Markle and her former husband Trevor Engelson pictured together in 2006

When Meghan Markle made the decision to end her marriage to film producer Trevor Engelson in 2013, she acted swiftly — and some might say callously.

Instead of flying from her new home in Toronto to Los Angeles, where the couple had shared a bungalow, to return her engagement and wedding rings in person, she simply sent them back to him by post.

Engelson, whom she’d met when she was an aspiring actress and who’d mentored her to stardom in the TV series Suits, had been devastated by his wife’s ‘out of the blue’ request for a divorce barely two years after they married.

But it was not the first indignity he had suffered. Even before she called time on their marriage, when she moved to Canada to take up that starring role in the TV drama Suits, she took with her their expensive food-mixer.

According to a revealing new biography of Ms Markle, it was a statement of intent — and of her newfound independence.

‘She was her own woman now, earning a steady income, making new friends on-set and off, no longer dependent on her husband’s connections,’ the author writes. ‘A £360 Vitamix blender symbolised the divide.

‘She insisted her favourite kitchen appliance from their West Hollywood home come with her to Toronto. She packed it into the back-seat of her car. It then sat on the kitchen counter in the Toronto house — a material reminder that her home was no longer in Los Angeles.’

Meghan was married to film producer Trevor for two years who gave her a small role in the film Remember Me

Meghan was married to film producer Trevor for two years who gave her a small role in the film Remember Me

It is an image far removed from what we have seen thus far of the royal bride-to-be — a sweet-natured and compassionate woman who can barely believe her good fortune at becoming engaged to a prince.

Doubtless there is a measure of truth in this.However, in his book, to be published this month, renowned royal biographer Andrew Morton portrays the 36-year-old actress in a very different light, suggesting a far more complex — and possibly calculating — character.

Though Morton describes it as ‘an old-fashioned story of a local girl makes good’, he shows how Meghan has harboured dreams of becoming a princess since she was a teenager. Her ambition is to ‘become Diana 2.0’, according to her closest school friend.

Meghan is set to marry Prince Harry on May 19 after they began a romance in 2016

Meghan is set to marry Prince Harry on May 19 after they began a romance in 2016

In extracts published this weekend, the author also presents Meghan’s capacity for ruthlessness, describing how she has expunged people she once held dear from her life as she set about elevating her social and professional status.

Morton’s depiction of Meghan builds on my own portrayal of her in an exclusive Daily Mail series last year, and draws on many of the same sources. However, the author who made his name in 1992 with Diana: Her True Story, which exposed her shockingly dysfunctional marriage to Charles, takes the extraordinary narrative further.

It begins with Meghan’s own dysfunctional upbringing, which did much to shape her character. Her father, Thomas, was a leading Hollywood lighting director in his mid-30s when he met her mother, Doria, who was 12 years his junior and temping in his studio as a make-up artist. They married and were overjoyed when, a year later, Meghan was born, in August 1981.

But their happiness was fleeting. As Morton recounts, they lived in a predominantly white suburb where neighbours would mistake her black mother for the nanny or nursemaid. On top of this bigotry, Thomas worked 80 or 90 hours a week, leaving his young wife to care alone for Meghan and her step-siblings, Thomas Junior and Yvonne (who later took the name Samantha) — her husband’s teenage children by his first marriage.

With baby Meghan the apple of her father’s eye, her half-sister resented her from the outset. And while she was upstairs in her crib, Thomas Jnr, then 15, admitted to Morton that he would smoke cannabis downstairs with his friends.

Matters came to a head when his father caught them passing round a joint. To get them out of the house, he dreamt up a grotesque ruse. After changing Meghan’s nappy, he fetched a spoon from the kitchen and pretended to eat from it, Morton writes.

In fact, he had filled a clean nappy with chocolate pudding, but his son’s friends were duly repulsed and never returned. By the time Meghan was two years old, Doria had had enough and moved out, though four years would pass before her parents divorced. As they shared custody of her, Meghan was shunted between them.

The royal bride-to-be during her time as a 'briefcase girl' on Deal or No Deal

The royal bride-to-be during her time as a ‘briefcase girl’ on Deal or No Deal

According to one of her teachers, this caused Meghan difficulties — ‘one parent over here, one over there, neither of them particularly fond of each other’.

However, according to a school-friend, mediating between the warring factions taught Meghan how to control her emotions.

At two, her had parents enrolled her in the Little Red School House, an exclusive creche for stars’ children, where she began performing in plays. At one of her early performances, a girl with tangled blonde hair, jam-jar glasses and an awkward manner was in the chorus line. Today, Scarlett Johansson is the world’s highest paid actress.

