Diana would have been thrilled - Meghan's just the kind of woman she wanted to be: From RICHARD KAY, the writer who knew Harry's mother best, a tantalising insight into how she'd feel today

  • Richard Kay has revealed that Diana used to wonder who Harry would marry?
  • He said that Diana thought Harry could marry anyone from any background
  • His thoughts on the royal family come after Harry announced his engagement?
  • Prince Harry is expected to marry American actress Meghan Markle next year

Sitting on the pink striped sofa in her drawing room at Kensington Palace, Princess Diana was playing one of her favourite parlour games: who might Prince Harry marry?

The question, loaded with intrigue, was asked with deliberate mischief and to Diana held endless possibilities.

She knew, she told me, that William's future would take care of itself. As heir in line to the throne, his life choices would be predetermined by the need to produce children and secure the monarchy's line of succession.

Harry, on the other hand, could afford to take his time, in the knowledge that normal conventions would not apply. Diana, who also daydreamed about a new life in America, believed he could marry someone from any background or corner of the earth. And, yes, that could include a divorcee.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle appeared at a photocall at London's Kensington Palace today after announcing their engagement

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle appeared at a photocall at London's Kensington Palace today after announcing their engagement

Miss Markle's wedding ring features diamonds from Diana's collection. Pictured above, Diana and Harry in a photo featured in the?documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy

Miss Markle's wedding ring features diamonds from Diana's collection. Pictured above, Diana and Harry in a photo featured in the?documentary Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy

At 36, Meghan is the same age Diana was when she died and she displays the Princess's easy confidence
And like Diana, she radiates a natural likeability, writes Kay

At 36, Meghan is the same age Diana was when she died and she displays the Princess's easy confidence. And like Diana, she radiates a natural likeability, writes Kay

She hoped both boys would spend some time as young adults living in the U.S., where she was convinced they could wear their celebrity more easily than in Britain.

That particular ambition has not, so far, come true. But by choosing Meghan Markle as his bride, Harry has fulfilled Diana's casually mentioned prediction of the sort of girl he would marry — and that Meghan comes from America at least goes some way to answering her hope that he might one day cross the Atlantic.

Certainly, the spirit of Diana was all around yesterday as Harry introduced his bride to the world — from an engagement ring made with some of the Princess's own diamonds, to the Sunken Garden at Kensington Palace where they posed for pictures and to which Diana had her own key.

And it is within the grounds of Kensington Palace that they will begin their married life.

Nottingham Cottage, cosy and decorated in the style of a country retreat — there is even an open fire in the drawing room — is the perfect love nest.

The three-up, three-down property is directly opposite Apartments 8 and 9 where Harry grew up with his mother. As well as a sitting room, it has a dining room and separate kitchen. Upstairs are three bedrooms and bathrooms.

Unlike in Harry's childhood home, however, there is no room for live-in staff so the privacy will suit the couple down to the ground.

At 36, Meghan is the same age Diana was when she died and she displays the Princess's easy confidence. And like Diana, she radiates a natural likeability.

In many ways Meghan is the young woman Diana yearned to become, whose successes and achievements she has earned for herself, not just through marrying into the Royal Family.

While Diana Spencer's wedding to Prince Charles propelled her onto the world stage, it was only after her divorce that she finally found a way to use that fame and turn it into a meaningful role.

Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince Harry on holiday in Majorca, Spain on August 10, 1987
Diana and Harry pictured in Palma, Spain, on August 13, 1988

Diana, Princess of Wales with Prince Harry on holiday in Majorca, Spain on August 10, 1987, left, and right in Palma, Spain, on August 13, 1988

Meghan Markle said 'yes' immediately to Prince Harry after he proposed on one knee while they were cooking dinner, the couple said today in their first joint interview

Meghan Markle said 'yes' immediately to Prince Harry after he proposed on one knee while they were cooking dinner, the couple said today in their first joint interview

With her landmines campaign she garnered huge international attention — but tragically that success, and the huge sense of accomplishment it gave Diana, came only in the last months of her life.

