MEGHAN MARKLE is being guarded by royal protection officers as the Palace prepares to announce her engagement to Prince Harry as early as this week.
The news was supposed to be made public on Thursday, with the Prime Minister poised to release a congratulatory statement, but Kensington Palace was “spooked” into postponing it by intense speculation, say sources.
As the rumour mill went into overdrive this weekend, the Sunday Express can reveal how Downing Street was gearing up for an 11am announcement on Thursday – Thanksgiving Day in America – prompting all the major broadcasters to clear their news schedules.
It followed bookmakers closing the betting on an engagement amid reports that Harry has already secretly proposed.
The American actress was accompanied by bodyguards from the Metropolitan Police’s Protection Command Tuesday – in the strongest sign yet that another royal wedding is imminent.
It is the first time she has been spotted with a taxpayer-funded security detail in tow.
The Duchess of Cambridge was only assigned police protection after she became secretly engaged to Prince William in Kenya, almost a month before an official announcement was made in November 2010.
A female close protection officer is understood to be shadowing Kate’s bodyguard, Sergeant Emma Probert, in preparation for becoming Meghan’s personal protection officer.
Speculation is rife in Westminster circles that an engagement could be announced as early as tomorrow.
A Government source said: “Everyone was expecting the announcement to go out at 11am on Thursday.
“We think the Palace got spooked by phone calls from various media outlets. The statement was being prepared on behalf of the Prime Minister.
“It’s now being considered a case of any day now.”
Royal insiders say Palace staff have been informed that it is a case of “when, not if” the couple will marry, with news of a proposal expected before Christmas.
This would enable Meghan to attend the Royal Family festivities at Sandringham, where the Queen traditionally spends Christmas every year.
The royal household is also understood to be preparing for the couple to tie the knot before Kate gives birth to the Cambridges’ third child in April.
It is thought Prince George and Princess Charlotte will play a starring role on the big day.
The Sunday Express revealed several months ago that the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had given his blessing for Harry to marry divorcee Meghan in a church.
The former Suits star, who quit the US legal drama earlier this month to move in with the fifth-in-line to the throne at Kensington Palace, was married to American film and TV producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 to 2013.
The 36-year-old actress was educated at a Catholic school, although her father Thomas Markle is believed to be Jewish.
A spokesman for Westminster Abbey, where they are tipped to hold the ceremony, last week reissued its statement confirming that it followed the General Synod ruling of 2002 that has made it possible for divorced people to be married in the Church of England.
Interfaith marriages are also possible. Wedding speculation ramped up earlier this month following reports that Meghan had moved her dogs to the UK.
It came as her body double on Suits posted an emotional message on Instagram, featuring a symbol of clinking champagne glasses, wishing her co-star “all the happiness in the world” and adding “you deserve it”.
The Sunday Express can now reveal that Meghan listed Harry’s address on her pet passport form as long as six months ago.
Insiders claim she declared Kensington Palace as her place of residence in early summer when she signed the “Notice 3” form, which is the Customs paperwork for her two dogs, six-year-old beagle Guy and five-year-old German shepherd Bogart.
Los Angeles-born Meghan flew to London on Tuesday from Canada, where she has been based since 2011 after landing the role of paralegal Rachel Zane in Suits.
Removal vans have been spotted in her Toronto neighbourhood in recent weeks and Meghan has reportedly stopped leasing a car there.
Her decision to leave Suits came after she made her first official appearance alongside Harry, 33, at the Invictus Games in Toronto in September.
The tactile Prince was spotted kissing and hugging his girlfriend and chatting animatedly with the woman tipped to be his future mother-in-law.
Meghan’s mother, social worker Doria Radlan, 60, made the five-hour flight from her California home to Canada to join the couple at the Invictus Games closing ceremony.
A month later, Meghan gave an interview to Vanity Fair in which she declared: “We’re two people who are really happy and 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.”