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Is Doria Ragland the key to Meghan Markle’s Hollywood comeback?

 (ES composite)
(ES composite)

Over the past couple of weeks, an unlikely new Hollywood power player has emerged on the Hollywood A-list scene: Doria Ragland.

The mother of Meghan Markle has kept a resolutely low profile ever since she was first thrust into the spotlight back in 2018, when she appeared as the only family member to attend her daughter’s wedding to Prince Harry. But now, in the space of a few days, she’s been papped cosying up to Kim Kardashian and Kris Jenner at a star-studded charity event in LA and partying the night away in a private VIP box at Beyoncé’s latest series of concerts.

After years of studiously avoiding the limelight and letting her daughter grab the headlines, is Doria now ready to embrace the fame game and become a powerhouse in her own right?

She certainly looked at ease sandwiched between Kim and her ‘momager’ Kris at This Is About Humanity’s fifth annual charity soirée last month. The former social worker was dressed in a colourful paisley J Crew tunic dress — notable for being one of Michelle Obama’s favourite labels — and a pair of tan Chloé pumps, and seemed right at home among the A-list guests, who included Eva Longoria, Jeff Bezos, and Lauren Sanchez.

The invitation came courtesy of Doria’s seeming new ‘bestie’ Gina Zapanta, a hot-shot LA lawyer and co-founder of ZA Lawyers, which co-sponsored the event. Doria was one of Gina’s guests at the charity do, along with fashion blogger Jennifer Palpallatoc and lawyer and reality TV star Reagan Charleston, who gushed that Doria was “literally one of the warmest, most lovely human beings I have ever met”. Doria’s social circle certainly seems to have had a glamour injection since her appearance in that Netflix documentary last year.

Gina and Doria are clearly close, with Gina referring to her as her “dear friend” in an Instagram post about the event. Still, while it might have been Gina’s connections that landed Doria an invite to the glitzy soirée, Meghan’s mum seemed to be the real VIP once they arrived — it was she who introduced Gina to Kim and Kris, and there’s footage of an excited-looking Kim getting Kris and Doria to pose for snapshots on her phone together.

Kris Jenner, Doria Ragland, and Kim Kardashian attend the TIAH 5th Anniversary Soiree at Private Residence (Stefanie Keenan / Getty Images for This Is About H)
Kris Jenner, Doria Ragland, and Kim Kardashian attend the TIAH 5th Anniversary Soiree at Private Residence (Stefanie Keenan / Getty Images for This Is About H)

“People have been talking a lot recently about how she’s been schmoozing at events,” says Hollywood publicist Jane Owen, founder of Jane Owen Public Relations. “If I was Doria’s representation, I would be figuring out ways to make her relevant in her own right, away from Meghan: perhaps business ventures, a book, motivational speeches. She could be the ultimate momfluencer, which is big business.”

Many noted that while Doria was the belle of the ball, Meghan was conspicuously absent from the event, despite the fact that one of the charity’s main partners is World Central Kitchen, who teamed up with Harry and Meghan’s Archewell Foundation in 2020. Doria’s prominent presence and Meghan’s no-show has led some to speculate that the Duchess of Sussex may be using her mother to curry favour with celebs in a bid to rebuild her reputation. “I certainly wouldn’t put it past Meghan,” says one Hollywood insider. “Unlike the rest of her family, Doria has always steered clear of any drama and has been a rock for her. She could be key to helping her rebuild relationships in LA.”

Since Doria was seen buddying up to the Kardashians, she’s been spotted throwing shapes in a private box at Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour alongside Meghan, a rather glum-looking Harry, and Meghan’s former Suits co-star and close friend Abigail Spencer, in a night out organised to celebrate her 67th birthday. A few days later, she returned with Gina and another stylish posse of gal pals for Beyoncé’s birthday concert, where Meghan was also spotted separately. Seen partying with Kerry Washington and Kelly Rowland, Meghan’s appearance at the celeb-filled show is being billed as a big Hollywood comeback for the duchess — suggesting Doria’s charm offensive might be working its magic already.

She could be the ultimate momfluencer, which is big business

Publicist Jane Owen

Meghan and her mother have always been extremely close, and many cite her as being hugely influential in the duchess’s life. Doria reportedly has her own ‘granny flat’ at the Sussexes’ Montecito mansion and is known for being very hands-on with her grandkids. The royals, meanwhile, have only met Harry’s children a handful of times.