Meghan has already used her stardom to carve out a parallel life in the charity sector, with a wide range of humanitarian concerns — among them, driving a clean-water campaign in Rwanda, tackling poverty and injustice as a global ambassador for World Vision, speaking out against moder-day slavery and working as an advocate for the United Nations on gender equality.

How Diana would have longed for a CV to match that of Harry's fiancée.

It was perhaps inevitable that Harry would be drawn to her. He has been beguiled by her beauty, certainly, but also intoxicated by a young woman who has not only had to make her way in the world but had to overcome its prejudices, too.

Her charitable commitments will have struck a chord with Harry.

And with her megawatt smile, smart grasp of social media — she used to have her own lifestyle blog —and relaxed informality in front of the cameras, it is tempting to wonder if Meghan will be the next Diana in terms of her global appeal.

Consider how she has adjusted so stylishly to dating a member of the Royal Family.

Unlike Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas, Harry's two previous long- term girlfriends who were unknown until they started seeing Harry, Meghan was a successful actress already in the public eye.

From the very beginning she seemed comfortably at home in the neighbourhood of Kensington Palace, walking around freely just as Diana used to do with William and Harry when they were small.

Richard Kay writes that she believe that Harry could marry anyone, from any corner of the earth. Diana and Harry are pictured together above

Richard Kay writes that she believe that Harry could marry anyone, from any corner of the earth. Diana and Harry are pictured together above

With her dark hair scraped under a brown baseball cap borrowed from her royal beau, she looked just like any other young woman heading for the shops.

The three-storey Whole Foods Market store near the Palace, which she popped into just over a year ago, may have been chosen because she is familiar with the American-owned shop back home in Los Angeles.

In the past, previous girlfriends who 'stayed over' with Harry in his private quarters did so in secrecy. Chelsy Davy was reported to have spent the night at his former apartment in St James's Palace on several occasions, but no one was to know about it.

Likewise, when Diana had visitors they often arrived under false names or were hidden from view under a blanket in the back of a car.

At least one of the Princess's lovers was frequently smuggled in and out of the palace curled up in the boot of a car driven by her former butler, Paul Burrell.

But with Meghan Markle it has been very different. Notably, there has been no attempt to deceive or evade the media.

Meghan walked openly past the Palace's tight security. Harry's staff advised the police sentries on duty that she would be passing in and out of the palace.

According to a former royal bodyguard, the police post would have been informed she should be allowed to proceed without any checks.

The spirited confidence that allowed Meghan to venture out from Kensington Palace on a casual shopping expedition was further evidence of part of her appeal to the Prince, who is three years her junior.

Even her decision to pack her purchases from Whole Foods in a 'bag for life' emblazoned with the logo of a right-on charity committed to ending poverty demonstrated a young woman at ease with herself and with none of the insecurities of Harry's other girlfriends.?

Diana, The Princess Of Wales And Prince's William And Harry Attend The VJ Day 50th Anniversary Celebrations In London on August 19, 1995

Diana, The Princess Of Wales And Prince's William And Harry Attend The VJ Day 50th Anniversary Celebrations In London on August 19, 1995

Prince Harry said in an interview on Monday that it was on special occasions that he 'really missed' his mother. They're pictured above together on August 19, 1995

Prince Harry said in an interview on Monday that it was on special occasions that he 'really missed' his mother. They're pictured above together on August 19, 1995

For his part, Harry's failure to convert either of his previous long-term romances into anything permanent weighed on his mind before he met Meghan.

Friends have said that in introspective moments he tended to blame himself for the fact those relationships went wrong, particularly with Cressida, who found the attention that went with being a royal girlfriend overwhelming.

His longest relationship was with Chelsy, a Zimbabwe-born solicitor and businesswoman whom he has previously described as 'very special' and 'amazing'.

Their on-again, off-again relationship spanned six years but they split in 2011, with Chelsy admitting that she struggled dating a royal.

'It was so full-on: crazy and scary and uncomfortable,' she said in an interview last year. 'I found it very difficult when it was bad. I couldn't cope... I was trying to be a normal kid, and it was horrible.'

