When Meghan Markle was a child, it seemed the closest she would ever get to royalty was an afternoon of make-believe spent with her friends.
Donning a gold crown and cast as the queen in a backyard birthday party skit, the then-8-year-old was a California girl with a budding flair for acting and a father whose career as a lighting director introduced her to the world of Hollywood.
More than 5,000 miles away, her future husband, Prince Harry, was barely 6 years old and adapting to his unique life as Princess Diana‘s second son and a member of the royal family.
Long before they met on a blind date courtesy of a mutual friend, the spotlight found the future American star early when, as an 11-year-old girl, she took issue with a sexist dish soap advertisement geared solely toward women and took the initiative to speak up with letters penned to then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, Linda Ellerbee, Gloria Allred and the soap’s manufacturer, Procter & Gamble. Her efforts made an impact and the company ultimately adjusted the commercial’s wording, a feat she proudly later recalled while speaking at a UN Women event as an official advocate.
Her interests in public service and the arts converged further as she went on to double major in theater and international studies as a student at Northwestern University and dabble in life abroad with a semester spent in Madrid and an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires.
While she initially anticipated a life in politics, an introduction to a manager back home in Los Angeles set Markle on an initially unsteady course as an actress. “Before Suits, I did a pilot every single year,” she recalled to Marie Claire. She landed bit parts on General Hospital and 90210 and films like A Lot Like Love. To make ends meet, she was a suitcase model on Deal or No Deal. “Definitely working on Deal or No Deal was a learning experience, and it helped me to understand what I would rather be doing,” she later candidly told Esquire.
By 2011, the budding American star landed her breakout role as Rachel Zane on USA’s Suits, on which she starred for seven seasons. Behinds the scenes, Markle wed Hollywood producer and longtime boyfriend Trevor Engelson, though the couple split two years later.
While it seemed like her life working and living in Toronto was entirely disconnected from Kensington Palace, she would unexpectedly come significantly close to it when she accepted a date with none other than Prince Harry in the spring of 2016. The two hit it off and by early November of that year, Kensington Palace confirmed their relationship via an official statement from Harry featuring a plea to the press to treat the American star with respect and give her family space.
“We’re a couple,” Markle said publicly for the first time in an October 2017 interview with Vanity Fair. “We’re in love.”
A month later while trying to roast a chicken inside Nottingham Cottage at Kensington Palace, Prince Harry got down on one knee with a ring featuring two diamonds from his late mother’s collection. “It was so sweet and natural and very romantic,” she said of the proposal in their first joint interview to the BBC.
Markle said yes and her future as she knew it changed forever.
Six months later, the couple wed in front of 600 guests—a mix of A-list stars and royalty—as well as 18 million people in Britain alone tuning in to the ceremony on their televisions.
The bride donned two gowns for the occasion—a bespoke A-line Givenchy gown designed by the fashion house’s creative director Clare Waight Keller for the ceremony and luncheon and a curve-hugging, sleeveless silk crepe Stella McCartney gown with a high neck for the evening reception.
While her road to the altar was supremely stylish, it was not without a touch of conflict as her father Thomas Markle was involved in a paparazzi scandal and reportedly suffered health issues days before the wedding dat. Ultimately, he did not walk his daughter down the aisle and, in his absence, the bride asked Prince Charlesto accompany her.
Ultimately, with her mother Doria Ragland by her side on the way to the church, adorable twin page boys to give her a hand with her one-of-a-kind veil, her Hollywood gal pals inside the chapel and her BFF Jessica Mulroney in a nearby seat, Markle was not without a beloved support system as she exchanged vows with her prince.
All that was left to do was seal her real-life fairy tale wedding day with a kiss—or two!
From a childhood pretend queen to a real-life Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle is now officially a royal.
Check out E!’s video above for a numerical recap!