Yet Meghan’s early introduction to showbusiness also had disquieting overtones. At nine, her father, who was then working on the raunchy comedy Married With Children, would pick her up from school then take her to the set with him.

There, she sat quietly in a corner, watching the enactment of scenes possibly too candid for a little girl’s eyes, involving semi-nudity and risqué sexual jokes. As Meghan said pointedly later: ‘It was a very perverse place to grow up. I went to Catholic school.’

Around this time, in 1990, her father had a stroke of luck, although it quickly turned sour.

An old friend was quoted in the upcoming book saying 'she wants to be princess Diana 2.0'

An old friend was quoted in the upcoming book saying ‘she wants to be princess Diana 2.0’

After winning $750,000 (£530,000) in the California State Lottery (using Meghan’s birth date to select his numbers), he decided to keep the windfall secret because he was still embroiled in a financial wrangle with Doria over the divorce. To avoid registering his name with the authorities, he sent a friend to Chicago to collect his prize-money. According to Thomas Jnr, the plan backfired when this surrogate swindled his father out of the money, which was invested in a failed jewellery business.

With this troubled background, what was it that kindled a young American girl’s fascination with the British Royal Family — and why in particular did Diana become her heroine?

Morton dates the origins of Meghan’s obsession to September 6, 1997, when, aged 16, she watched the funeral of Diana with her friends, ‘tears coursing down their cheeks at the poignant moment when the cameras zoomed in on the royal coffin’ .

Among the display of white flowers, did she notice an envelope simply marked ‘Mummy’ and containing 12-year-old Harry’s last message to his beloved mother?

Diana’s death was, Morton notes, a seminal event in Meghan’s life. She was gripped by a subsequent debate, during a philosophy lesson at school, on the paradox of a glamorous and world-renowned humanitarian — and loving mother — whose life was cruelly cut short.

Afterwards, she and her friend Suzy Ardakani watched old videos of Diana’s 1981 wedding to Prince Charles. Ironically, she also became absorbed in a book given to her by Suzy’s mother: Morton’s own work, Diana: Her True Story, which remained on her bookshelves for years afterwards.

As Morton writes: ‘According to family and friends, she was intrigued by Diana not just for her style but for her independent humanitarian mission, seeing her as a role model.’

Meghan had an acute sense of social justice from a young age, campaigning to ban a ‘sexist’ soap TV powder advert at just ten years old. Later, she and her friends worked at the Hippie Kitchen, a homeless shelter frequented by crack cocaine addicts in LA.

She also began standing up against racism, and befriended a classmate who was picked on because she had epilepsy.

For a young girl, this was courageous and laudable, of course. What better woman than Diana for a young girl to model herself on — someone who had lent her allure to shunned causes such as Aids and a ban on landmines? However, remembering the TV interview that Meghan and Harry gave to mark their engagement, these new revelations about her teenage fixation with Diana do beg a rather awkward question.

During that first appearance before the British public, last November, Meghan said this: ‘Because I’m from the States, we don’t grow up with the same understanding of the Royal Family and so, while I now understand very clearly that there’s a global interest there, I didn’t know very much about him (Harry).’

Morton’s book suggests this remark was rather disingenuous.

He quotes another old friend, Ninaki Priddy, as saying: ‘She was always fascinated by the Royal Family. She wants to be princess Diana 2.0.’

During her schooldays, Meghan, who wore braces on her teeth and dressed conservatively, was something of a tomboy. But when she left home to study theatre and international relations at Northwestern University, in Illinois, Morton says she cut loose.

‘Now that she wasn’t under the watchful gaze of her mother, she started wearing heavier make-up and experimented with highlighting her hair,’ he writes. ‘She also packed on a “freshman 15” [pounds] — weight gained from drinking, munching starchy dorm food and making late-night trips to the 24-hour Burger King.’

Nonetheless, the more sophisticated Meghan joined a society full of girls considered ‘intelligent hot messes’ (parlance for bright and chaotically beautiful) and was considered a ‘cool catch’.

During my own inquiries into this period, I discovered her closest friend to have been a gay theatre student named Larnelle Quentin Foster. Morton, however, has identified her first college boyfriend, a ‘chiselled, white 6ft 5in basketball player from Ohio’, whom he names only as ‘Steve’.

‘Her sorority sisters were ‘impressed she’d snared a hottie’,” Morton writes

It was short-lived, however, for Steve was ‘committed to his sporting ambitions’, while Meghan was a party animal.

The scene now switches to Buenos Aires where Meghan’s uncle Mick Markle was a U.S. government communications systems specialist who helped her secure an internship at the U.S. embassy there.

Meghan was so intrigued by the diplomatic world that she sought to make it her career, but abandoned this plan after failing the Foreign Service Officer test. She headed back to Los Angeles to pursue her acting ambitions.

