The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are pictured at church in Sandringham on Christmas Day
The Duchess of Sussex was today confirmed as the new National Theatre patron after it accidentally ‘announced’ the news on its website last night.
The appointment had been widely expected after former actress Meghan met privately with the theatre’s director Rufus Norris, but Kensington Palace had remained tight-lipped until 9am today.
The Queen had been patron of the theatre, but it had been widely expected she would hand one of her patronages to her new granddaughter-in-law at some point this year.
Meghan has also taken on honorary roles with the Association of Commonwealth Universities – a patronage also previously held by the Queen – Smart Works, which helps unemployed and vulnerable women, and Mayhew, an animal charity in Kensal Green, North West London.
The Queen has been patron of the National Theatre for 45 years and the ACU, also based in London, for 33 years.
The Queen had been patron of the theatre, but it had been widely expected she would hand one of her patronages to Meghan (pictured in Cheshire last June) at some point this year
Today’s announcement is a major milestone for the American-born former actress, outlining the first steps of her public life as a member of the monarchy.
News of Meghan’s patronage with the theatre on London’s South Bank comes after a news item entitled ‘The Duchess of Sussex announced as our new Royal Patron’ with today’s date – January 10 – was last night unexpectedly posted on its website.
How the National Theatre is a good fit for former actress Meghan
The National Theatre has produced more than 800 plays since Hamlet, starring Peter O’Toole, opened in 1963.
Meghan has held private meetings with Rufus Norris, director of the National Theatre, and she is seen as a good figurehead for his attempts to broaden its appeal and increase diversity both on and off-stage.
Interestingly, however, Mr Norris did suggest in a recent interview that he feared the theatre’s royal links could put off younger audiences.
He said: ‘This country is still very class-divided and anything that adds to that perception, that this place is not open to everybody, could be a downfall.
‘I fear that for some people that [the ‘Royal’ in RNT] adds to that perception.’
US former actress Meghan has attended several public events relating to the theatre since her engagement.
She enjoyed the Royal Variety Performance with Prince Harry, visited retired members of the entertainment industry in a care home, and toured a theatre in Chester with the Queen.
It was taken down quickly – but not before royal watchers had spotted it.
Press releases are often prepared by PR teams days in advance – suggesting someone accidentally put the story ‘live’ while preparing it for future publication.
Meghan, 37, who is expecting her first baby with Prince Harry this spring, today announced details of which organisations she wishes to champion as part of her public work imminently.
She has visited a number of charities since her wedding last May – including the Hubb Community Kitchen and various groups supporting female empowerment and education.
Last month the biggest clue to her taking over as National patron came when the Court Circular, the official record of the Royal Family’s work, reported: ‘The Duchess of Sussex today received Mr Rufus Norris (Artistic Director, the National Theatre).’
It is a good match for Meghan, a former actress who was starring in hit US legal drama Suits when she met Harry and gave up her career to marry him.
Today, Mr Norris said: ‘I would like to thank the Queen for Her Majesty’s long and unwavering support and service to the National Theatre.
‘We were honoured when the Queen became our patron in 1974 and have celebrated many moments together including, in recent years, the Diamond Jubilee and the marking of our 50th anniversary.
Meghan, pictured meeting the cast of Hamilton in London last August, is a former actress
‘It is a privilege to welcome the Duchess of Sussex as our new patron.
Meghan takes Queen’s university patronage
Meghan will also take on the Queen’s patronage of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which was established in 1913.
It is the world’s first and oldest global university network, with more than 500 institutions across 50 countries. It aims to promote the value of higher education to society and how this is boosted by international collaboration.
The ACU manages scholarship schemes – including the UK government’s three major scholarship programmes and The Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships.
Just last month Meghan met with university leaders, academics and international scholarship students to discuss how higher education can help fight issues such as human trafficking, gender inequality and climate change.
She graduated with a degree in 2003 in theatre and international relations from Northwestern University, Illinois.
‘The duchess shares our deeply held conviction that theatre has the power to bring together people from all communities and walks of life. I very much look forward to working closely with Her Royal Highness in the years to come.’
The duchess is expected to carry out a public visit to the National Theatre in the coming weeks.
Dr Joanna Newman, chief executive and secretary general of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, said: ‘We are absolutely delighted that HRH The Duchess of Sussex has chosen to become Patron of the ACU.
‘The Duchess shares our passion for the transformational power of higher education, and Her Royal Highness’ support will help champion higher education as a force for good in the Commonwealth and beyond.
‘We would like to thank Her Majesty The Queen for her support, and we look forward to working closely with The Duchess as our Patron.’
Mayhew tweeted: ‘We’re honoured to reveal that Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Sussex has become a Patron of Mayhew.
Meghan has visited a number of charities since her wedding last May – including the Hubb Community Kitchen in North Kensington, West London
‘We’re thrilled that HRH shares our commitment to improving the lives of animals and people, and are excited to make a difference together.’
Support of animal charity is no surprise given her love of dogs
The Mayhew animal welfare charity in Kensal Green, North West London, was established in 1886 and is funded only by public donations.
It works to improve the lives of dogs, cats and people – bringing educational initiatives and preventative veterinary care to communities.
Among its schemes are one working with homelessness charities across the capital to ensure people and their dogs can be kept together.
Meghan has a long history with animals, going back to when she adopted her first dog, Bogart, whom TV presenter Ellen DeGeneres asked her to take home.
The Duchess is also known to have supported various animal rescue centres in Los Angeles.
And Smart Works said on Twitter: ‘We are honoured to announce that HRH The Duchess of Sussex will become the royal patron of Smart Works.
The Duchess’s decision to support Smart Works reflects her passion in supporting women and her commitment will help women in need across the UK.’
Juliet Hughes-Hallett, its chair and founder, said: ‘An acknowledged champion of women and their rights worldwide, the Duchess will motivate ever more women to come to our centres and get the job that will transform their lives.
‘The Duchess’s patronage will inspire the women we serve and help them reach for the stars.
Chief executive Kate Stephens said: ‘We are delighted that the Duchess of Sussex is our royal patron. It is our vision that we have enough centres nationwide to reach every woman who needs us.
‘The support of The Duchess of Sussex will help us enormously in achieving this goal.’
Duchess backs charity helping unemployed and vulnerable women
Samantha Cameron, Smart Works chief Kate Stephens and Louise Redknapp at an event for the charity in London last March
Created in September 2013, Smart Works is a charity helping long-term unemployed and vulnerable women.
Three in five women successfully return to work following their involvement with the charity.
The Duchess has visited it several times over the last year and worked with women helped through coaching and interview preparation.
The charity also provides complete outfits for job interviews, aiming to dress 3,500 women this year across their two London offices, and additional bases in Edinburgh, Manchester, Reading, Birmingham and Newcastle.
Smart Works is also supported by celebrities including Samantha Cameron and Louise Redknapp.
In recent years, Meghan has travelled to India and Rwanda working on projects to help women in challenging situations.