Kensington Palace has had a very generous two days: Hot on the heels of Kate’s pregnancy announcement — finally, after trying weekly since Charlotte’s umbilical cord was tied off, Life & Style can claim victory! — comes this Vanity Fair cover and interview with the object of most people’s royal curiosity: Meghan Markle, the American who may well become a Duchess.

And it does seem likely that will happen. This is a new interview with a prestige publication, with exclusive new photos — the first of her since they began dating that aren’t paparazzi shots — in which Markle is asked and answers questions about her relationship, and refers to Harry in the abstract as “my boyfriend.” When was the last time that ever happened even with a royal fiancée, much less pre-ring? Kate was more or less muzzled the entire time she dated William, even when an engagement seemed assured. Times have changed, certainly, but Kate never would’ve been allowed to say this:

How does Markle handle the tabloid nonsense about her and Harry? “I can tell you that at the end of the day I think it’s really simple,” she says. “We’re two people who are really happy and in love. We were very quietly dating for about six months before it became news, and I was working during that whole time, and the only thing that changed was people’s perception. Nothing about me changed. I’m still the same person that I am, and I’ve never defined myself by my relationship.”

Besides which, William and Harry are notoriously careful (or at least have tried to be, with a couple partying-related exceptions) with the media, and Markle has been largely absent from the public eye ever since her PR stumbled out of the gate with an overly coy statement essentially confirming rumors of their relationship. She quit her lifestyle website and backed off social media, and other than a Suits table read at a TV festival, hasn’t been spotted anywhere but at work, or walking to yoga, or with Harry. It suggests she’s done everything that may have been asked of her (or which she chose to do) with regards to walking back her exposure, as if to prove — whether she should have to or not — that she takes this seriously. So there’s zero chance Meghan Markle went rogue with this. Which means Harry was on board. Which means The Firm was, too.

And that means this is for real. Whether they get engaged imminently, later, or never, the cover piece from top-to-tail absolutely feels like Buckingham Palace preparing the world for the day Harry announces he’s proposed to a woman who, unfairly and archaically and racistly, has been savaged for being a fame-hungry mixed-race divorcee from the mean streets — and who they think will benefit in the eyes of the public from the endorsement of a proper magazine. Not that she needs it: If the Waity Katie saga taught us anything, it’s that the second there’s a ring on the finger, the hostility drops and hugs begin. But much of the press over there does have a lot to apologize for with the way it treated her when news first broke, and suspicions swirled that Markle hoped even a minor dalliance with Harry might springboard her to a level of comfort and fame that a post-Suits life would never have afforded her. This piece seems tailor-made to force those gossips to eat those words and hang their heads.

As for Markle, she prefers what the British call “ostriching.” She says, “I don’t read any press. I haven’t even read press for Suits. The people who are close to me anchor me in knowing who I am. The rest is noise.”

Before you assume I’m being a cynic: I’m decidedly not saying this isn’t authentic. The two can co-exist: This can be brilliant PR and also be a completely accurate representation of who she is. Honestly, I had no opinion of Meghan going into this thing, other than that Harry seems happy. Herein, she deftly handles what few queries are made. She says all the right things; it’s all about love and groundedness. She made the interviewer a relaxed meal that would look very pretty photographed on the cover of a cookbook, and in her own kitchen, before their chat moves into her quaint garden — creating a decided undercurrent that these are things and places, hallmarks of a long-craved domesticity, that Harry has experienced with her too. And as a result, I came away thinking, “She seems cool, and relaxed, and as if she’s got a good head on her shoulders” — which is likely both true, and also exactly what the desired outcome was. Again, both can be the case. If this came about because Harry wants Meghan to be seen and embraced the way he knows her, and fears a repeat of the ruthless onslaught that came when they first became public, then he ought to be pleased.

[Well, except by the cover line. Making Meghan’s name tiny and placing the focus on “She’s Wild About Harry” is clearly a play for newsstand sales — impulse buyers love his name, and it bespeaks a lack of confidence that her face or the words “Meghan Markle” are household by this point, which I’m not sure is true — but the piece itself, while not skirting the issue of her coupling, also presents her (or tries to) as a person in her own right in a way that headline does not. Meghan and Amal “wife of George” Clooney can talk about that one over bowling.]

Harry was always going to go his own way — Cressida was as close to a blue-blood as he seems to have gotten, but it never felt quite right on him, like a goat wearing a necktie — and Meghan comes across here like the fresh breeze he needed, yet also one that makes complete sense for him. They’ll do charity work together. They’ll have kids. They’ll let the kids roll around in the mud and explore Africa and wash elephants and learn to make vegan salad dressing. “They’ll have a great time, and he’ll be fine, everyone, maybe even truly happy for the first time since he lost his mother,” this interview exudes. And I buy it.

From the jump, Meghan is painted as an almost magazine-stereotypical portrait of normalcy. She’s largely without makeup on the cover — something the piece says delights her about the photoshoot — and is styled simply inside, without any of the Actress Huddles Behind Bedsheet teasing nudity that many places love to slip in there.