Described by Meghan as a “free spirit” with dreadlocks and a nose ring, she has a large flower tattoo on her right forearm which many believe is a nod to her childhood nickname for Meghan, whom she has always called ‘Flower’. But, despite her laid-back appearance, friends say Doria is known for having a “core of steel” and for being unfailingly discrete — friends say Meghan has always trusted her completely.

A former social worker and yoga teacher who specialises in coaching the elderly, Doria met Thomas Markle in 1979 while working as a secretary at ABC Studios in LA. Thomas was a lighting director who worked on hit TV shows General Hospital and, later, Married With Children. Thomas has since described it as “love at first sight”, and the pair married that same year in a Buddhist ceremony after a whirlwind courtship. Meghan was born two years later, in August 1981.

Doria Ragland appeared in the Harry & Meghan documentary (Netflix)
Doria Ragland appeared in the Harry & Meghan documentary (Netflix)

Sadly, the marriage fell apart after a couple of years, largely due to Thomas’s gruelling work schedule and the fact that Doria wasn’t happy in their middle-class suburb of Woodland Hills, where she was often mistaken for the nanny when she pushed Meghan around in her pram. She decided to move back to the city, taking Meghan with her.

Despite the fact that Meghan went to live with her father from the ages of 11 to 18, to be closer to her private girls’ school, Immaculate Heart, Doria and Meghan and have always had a strong bond, with Meghan once describing her as less a mother and more “a controlling sister”.

Doria’s relationship with Thomas remained amicable after their split, though it would seem that may no longer be the case after he was caught flogging staged photographs to the paparazzi in the run-up to Meghan’s wedding. “I was absolutely stunned that Tom would become part of this circus,” Doria revealed in the Harry & Meghan documentary series that aired on Netflix at the end of last year. “Certainly as a parent, that’s not what you do. It’s not parenting.”

Kerry Washington, Kelly Rowland, and Meghan Markle attend Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour (Kevin Mazur / Parkwood)
Kerry Washington, Kelly Rowland, and Meghan Markle attend Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour (Kevin Mazur / Parkwood)

While the Sussexes were lambasted for airing their dirty laundry in the warts-and-all series, Doria went on to become the unsung hero of the show, coming across as “classy and quiet” (to use Meghan’s words) as she described meeting Harry for the first time (“there was this 6ft 1in handsome man with red hair, [he had] great manners”) and being stalked by the paparazzi. When one tried to bribe her for a story, she replied: “This is my child. I have nothing to say.”

Doria’s steely resilience and strong work ethic (after her split from Thomas, she started a dress-making business called A Change Of A Dress and went on to earn a master’s degree in social work at the University of Southern California) have led many to believe she had a hand in the Sussexes’s controversial decision to quit royal life in 2020. “When Meghan and Harry announced they were walking away from their jobs as royals to be financially independent, it immediately smacked of Doria,” one friend was quoted as saying. “Being financially independent has always been important to her.”

While Doria has stayed largely under the radar, only appearing at a handful of public events and always by Meghan’s side, she seems to have come into her own this summer. Alongside the This Is About Humanity event, she was also spotted attending a swanky exhibition for artist Honor Titus in Beverly Hills in July, later heading for dinner with pals at celeb fave Il Fornaio.

Right now, she has the advantage of being ‘shiny and new’, but I would recommend she start working on projects to keep the interest going

Publicist Jane Owen

Interestingly, Titus has a royal connection, having been one of 10 artists commissioned by King Charles III to create portraits of the Commonwealth’s post-WWII Windrush Generation. By contrast, Meghan hasn’t been spotted at a single red carpet event since the “near catastrophic” car chase fiasco in New York in May.

So, could this finally be Doria’s big moment? The timing is certainly fortuitous, with Meghan poised for a big rebrand after landing her first major producing gig since signing with top Hollywood agency WME and rumours swirling that she’s about to re-establish herself as a social media power player with a new Instagram account.

With the Sussexes vowing to put the recent months of drama and negativity behind them, there’s never been a better time for Doria to start enjoying the perks that come with being the mother of one of the most famous women in the world. “Doria will continue to be invited to events as long as the press continues to be interested in her,” says Owen. “Right now, she has the advantage of being ‘shiny and new’, but I would recommend she start working on projects to keep the interest going past this honeymoon phase.”

As she herself said in Harry & Meghan, “I’m ready to have my voice heard.” If that’s the case, Doria, we’re all ears.