BLOWING out the 40 candles on her birthday cake on Wednesday, Meghan Markle will be rightly thrilled about her phenomenal triumph.
At her milestone age, the Duchess of Sussex can congratulate herself on defying all the odds.
Unlike many women who fear toppling over the cliff edge at 40, Meghan stands in the global spotlight as one of the world's superstars, convinced her destiny will soar towards greater fame and fortune.
Within just 18 months of snubbing the Queen and abandoning Britain, Meghan and Prince Harry are enjoying an enviable lifestyle in their £11 million, nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom palace north of Los Angeles.
Financed by multimillion-dollar contracts with Netflix, Spotify and a four-book publishing deal, she is sitting in the sunshine beside a huge swimming pool in a five-acre, manicured garden, plotting how to realise her breathtaking ambitions.
At 40, Meghan rightly feels that she is at the height of her powers, the master navigator of her own narrative, and Prince Harry 's fate.
She has humiliated her critics and humbled the Royal Family. Her next steps are to conquer America, then the world.
Critics carp that Meghan's megalomania has no limits. Her admirers retort that she is purposely fulfilling the American Dream.
One irreversible cloud is age itself.
To prolong permanent youth, California-style, Meghan pays top dollar on unlimited wellness lotions, fitness trainers and potions to conceal the odd grey hair and creeping wrinkles.
The worship of Elle Macpherson, Salma Hayek and even 83-year-old Jane Fonda proves to 40-year-olds seeking everlasting youth that women can get better with age.
A darker cloud is her birthday party guest list.
The Sussexes' celebrity neighbours, agents, lawyers and PR spin doctors will flock to their Montecito haven, but there will be no birthday cards from Meghan's father and siblings, nor probably from her in-laws in London.
There will certainly be no adoring congratulations from the small army of former friends the Duchess has shunned over the past 15 years, including her ex-husband, childhood confidants and discarded London associates.
Sincere family love, wishing her another 40 healthy years, will be limited to her mother, the permanently silent Doria. Yet Meghan probably won't care a jot.
Self-important Meghan seems to believe her needs are more important than those of others — most famously her father Thomas Markle.
America and Britain are dotted with people baffled by her abrupt termination of their previously close relationship.
Meghan appears to show little remorse about hurting them.
Admiration and respect is Meghan's principal demand from others. Her importance in Hollywood is seemingly all that counts.
That's not new. For years, she sought "status".
Until 2016, she could not hide her frustration, both as a self-styled political activist and as an actor.
Unfortunately for her, delivering the same thin speech about feminism and women's empowerment to meetings of international charities in New York, Dublin and Rwanda failed to boost her profile.
Similarly, her one–liners in a slew of undistinguished films had left an embarrassing legacy.
Her anchor and salvation when she hit 30 was Suits , the American TV soap which started in 2011.
But that could never elevate her to global mega-celebrity. As her acting career was stumbling towards a final curtain, she must have feared for her future.
At 35, she was no longer the glamorous young starlet.
In 2016, she needed money and a new career. Even more urgent, she desperately wanted children and her search for a father was running out of time.
Presumably realising Hollywood is filled with poseurs, pimps, flatterers and hypocrites, she had started in 2013 to search in London for her ideal man.
Initially, none of the English women she recruited to help could deliver Mr Right.
With some desperation, she reportedly acknowledged to close friends there was no time to waste.
She wanted a mature, rich and famous man whom she could trust to provide everlasting status, comfort and children.
Then, on a June night in London's Soho, the reward of a skilful plot by Meghan and three close friends changed her life. In a well-prepared "blind date", she met the world's most eligible bachelor.
RICH AND FAMOUS
Prince Harry was instantly enamoured by a tactile and sympathetic actress whose flickering kohl-lined eyelids pushed all the right buttons.
His declarations of unconditional love sealed the deal. Dating him propelled Meghan into the stratosphere — her lifelong mission to be a real princess was landed. She has never looked back.
At the beginning, Britons almost unanimously cheered because much-loved Harry had found real love.
Beautiful, bouncy Meghan was embraced as an ideal addition to the Royal Family.
Ancient precedents were broken to hasten her inclusion, even inviting the divorced American before the wedding to spend Christmas with the Queen at Sandringham.
