She came, she saw, she gave Britain's royal family a much-needed jolt—and then took Prince Harry back to her side of the pond.
Suffice it to say, Meghan Markle's 39th birthday is looking very different from her 38th.
And not just because of the pandemic that's put a fork in most well-laid plans for celebrations this year.
In 2019, the word was that the Duchess of Sussex, marking her first birthday as a mom, and husband Prince Harry would be taking tea with the queen at Balmoral. She was on maternity leave from royal duties but keeping busy, collaborating on a capsule collection for charity and guest-editing the September issue of British Vogue.
In 2020, Meghan can't even go around calling herself the Duchess of Sussex. There are some reports circulating that she wanted to have a small getaway in Montecito, about an hour's drive from Los Angeles, but the couple's rep certainly isn't sharing any details on what would be a super-private party.
But what a difference 12 months makes.
Excerpts are pouring forth from a tell-all book about Meghan and Harry that's coming out on Aug. 11, each revelation juicier than the last. The couple are in the middle of a lawsuit that's playing out in London, battling for not just their own right to privacy but that of their friends and loved ones. And, in case it didn't register already, they're in California, where they now live.
Technically they still live in Britain, too, at Frogmore Cottage, in the realm of Windsor Castle. But they haven't stepped foot in England since their farewell whirl as senior royals in the beginning of March, and their now nearly 15-month-old son, Archie, hasn't been in the country of his birth at all this year.
On March 31, they officially stepped down, the terms of the agreed-upon, months-in-negotiating split including that they not trade in any way, for business or for charity, on their HRH titles or status as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Which doesn't change the fact that everyone still wants a piece of them because of the titles they've agreed not to use. But it's a whole new, albeit recognizably comfortable, world for these two.
Harry and Meghan's decision to socially distance themselves from the royal family for reasons that had nothing to do with preventing a virus from spreading is not the most world-rattling scandal to plague the House of Windsor either this century or last. No lines of succession have been altered, no bonds forever broken (though Harry and Prince William should really sit down over a few pints as soon as possible lest their fraternal connection fray any more).
But there's no question that the family isn't the same as it was in 2018, when Meghan married into it—let alone 2016, when Harry first fell in love with her, months before anyone even knew he had a girlfriend.
There are at least two sides to every story (and far more than that to this one), whether you believe the least flattering dispatches or the more glowing takes on how Meghan came, saw, didn't like what she saw and skedaddled. More likely you sense, correctly, that the truth is a complicated melding of all the sides.
But there are no two ways about the fact that the course of the royal family has been forever altered by the addition of Meghan to its ranks:
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The Firm may not have ever thought of opening a satellite office in Los Angeles, but it's open, it's running, and it's already the headquarters for a whole new way of doing business.
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