What’s it really like spending time with the woman the whole world is talking about?
Having been the most Googled person of 2016, Meghan Markle is still the subject of worldwide fascination. She gave a talented performance on hit TV series Suits and has done incredible work for UN Women and now, she just so happens to be marrying a member of the royal family, Prince Harry.
The blinding spotlight angled at Markle has prompted an in-depth analysis of her character and what her impact will be on the royal family. It’s safe to say that after some rousing speeches, her commitment to the #MeToo movement and a string of utterly adorable public appearances with her soon-to-be husband, the whole world has been hopelessly charmed.
But although we’ll happily recite the many reasons why we think Markle is a brilliant addition to the monarchy (being a staunch feminist, women’s rights activist and the first mixed race woman to join it), we were interested to hear from someone who has spent time with Markle first-hand.
Lara Dewar, who works as partnership leader for global communications and public engagement at charity World Vision, spent a week and a half with Markle, on a trip to India to help girls living in New Deli and Mumbai gain access to education.
Speaking of Markle’s keenness to travel to the country’s most impoverished areas, Dewar tells stylist.co.uk: “I would describe gender equality as her greatest passion in life.
“I knew that she was passionate about and had an interest in work thats purpose is to reduce barriers for girls accessing education, which is a big factor in determining equality. If girls don’t have access to education, it’s very hard to build a world where we’re all equal.”
A group, including Markle and Dewar, made the journey last year across the country to meet some of the girls going without an education. They endured early mornings and long days, but according to Dewar, Markle’s professionalism, enthusiasm and kindness never wavered.
Speaking to stylist.co.uk, Dewar explains what it’s really like to spend time with Markle and what she thinks the bride-to-be’s impact will be on the royal family…
Why was Meghan your chosen celebrity ambassador for this trip?
Meghan had already worked with us as a spokesperson a year earlier, when she travelled to Rwanda for a water campaign.
Millions of people around the world don’t have access to fresh water, and it’s not just an issue that relates to the contracting of water born disease, dehydration and malnutrition.
It’s also an issue of safety, particularly for girls, who are often the ones who will walk long distances to water sources and along that path, are met with all manner of perils, including wild animals.
They say on average a girl can walk six kilometres to get water every day. It’s usually women doing this, which restricts them from holding down a paying job, which would contribute to overall house income. But in the case of little girls, it prevents them from going to school.
There was a connection in that we were introduced to Meghan through our creative agency, and we’d done some research on her and knew that she’d been a spokesperson for UN Women and been an activist from a very early age.
We liked that she was using everything about her platform to speak on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. We knew that she was articulate, well researched and well prepared, and that if we met and shared a passion for this she would be an ardent spokesperson - and she didn’t disappoint.
How would you describe Meghan as a person?
I would describe her as genuine and sincere. If you’ve seen footage of her expressions and her approach in her public appearances with Prince Harry, we saw those mannerisms when she met people in India.
There’s a generousness about her, a willingness to reach out and shake hands. There’s also a willingness to adapt to the local customs and a high regard and respect for humanity and people. In addition to that, she’s very smart; at least as smart as she is beautiful.
She’s well-spoken and you get the impression after spending time with her that she is very disciplined. While she’s a celebrity, she shows up on time, she’s willing to do the work. The days on trips like this tend to be long. We meet early in the morning and have long drives to locations, but she’s not above any of that. She’s willing to do what it took to make sure she had a solid understanding of both the work and the people.
What do you think Meghan gained from going on this trip?
I definitely think she gained an appreciation for India and a huge passion for what can be done in the stakes of outrageous odds. We certainly fuelled the fire of her wanting to do something that would attribute to achieving equality globally and de-stigmatising everyday things like periods.
How did people react to Meghan?
In countries like India we’ve always been well received as westerners. I would say culturally the people of India have a high regard for hospitality, so we were always met with the most generous hearts and an open door. We met with people who, although they had nothing, wanted to bring us into their home and serve us tea. It was a remarkable to experience hospitality on that level.
I would say that because they were met with warmth and sincerity from Meghan, it was easy for her to establish a rapport with people. We met with a group of girls who were in a program designed to educate them on their rights, so that they could advocate for one another and stick together and speak for one another.
One young adult in that group spoke about how she stepped in for her friend, whose parents were going to take her out of school because of lack of funds, and just educate their sons.
When she told her story to Meghan, she said “a year ago I couldn’t have spoken to someone like you”. With all her training she’d gained confidence, but I think on the receiving end, Meghan also made it easy for her to share her story.
For girls and women who are not appreciated by their culture, it’s so affirming to be valued by foreigners, who are giving their time and respect to hear their stories. Meghan always gave her time in those moments. While we may come from different places and cultures, that respect is given regardless. Meghan definitely gave people the impression that this experience would shape her going forward.
Meghan does a lot of charity work. Do you think this will continue to be a focus of hers as she becomes part of the royal family?
I’d be very surprised if she didn’t continue to do work related to women’s rights. Having said that, we can all appreciate what a huge life change marriage ultimately is. I think it’s really delightful that she’s found someone in life who is as committed to philanthropic work as she is. And I think it will be fascinating to see what comes out of the couple as a combined force and what they will achieve in life. I think anyone who has the opportunity to work with them will be truly lucky.
What qualities do you think Meghan will bring to the royal family?
There are probably people more qualified to comment on this than me, but Meghan is someone who has a career and an informed opinion. She’s done some travelling and has contextualised her own experiences, and is an independent thinker. I think she’s a highly respectful individual who values family and marriage. I think we’ve seen already that she brings a freshness and she will add to the momentum to the work that Prince Harry and Prince William do.
Are you pleased that Meghan’s joining the royal family?
I’ve been a fan of the royal family since I was little girl. I remember my mum waking me up to watch the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles when I was young. Again, I could hardly comment on what is good for the royal family, but I will tell you that as a person who has some knowledge of Meghan, I think she’d be a great addition no matter where she went.
I think it’s really cool that someone who already had a public platform and has been generous with using it, will now grow her platform and continue to use it. I think she is incredibly smart and I can’t wait to see what she does next.