An exuberant Meghan Markle could barely contain her excitement when she arrived in the land of her forebears, ready to explore and reconnect with her roots.

‘The trip was mostly about trying to understand where I come from, my identity,’ she gushed after her three-day whistle-stop tour. ‘There is something so lovely about fitting in a piece of the puzzle. It felt like home.’

To be clear, this wasn’t last week’s much-trumpeted trip to Nigeria where the Duchess of Sussex — who recently claimed to be 43 per cent Nigerian — thanked locals for ‘welcoming me home’ to ‘my country’.

This was another jaunt, now long-forgotten, to the Mediterranean island of Malta.

There, in 2015 — barely a year before she went on her first date with Prince Harry — the then Suits actress embarked on a jolly to explore her ancestry in ‘the land from which my great-grandmother hailed’.

The Duchess of Sussex visited towns, including Mdina (pictured), to explore her family's heritage on the Mediterranean island

The Duchess of Sussex visited towns, including Mdina (pictured), to explore her family’s heritage on the Mediterranean island

Foreshadowing her aristocratic links, the then Suits actress visited the 16th-century palace Casa Rocca Piccola

Foreshadowing her aristocratic links, the then Suits actress visited the 16th-century palace Casa Rocca Piccola

Speaking of her visit, Meghan said: ‘Before I came, people were telling me, “When you go to Malta, everyone will look like you,” and I started to say, “Oh my gosh I do sort of blend in,” and it’s the loveliest feeling. The Maltese people have been so kind.’

More, in a moment, of her trip which, by all accounts, was a delightful affair featuring a luxury boutique hotel, a trip to a vineyard and an impromptu photoshoot in traditional costume, all organised by the country’s tourist board.

More too, of Meghan’s ancestry, which even to genealogists is somewhat muddled due to lack of documents and long-lost memories. Or — to borrow an oft-repeated phrase first uttered by the late Queen Elizabeth — because ‘recollections may vary’.

W hile the Sussexes’ visit to Nigeria last week shone a new light on her African-American roots, the story of Meghan’s European ancestry, on her father’s side, is equally fascinating.

Back in 2015, then 33-year-old Meghan was commissioned to write an article about her Malta trip for Elle magazine. But, in the end, she chose to focus on life in the U.S. and ‘finding her voice as a mixed-race woman’. The Elle article, published in 2015, made no mention of Malta or Meghan’s European ancestors.

Instead, the trip in March that year was mentioned on her now defunct lifestyle blog, The Tig, in which she heaped praise on the island’s hospitality and its food and drink.

‘When asked to go to Malta for ElleUK, to not only discover the beautiful island, but also the land from which my great-grandmother hailed, I said yes without hesitation,’ she wrote.

‘It’s Malta! A beautiful jewel of an island dotted in the Mediterranean between Sicily, Tunisia and Libya. A dream for one who relishes culture and history set against a backdrop of the ever-so beautiful sea.’

Those who crossed paths with Meghan during her brief sojourn on the island had no idea they were rubbing shoulders with a woman who would, one day, become one of the most recognisable faces on the planet.

‘To be honest I had no idea who she was when I met her,’ says Kurt Arrigo, the Maltese photographer commissioned by Malta Tourism Authority to accompany Meghan around the island along with a private tour guide and Meghan’s then business adviser, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne. ‘Her fame wasn’t what it is. I knew she was an actress but I had never watched Suits. She was a bit guarded at first but it became easier as time went on and she relaxed.

‘It was a pleasant time. She was easy to work with because she had done modelling and photoshoots before. She knew what to do and how to pose and how to hold herself.’

Meghan arrived in Malta in early March 2015 and stayed at the newly opened, small luxury boutique hotel, Casa Ellul, where fabulous suites cost around £600 a night. Co-owner Matthew Ellul, whose family have owned the historic building for 250 years, remembers that Meghan stayed in Suite No 7 — ‘the one with the terrace and the Jacuzzi’ — at the four-star hotel, a former palazzo, which has just nine rooms.

Meghan hugs her then business adviser, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, during a visit to Malta in 2015

Meghan hugs her then business adviser, Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne, during a visit to Malta in 2015

Meghan waxed lyrical about the food and drink on the island, enjoying a meal at the 19-acre Meridiana Wine Estate

Meghan waxed lyrical about the food and drink on the island, enjoying a meal at the 19-acre Meridiana Wine Estate

Meghan’s suite boasts views stretching across the rooftops of Valletta to the sea.

‘It was a cultural visit,’ he recalls. ‘The Maltese Tourism Authority were taking care of her. She was a very nice lady, very outgoing. She was interested in food and wine. She had a fabulous time.’

The future royal had such a good time that she left behind a hand-written card, stamped with The Tig logo, thanking Matthew and his brother Andrew for their hospitality and promising to return soon.