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And then there’s the lede:

On a rainy afternoon in June, Markle came to her front door and welcomed me into her home, on a quiet, tree-lined street in Toronto. Markle was wearing a red, knee-length floral dress (“Erdem, a designer I’ve been wearing for years”), with her rescue dogs, Bogart and Guy, wagging their tails beside her. A slim brunette with a lightly freckled, glowing complexion and an upturned nose, she looks like the sun-kissed California girl she’s always been.

That aside about Erdem, to me, translates as, “I’m not wearing a British designer to make a point, and I’ve had my own thing going on since before this rich dude came in the picture.”  Subtly and well played, Meghan. The rest is just the profiler making sure we know she’s just like you and me. I’m almost shocked it wasn’t noted that she was barefoot and with slightly damp hair, which feel like the other staples. (Maybe being sans shoes in the above photo makes up for it.)

Markle had prepared a lunch of organic greens, a crusty bread to be dipped in olive oil, and pasta tossed with chilies bought from “a little place called Terroni, which they have in L.A. and in Toronto. They’re really hot, but if you’re good with heat, then I think they’re going to be your new favorite thing . . . I’ll give you a little jar to take home.” 

That just made me giggle. Terroni is not quite such a little place. It has two L.A. locations that are buzzing every night, and eight or nine in Toronto, and I can guarantee you every last one of them is stacking up chilis in its window right now. Also, yes, there is later an aside where they munch on the bread and discuss its perfection, which also feels like the interviewer filed it away under, “Not your typical actress. Eats carbs!”

The rest of the piece is interestingly fashioned. Clearly, the time with Meghan was short and questions about Harry were limited; any quote attributed in the present tense is from that sit-down, and there are several in the past tense — and at least two instances of “she once wrote” — that indicate they’re pulled from older interviews or essays. It’s further fleshed out by chats with the Suits execs, the VF writer Sally Bedell Smith who just published a Prince Charles biography, and in a weirdly lazy piece of writing and editing, two paragraphs in a row begin with, “Another close friend…”

Another close friend is the Bahrain-born fashion designer Misha Nonoo. They met in Miami through a mutual friend and immediately bonded. “Her greatest strength is her compassion for others,” says Nonoo. “Much of the work she does is unseen by the public.”

Another close friend is the actress Abigail Spencer, who has been a Suits cast member. When asked why she thinks Harry was drawn to Markle, Spencer says, “She’s got warm elegance, though her style is hard to pin down. It’s classy and timeless. When you’re talking to her, you feel like you’re the only person on the planet. And it’s just wonderful to see her so in love.”

Also, in a move that amused me, the interviewer calls Patrick J. Adams, Markle’s co-star and love interest on Suits, and asks him… about the show’s appeal, because clearly none of them are supposed to (or willing to) break confidentiality on Meghan. His answer clearly is in the piece to draw a parallel, though no such throughline is explicitly stated:

“I think Mike and Rachel are a classic Romeo-and-Juliet story,” Adams believes. “They come from totally different sides of the tracks. Rachel has taken the path well traveled, worked hard, and followed the rules of the game. Mike is a naturally gifted, brilliant guy but has followed exactly none of the rules.”

And then finally, the kicker, which is a biggie:

“We’re a couple,” she explains. “We’re in love. I’m sure there will be a time when we will have to come forward and present ourselves and have stories to tell, but I hope what people will understand is that this is our time. This is for us. It’s part of what makes it so special, that it’s just ours. But we’re happy. Personally, I love a great love story.”

Now, it’s possible this is the opposite of what I think it is: that, rather than an engagement, this is their way of saying, “Everyone just back off and let us date and live our lives for a while, okay?” But in essence, that’s what Harry’s statement said; pushing it out again, when she’s barely been seen out and about, seems like overkill. (I mean, I suppose alternately they could be about to break up and she’s getting what she can before they burn it all down, but that seems extreme, and more plotty than I choose to believe she is.) Regardless, it’s unprecedented. Meghan gets an actual voice in this. Kate never got to answer to those Wisteria Sisters slams with an interview of this sort. Kate never got defended by a public statement. Kate never got to express, quietly but with a sun-kissed glow and a bowl of arugula, that she and William were in love and simply wanted to revel in having found each other. Instead, Kate had to clam up and take every slam that she was a social-climbing, scheming daughter of — gasp — a flight attendant and a pilot who had the gall to make their own money, and then grin later and act like it never hurt. Perhaps the rules have relaxed because Harry isn’t the heir, or times have changed rapidly, or because Meghan is more of a public figure than Kate was. But it further underscores speculation that this cover story is part of something larger.

So while I’m not trying to push Harry into anything, this would appear to be placing them on the doorstep of wedded bliss. (The article does also clarify that this chat happened before Botswana, just in case that speculated engagement did indeed happen after she uttered this quite, and thus the two can coexist in any timeline.) I’m virtually certain the above quote will appear in every single story that would ensue either way. Effectively, Meghan has written the kicker to those pieces, too. Hopefully, it’s the happy one.

[Photos: Vanity Fair/Peter Lindbergh]