Prince Harry is engaged to his girlfriend, American actress Meghan Markle, with the marriage due to take place in the spring of 2018. Harry, 33, currently fifth in line to the throne, and Markle, 36, best known for her role in the US TV legal drama Suits, became engaged earlier this month.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
25 September 2017: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle hold hands at the wheelchair tennis event during the Invictus Games in Toronto Mark Blinch/Reuters

In some ways, Markle — a mixed-race American raised as Catholic, an outspoken full-time actress, and a divorcee — makes a surprising addition to Britain's monarchy. But the institution has moved on with the times, and the romance between Markle and Harry — who has repeatedly stressed his wish to lead as "normal" a life as he could — has a decidedly unstuffy, modern feel to it.

It won't be first time that a British royal has married an American — or a divorcee. In 1936, Edward VIII famously abdicated after he was forced to choose between the monarchy and his relationship with twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson.

Meghan Markle was born on 4 August 1981 to a clinical therapist mother and television lighting director father. She grew up in Los Angeles, and now lives in Toronto. She studied at a girls' Roman Catholic high school before attending Northwestern University in Illinois, where she studied theatre and international relations. She married film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011, but the pair divorced two years later.

Meghan Markle and Trevor Engelson
Meghan Markle and Trevor Engelson are pictured in 2009. They married in 2011 but divorced two years later Getty Images

The actress's most successful role is the feisty Rachel Zane in the TV legal show "Suits," now in its seventh season. Her career has included small parts on TV series including "Fringe," ''CSI: Miami," ''Knight Rider" and "Castle," as well as movies such as "Horrible Bosses". Outside of acting, Markle founded a lifestyle blog called (which closed down in April without explanation), and has lent her celebrity status to humanitarian causes.

She has campaigned with the United Nations on gender equality, written in Time magazine about girls' education and the stigma surrounding menstruation, and has traveled to Rwanda as global ambassador for the charity World Vision Canada. She has described how her mother took her to the slums of Jamaica to witness poverty first-hand, saying experiences like that shaped her social consciousness and charity work.

Markle said she met Harry through friends in London in July 2016, and that they had been dating quietly for several months before the romance hit the headlines. The media attention then became so intense that Harry took the unusual step of officially confirming the romance in order to warn the media off. In a strongly worded statement issued through the palace, the prince pleaded for reporters to stop intruding on his girlfriend's privacy. He condemned "outright sexism and racism" in some online comments, and said some articles with "racial undertones" had crossed the line.

Some tabloids had alluded to Markle's mixed-race heritage, pointing out she has an African-American mother and a white father. Markle herself has spoken out about coming to terms with being biracial — both growing up, and in her Hollywood career. In a March interview with Allure magazine, she said studying race at college was "the first time I could put a name to feeling too light in the black community and too mixed in the white community. "For castings, I was labeled 'ethnically ambiguous'," she said.

Markle surprised many when she shared her feelings for Harry in a September 2017 cover story for Vanity Fair. Asked about the media frenzy surrounding their courtship, she said: "At the end of the day I think it's really simple ... we're two people who are really happy and in love." Describing Harry as her "boyfriend," Markle said that while she expected that she and Harry would have to "come forward" about their relationship at some point, the two were just a couple enjoying time spent with each other.

It is unusual for a royal love interest to speak so publicly — and candidly — before becoming engaged. Harry's past reported girlfriends all shied away from the media limelight, and his sister-in-law, formerly known as Kate Middleton, stayed silent until she and Prince William gave a formal televised interview at Buckingham Palace after their engagement became public.

It was not until September 2017 that they made their first public appearance together at the Invictus Games in Toronto, a sports event for wounded veterans.

Harry's brother, Prince William, and his pregnant wife Kate welcomed Markle to the royal family. "We are very excited for Harry and Meghan," they said in a statement. "It has been wonderful getting to know Meghan and to see how happy she and Harry are together."

The announcement means another grand royal wedding is in the offing — the first since William and and Kate married in April 2011.