Meghan toured around the island in a people carrier. In addition to her business adviser Gina, and photographer Kurt, she was accompanied by private guide Clive Cortis who was contracted by Malta Tourism Authority.

First stop was a tour of the island capital, Valletta, where Meghan looked around St John’s Co-Cathedral and paused inside its Baroque interior to admire two early 17th-century masterpieces by Caravaggio: The Beheading Of St John The Baptist and St Jerome Writing. She later wrote on her blog that the art ‘took her breath away’.

Mr Cortis wrote on his website that he ‘immediately felt at ease’ in Meghan’s company, adding: ‘She’s a very down-to-earth person, fun and humble to be with.’

Meghan tries on a traditional Maltese cloak, called a ghonnella, which belongs to the 9th Marquis de Piro (right) and his wife Frances (left)

Meghan tries on a traditional Maltese cloak, called a ghonnella, which belongs to the 9th Marquis de Piro (right) and his wife Frances (left)

Nicholas, the 9th Marquis de Piro, in his ancestral home Casa Rocca Piccola

Nicholas, the 9th Marquis de Piro, in his ancestral home Casa Rocca Piccola

Meghan laughs as the 9th Marquis de Piro shows her his books and 'aristocratic bric-a-brac'

Meghan laughs as the 9th Marquis de Piro shows her his books and ‘aristocratic bric-a-brac’

The future wife of Prince Harry also tries on a traditional white headdress, as might have been worn by her ancestors

The future wife of Prince Harry also tries on a traditional white headdress, as might have been worn by her ancestors

Meghan poses for photographer Kurt Arrigo as they stop off at Casa Roca Piccola near Valletta

Meghan poses for photographer Kurt Arrigo as they stop off at Casa Roca Piccola near Valletta

After the cathedral, Meghan — dressed in ripped jeans, grey T-shirt, pumps and her favourite £1,600 Max Mara ‘Manuela’ coat — pootled through Valletta with her entourage, stopping off at Casa Rocca Piccola, a stunning palace built for a Maltese knight almost 500 years ago and the ancestral home of the 9th Marquis de Piro.

‘She turned up and said I think my great-grandmother was born in Malta,’ the marquis, Nicholas, told me this week. ‘Then we found out that she was a model. She seemed very kind and said nice things and that she was interested in modelling and that sort of thing. She had a photographer with her.’ Meghan posed for photographs in rooms replete with marble floors, statues, gilt-framed mirrors and artwork and was given a glimpse of the cellar where an old World War II air-raid shelter, cut out of the rock, remains.

Amongst the ‘aristocratic bric-a-brac’ the marquis showed the future duchess, was a traditional cloak with a hood framed around a whalebone.

‘In one of my more creative moments I asked her if she’d like to try it on,’ recalls the marquis. ‘I said it might amuse people.’

Photographs taken by Kurt Arrigo show Meghan smiling gently from beneath the cloak’s starched hood.

The duchess, pictured exploring the country in her favourite Max Mara coat, was commissioned to write an article about the trip for Elle magazine

The duchess, pictured exploring the country in her favourite Max Mara coat, was commissioned to write an article about the trip for Elle magazine

She did not appear to have made any discoveries about her past while staying on the island

She did not appear to have made any discoveries about her past while staying on the island

Worn by Maltese women from the 16th century onwards, it is just the type of garment that Meghan’s female forebear might have been expected to wear.

Alas, as the marquis himself reflects: ‘I don’t think she necessarily had Malta blood in her veins’.

During the run-up to her Malta trip, Meghan believed mistakenly that her great- grandmother, Gertrude Merrill, held the key to her Maltese connection and, after being born on the island, had emigrated to Pennsylvania.

In fact it was Meghan’s great-great-grandmother, Mary Bird, who, records reveal, was born in Malta in the mid-19th century.

Her birth took place there because her British father, Thomas Bird — Meghan’s great-great-great grandfather — was a foot soldier who was living, along with his Irish wife, in a garrison on the island.

A few years after her birth in 1862, Mary moved with her family to Canada, thus ending her brief connection with Malta but her British-Irish backstory, as the Daily Mail discovered this week, is nonetheless fascinating. Thomas Bird was a private in the 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment, part of the Prince of Wales’s division which, in 1860, was stationed in Beggars Bush Barracks in Dublin. In January that year, Thomas married Irish farmer’s daughter Mary McCague in the Dublin parish of Donnybrook.

Five months later, in June, Thomas Bird’s regiment — along with the wives and children of many of the soldiers — set sail from County Cork in Ireland to Malta which was then a Crown Colony and a key strategic staging post for British forces in the Mediterranean.

