One morning, shortly after lessons began at the Immaculate Heart High School in Los Angeles, Meghan Markle’s best-friend, Suzy Ardakani, was taken out of class by the teacher.
The teenager was informed that her father, Matt, had been shot by a crazed gunman and was fighting for his life.
A deranged Vietnam veteran, who had just murdered his own family, had burst into the downtown garage that Mr Ardakani owned, spraying bullets at random. Suzy’s father had been hit three times, in the spine and lung.
Such incidents were not entirely unusual in LA in the Eighties and Nineties. The city where Meghan Markle grew up was a very different from today. Rival gangs fought bloody turf wars; prostitutes, drug-pushers and hustlers lurked on street corners. And, following the murder by police of black taxi driver Rodney King in 1991, LA was a tinderbox seething with racial tension.
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Violence could erupt in a heartbeat, and there was no escaping its aftermath, even for those like Meghan, then 14, and her friends in their privileged surroundings.
Many of LA’s state-run schools at the time were so unruly that armed security guards were needed to maintain order, so Meghan’s father, Thomas Senior, had broken the bank to educate her privately.
After attending the Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse (whose past pupils include Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, and Judy Garland), Meghan had moved on to the Immaculate Heart, an exclusive Roman Catholic girls’ establishment where — until that day in 1995 — she had been protected from the horrors of Los Angeles life.
According to those involved, the remarkable way she reacted to her friend’s tragedy reveals much about her character.
Suzy’s mother, Sonia Ardakani, told me: ‘My daughter was totally distraught, as you can imagine. She had other friends, but Meghan was the first one to comfort her, and the only one who volunteered to go with her to the hospital. Meghan was like part of our family in those days.
Teenage pals: Meghan, aged 14, with two of her younger neighbourhood friends in LA
‘She would often stay over at our house when her parents were working long hours, and she loved my husband.
‘She and Suzy sat beside Matt’s bed for many hours, praying he would pull through. He was permanently paralysed, but today he is working and enjoying life. We feel sure those prayers helped him survive.’
The caring way that Meghan reacted to this horror might help to explain how this very unlikely royal girlfriend — a 36-year-old American divorcee — has won Harry’s trust. Perhaps it was this side of her character that convinced him she may have the credentials to fulfil her duties as a future princess.
Her looks and talent apart, it has been suggested that Harry chose Meghan over more obvious potential wives (such as his former girlfriends Chelsy Davy and Cressida Bonas) because of character traits she shares with his mother.
Mrs Ardakani strongly agrees, and, intriguingly, she reveals that young Meghan was actually a great admirer of the late Princess of Wales.
For during the Nineties, when Meghan was growing up, Diana was a global, celebrity figure and she says Meghan came to regard her as a role model.
‘I always loved Diana and I have her biography, which I gave Meghan to read,’ she told me. ‘I videoed Diana’s wedding back in 1981, and I would watch it with Suzy and Meghan all those years later. They would also see items about her on TV.
Meghan is a beautiful person with a very big heart — just the sort of qualities a princess needs.
‘The girls didn’t just think she was glamorous. They were impressed by her humanitarian work, and they started following her example.
They would collect clothes and toys for less privileged children and help at the homeless soup-kitchen.
‘I’m sure Diana would have behaved just the same way as Meghan did when my husband was shot.
‘Meghan is a beautiful person with a very big heart — just the sort of qualities a princess needs.’
Many other people I have spoken to for this series concur.
Kind, sensitive, loyal, funny, clever, compassionate, socially aware . . . these are some of the adjectives used to describe her. But, like Diana, this possible princess-in-waiting is not without her flaws.
Those who have worked with her say she can be a diva (like most other successful TV actresses, no doubt). And since her success in Suits, she has become a ‘world-class networker’, as one acquaintance puts it. She can also be virtuous, almost to the point of piety, forever beating the drum for some trendy new health fad, environmental concern, or worthy cause.
In a blog she once described herself — one hopes with tongue in cheek — as a ‘saintly’ hippy.
So how did this freewheeling young woman meet an HRH and capture his heart? This has been a topic of much speculation since their relationship became public in October 2016.
Star Quality: Meghan pulls a sultry pose for a picture posted on her lifestyle blog, The Tig
Some say they were first introduced when Harry was in Toronto, in May, 2016, to promote the Invictus Games, the international Paralympic-style sporting event for Armed Forces personnel, which the Prince founded.
Others insist Meghan was not even in Canada at that time, and that they first met at a dinner at Soho House in London in June 2016, introduced by Markus Anderson, a consultant for the private members’ club. He just happens to be one of Meghan’s ‘closest friends in the world’.
However, the truth appears to have emerged when I spoke to actor Max Topplin, a close friend of Meghan who plays alongside her in Suits.
Though Topplin was at pains to be discreet about her relationship with Harry, at one point in our conversation he remarked: ‘It’s shocking that all this happened, and he was in Toronto — and that’s where they met.
‘Just random. And now she could be a princess!’
When Meghan was cast as Rachel Zane, the smart, sassy legal assistant in Suits, her life was totally transformed. Until then, as she wrote in an eloquent article for Elle magazine in 2015 about the challenges of being of mixed race, her heritage had blighted her career. Casting directors saw her as ‘ethnically ambiguous’, she said.
She ‘wasn’t black enough for the black roles, and wasn’t white