If it was stressful for Chelsy, things got progressively worse for Harry. In 2012, he later admitted, he had been 'very close' to a complete mental breakdown.

Haunted by the death of his mother and unable to come to terms with the grief he had bottled up for years, he eventually sought counselling on the advice of his brother, after confiding that he had been on the verge of punching someone.

It was probably not the best frame of mind in which to begin a romance with Cressida Bonas, a sweet up-and-coming actress whom he dated until 2014.

They were introduced by his cousin and her close friend Princess Eugenie, and friends talked confidently of marriage. The rumours gathered pace when Cressida, daughter of the Sixties It-girl Lady Mary-Gaye Curzon, joined the Prince at one of his official engagements for the first time and they embraced in front of the cameras.?

Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Harryn walk near Eton College alongside Prince William on his first day at the school on September 16, 1995

Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Harryn walk near Eton College alongside Prince William on his first day at the school on September 16, 1995

But just a month later they split, while insisting they remained 'the best of friends'.

Harry's hunt for a wife — and his dream of finding the deep fulfilment that William had found with Kate — eluded him.

Of course, as one of the world's most eligible young bachelors, Harry has rarely been far away from female company.

In March 2007 he was photographed appearing to take a swing at a paparazzo after leaving a London nightclub where he had been partying with the TV presenter Natalie Pinkham.

Following his final break-up with Chelsy, Harry had a fling with society lingerie model Florence Brudenell-Bruce, a former love of Formula One ace Jenson Button.

Harry was also linked to socialite Astrid Harbord, who was spotted going back to Clarence House with the Prince at 3am after a night on the town, and to leggy TV presenter and model Caroline Flack, who once described herself as 'Prince Harry's bit of rough'.

At one time he was rumoured to be dating Saturdays singer Mollie King, now one of the contestants on TV's Strictly Come Dancing, though she protested at the time that he was 'out of my league'.

He was even linked, following a 'very cosy chat' at a polo party, with Victoria star Jenna Coleman.

But these were mere distractions. For Harry, meeting Meghan Markle was nothing less than a coup de foudre.

This would explain the extraordinary and heartfelt statement he issued last year, confirming their relationship. He deplored the harassment and abuse she was receiving on social media as a result of it, and expressed his 'deep disappointment' that he could not protect her. How Diana longed for a similar gesture of support when she was dating Charles and had to run the gauntlet of the paparazzi quite alone.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle after their engagement announcement today at Kensington Palace
Princess Diana, in June 1994 at the Serpentine Gallery

Prince Harry said that his new fiancee Meghan Markle and his mother Princess Diana (right, at the Serpentine Gallery in London, 1994) would have been 'best friends'

When Diana drove through the gates of Buckingham Palace for the first time, she thought it would be the moment an exciting new life dawned. But it was not long before she started to grieve for the old life she had lost.

To take just a small example, she was never again able to climb into that car on her own. From then on, there would always be a detective — her personal protection officer — in the passenger seat.

He was there for security reasons, obviously, but his looming presence left her too embarrassed to listen to her favourite radio station. As for singing along, that was out of the question.

These are the sorts of changes that lie ahead for Meghan Markle as she adjusts to her new life as a member of the Royal Family. And from what we have seen of her so far, I am sure she will take them in her stride.

With Kate, her Palace neighbour and future sister-in-law, to guide her, she will be in good hands.

One thing is for sure. Meghan's arrival in their midst means that in the glamour stakes, the Royal Family is entering a new era. For while Kate and Meghan will surely be friends and allies, they will be competitors too.

Not even in the days when Diana and Sarah Ferguson were the royals' bright young things did the future of the monarchy look quite so fascinating.

Back at that Kensington Palace parlour game, Diana asked one close friend what advice she should give her sons about their future partners. 'Tell them to marry their best friends,' came the reply.

Yesterday, when asked in their TV interview what Diana would have made of Meghan, Harry said: 'Oh, they'd be thick as thieves, without question. I think she would be over the moon — jumping up and down, you know, so excited for me, but then, as I said, she would have probably been best friends — best friends with Meghan.'

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