Vying for minor parts with thousands of Hollywood hopefuls was a ‘scratchy, hand-to-mouth existence’, but her fortunes improved after she met Trevor Engelson on a night-out in a dive-bar in West Hollywood.

A brash, fast-rising film producer, more than 6ft tall, with reddish blond hair and blue eyes, the New Yorker captivated her.

‘He was a guy with an aphorism for every occasion,’ writes Morton. ‘“Hope is the greatest currency we have in this business,” he told the wide-eyed wannabe. True or not, it’s a great pick-up line.”

Meghan and Trevor set up home together, and were clearly besotted with one another. However, if Meghan hoped he would cast her in his films, she was wrong.

According to Morton, Engelson’s reluctance to provide her with meaningful work ‘was to become a constant source of conflict for the couple’.

It meant she was forced to accept demeaning jobs such as appearing as one of the ‘briefcase girls’ in the gameshow Deal Or No Deal. For $800 a day, she would parade around in a low-cut, red mini-dress — ‘so tight she couldn’t bend down to put on her six-inch stilettos — attempting to seduce contestants into guessing the amount of money in her case, which contained anything from one cent to a million dollars.

According to Morton, plenty of celebrities dropped by hoping ‘to get up close and personal with the girls’, including Donald Trump, who was making an appearance to promote his show, The Apprentice.

‘He gave the girls his card and invited them to play golf at one of his courses,’ another ‘briefcase girl’ Tameka Jacobs told the author. ‘He was super-creepy but some girls were attracted to money and power and took his number. Meghan was one of the girls who gave him a wide berth.”

By the time Meghan and Engelson were married, in a Jewish-style wedding at a Jamaican beach resort, in 2011, she was about to start filming the second season of Suits and was on her way to becoming an established star. It meant living in Toronto, where the series is filmed, for nine months of the year. Engelson moved his office to New York, an hour away by plane, in an effort to see her more regularly, and they kept in touch via Skype.

However, as Morton notes, ‘all too soon, cracks began to appear in the marriage. What once endeared now irritated.

‘A self-confessed perfectionist, Meghan had tolerated Trevor’s scattered approach to life for years. He was notorious for arriving late, his clothes rumpled. Meghan, who once said she couldn’t imagine life without Trevor, was now building a new world for herself alone.’

He was not the only one to experience the Meghan chill. ‘Her friends in LA noticed the change in her now that she was on her way up. She no longer had time for mates she had known for years … a networker to her finger-tips, she seemed to be recalibrating her life, forging new friendships with those who could develop her career.’

Immersed in a powerful new circle of friends, including Jessica Mulroney (who is expected to be her maid of honour at next month’s wedding), daughter-in-law of Canada’s former prime minister Brian Mulroney, Meghan told Trevor she wanted a divorce in the summer of 2013.

‘It was such a bolt from the blue,’ Morton writes in his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess, ‘that even after five years he can barely contain his anger.

‘I have zero to say about her,’ he has said to inquirers.

Trevor went from cherishing Meghan to, as one friend observed, ‘feeling like he was a piece of something stuck to the bottom of her shoe’.

No doubt this feeling was exacerbated by the insensitive way she chose to return his rings.

By then, however, ‘her stock and standing were rising. She was invited to film premieres, she launched a clothing line, and became friends with a host of celebrities… she advocated for the UN and undertook meetings at the World Bank and the Clinton Foundation.’

‘As her celebrity status rose, so did her price tag. Meghan’s rate? Upwards of $20,000 for an appearance.’

Her friend, writer Lindsay Roth, also made Meghan the ill-disguised central character in a chick-lit novel about an ambitious actress, called What Pretty Girls Are Made Of.

Perhaps in an indication of where Meghan and her friends were by now training their sights, Miss Roth sent a copy of the book to the Duchess of Cambridge. What Morton doesn’t say in the book (but I have discovered) is that Palace officials sent her a warm letter of thanks.

A couple of years later, the wheel of fortune Meghan had set in motion spun to a halt in a manner she surely couldn’t have envisaged even in her teenage dreams: she found herself on a blind-date with Prince Harry.

The meeting, in the summer of 2016, was reportedly orchestrated by Violet von Westenholz, a baron’s daughter who did PR work with Ralph Lauren for whom Meghan happened to be a ‘brand ambassador’.

Last autumn, when their engagement was imminent and a meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace beckoned, Morgan writes revealingly, Meghan prepared for the occasion by making secret excursions to the Rose Tree Cottage — ‘a little slice of England in LA’, where she practiced sipping tea.

It was to be the biggest moment of her life — and Meghan was determined to rehearse her part to perfection.