She enjoyed the adulation of crowds across Britain.
But besotted by his new wife, Harry apparently failed to properly explain the realities of royal life.
Or, as some believe, he approved her plan to move to California as soon as the dust settled.
Exactly when everything turned sour is much debated.
In her BBC interview on the day of their official engagement in November 2017, Meghan emphasised that marriage would not change her or her opinions.
Regardless that the monarchy's survival depended on strict, apolitical neutrality, she was intent on "changing the world".
Of course, the monarchy was a perfect platform to pursue her activism.
To avoid the pitfalls, the most intelligent, experienced and sympathetic staff were delegated by the Queen to guide Meghan to understand the unbending requirement to avoid controversy.
Sadly, that failed. Who was to blame is still hotly disputed. Some highlight Meghan's inflexible relationship with the Royal Family.
She enjoyed all the vices of aristocracy — the pomp, the illusion of power — but she seemed to resent being relegated below William and Kate.
After all, how could they ignore her US success? Were the Cambridges just jealous of a new royal?
The stubborn actress apparently had neither sympathy nor understanding that monarchies depend on hierarchies.
Around the wedding, Meghan started to consider victimhood and "rejection" by the Royal Family as her martyrdom.
Stories of her hysterical outbursts, unreasonable demands and alleged bullying were matched by accounts of the Duchess being unwilling to fulfil her royal duties.
The reality was that instead of endless mundane royal duties, she guest-edited an edition of Vogue magazine, the bible of the privileged.
The preachy environmentalist, sometimes joined by Harry, also flew on private jets to Ibiza, Italy and New York for events including parties with celebrity friends.
She later snapped that the critics were racists.
BIBLE OF THE PRIVILEGED
I truly believe that within six months of the marriage, the plans for the couple to exit the UK were already under way.
Siding with Meghan, Harry agreed with her strategy to "go back home". The actress left London, furiously complaining through a gaggle of PR men and lawyers about the invasion of her privacy by Britain's "racist" media — then promptly signed up for revelatory appearances on television, social media platforms and books.
Blessed with two healthy children and no royal responsibilities, going for broke promises to be a great success for Harry and Meghan.
Contrary to those waiting for Harry's humiliating return to Britain, the couple have defied the critics and adore life among California's royalty — a move that threatens to undermine and perhaps fatally ruin the staid British monarch and her heirs.
The question posed by Meghan's enemies will be whether the couple's disloyalty to the Queen lives up to her principles of compassion.
And what about the next 40 years? Once Harry has finished promoting his books, will Meghan launch her own global campaign to engage in the swirling muck of American politics?
Just as she seduced the Royal Family, will she tempt California's power brokers to promote her own political ambitions to the Senate and possibly beyond, via her friendship with America's vice-president Kamala Harris and the Obamas?
Although her political rhetoric is skeletal and her skin is thin to criticism, surely that is the next step on her Crusade for Goodness.
California has a strong tradition of Hollywood actors winning elections.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was state governor and Ronald Reagan was US President.
With the support of Democrat godfathers the Clintons and the Obamas, Meghan should have little difficulty getting nominated as one of the state's 40 Congressmen sent to Washington.
If Californians flock to her Crusade for Goodness, then after two terms — just four years — she can establish her political roots.
If one of the state's two Senate seats comes free and she has mastered the trade, a mixed-race woman should be a strong runner.
She could also run for the state's governorship, one of America's most prestigious offices.
At the end of ten years, the prime of a politician's life, her record could well justify a bid for the Democrat nomination for the presidency.
To get that prize will require a lot of learning, endless travel and an iron constitution to survive exhausting political meetings and defeat the critics.
Meghan certainly has the guts and self-belief to fight to the top of the greasy pole. The question is whether she has the stamina.
On Wednesday, celebrating her 40th birthday in Los Angeles rather than London will be a watershed.
Blowing out the candles on a Californian cake will cement the relaunch of Meghan Markle.
The celebrity at the height of her powers will wish for a spectacular new beginning.
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The celebration will also be a curtain-raiser to the bruises and bloodshed that will inevitably follow next year's publication of Harry's memoir.
The stress and ugliness of that battle could threaten the Queen's health, Charles's reign and the fate of the Windsors.
At 40, Meghan is certainly making her mark.
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