Meghan and Ms Nelthorpe-Cowne joke as they explore the streets of Malta's capital Valletta

Meghan and Ms Nelthorpe-Cowne joke as they explore the streets of Malta’s capital Valletta

The then 33-year-old later said that she felt she 'blended in' when she visited the island

The then 33-year-old later said that she felt she ‘blended in’ when she visited the island

Pointing at the architecture, Meghan was impressed by the buildings she visited

Pointing at the architecture, Meghan was impressed by the buildings she visited

Life in Malta was hard to say the least. Families housed in barracks in the Cottonera district were forced to endure conditions in which poor hygiene was commonplace and fresh water scarce. In the dry August months in particular, they were afflicted by sandfly fever and cholera. Infant mortality was high among children of British troops.

The Bird family are believed to have remained on the island until 1866 when the 22nd Regiment went by ship to New Brunswick in Canada.

But Thomas Bird is believed to have died around this time. His Irish wife, Mary, married for a second time in 1867 and had more children in Canada before moving to the U.S. in around 1881.

The Mail’s latest research into Meghan’s past also puts a dampener on a previous, somewhat romantic, suggestion which emerged around the time that she and Prince Harry became engaged, that she was descended from a Mary Bird working as a cook at Windsor Castle in 1856.

Her great-great-grandmother was born after this date and her great-great-great-grandmother, Belfast-born Mary McCague, only became a Bird when she married Thomas in 1860.

It is thought that no records exist for Mary’s 1862 birth but Malta is given as her birthplace on dozens of census and civil registration documents in Canada and the U.S. She married carpenter George Merrill in 1883 and died in Laconia, New Hampshire, in June 1925, aged 63.

Meghan's great-great-grandparents Mary Bird, who was born in Malta, and George Merrill

Meghan’s great-great-grandparents Mary Bird, who was born in Malta, and George Merrill

The duchess described herself as a 'California girl' and 'foodie' on her The Tig blog as she praised the wine in restaurants such as the Meridiana Wine Estate

The duchess described herself as a ‘California girl’ and ‘foodie’ on her The Tig blog as she praised the wine in restaurants such as the Meridiana Wine Estate 

Her daughter Gertrude and her husband Frederick Sanders were the parents of Meghan’s grandmother, Doris, whose son is Thomas Markle, Meghan’s estranged father. Doris died, aged 91, four years before Meghan’s Malta trip.

A connection then, albeit a fleeting one. And Meghan does not appear to have made any new discoveries about her family’s Maltese past while staying on the island.

‘She did mention that she had some sort of connection to Malta,’ says photographer Kurt Arrigo. ‘But as far as I’m aware, she didn’t visit any archives. She didn’t go down that route. She followed a programme suggested by the tourism authority.’ As well as Valletta, Meghan and her entourage toured the towns of Dingli and Mdina. She feasted on traditional gastronomical delights in the rural restaurant Diar il-Bniet, including sheep milk cheeselettes and spaghetti with rabbit, and sampled wines not only from the cellars at Casa Ellul but at the 19-acre Meridiana Wine Estate.

The duchess tries on a ghonnella, made with a hood framed around a whalebone

The duchess tries on a ghonnella, made with a hood framed around a whalebone

Meghan later described Malta as a 'beautiful jewel of an island' and the land from which her ancestors hailed

Meghan later described Malta as a ‘beautiful jewel of an island’ and the land from which her ancestors hailed

Writing on The Tig, she later waxed lyrical about the food she tasted on the island, describing herself as a ‘California girl foodie’ and mentioning goats milk cheese and sun-dried tomato paste and pastizzi — flaky pastry stuffed with peas or ricotta.

Kurt Arrigo, who spent two days with Meghan, recalls that she relaxed and spoke affectionately about her father.

‘She said he was a lighting director in the film industry and so she knew about photography,’ he says.

He also recalls that she mentioned her divorce, two years earlier, from her first husband, director Trevor Engelson, but ‘didn’t really open up about that’.

The only disappointment, he says, was that having promised to meet his two star-struck teenage daughters who wanted to meet a ‘beautiful American actress’, Meghan called the meeting off the next day due to sickness.

Even so, he says, he appreciated the fact that she later name-checked Livia and Kate on The Tig, writing: ‘Sad I didn’t get to meet you . . . your dad is the best! Xo MM’.

In the card she left for the Ellul brothers, Meghan assured them that she would return to their beautiful island. Sometimes Matthew shows the card to guests staying in Suite 7.

‘I think she had a great time here,’ he says. ‘But soon after, she met Prince Harry, and since then I think she’s been quite busy. As far as I know, she hasn’t been back.’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You May Also Like

Buffalo grandmother was found dead a few hundred feet from her home after going out amid blizzard

A Buffalo grandmother was found dead just a few hundred feet from…

Hunter out and about in Malibu as his lawyer goes after Trump for cocaine claims

Hunter Biden was spotted Thursday walking with his Secret Service agent in…

Ex-Playboy model, 32, claims Andrew Tate ‘tried to lure her to his Romanian hideaway’

A former Playboy model has told friends how Andrew Tate tried to…

Release Date, Cast, Plot and More Information! – Unleashing The Latest In Entertainment

The Future Of… Season 2 Release Date: The advancements in science and…