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Who is Priyanka Chopra? Meghan Markle's close friend who flew straight from the royal wedding to Bangladesh

Tristram Fane Saunders
Priyanka Chopra (left) taking a selfie at the royal wedding with Suits actress Abigail Spencer - Priyanka Chopra/Instagram

If there's one friend the Duchess of Sussex will have been excitedly messaging over the last few days, it's probably Priyanka Chopra. “She still texts a lot, which is great," the Indian actress and former Miss World winner said earlier this month. “She’s such a girl’s girl." Chopra was a guest at this weekend's wedding, and has been busily sharing her wedding snaps on Instagram, telling her followers that she "danced the night away".

When they first met, at a dinner celebrating women in television in 2016, Chopra was easily the more famous of the pair. In much of the world she still is. In the US, Chopra is best known for playing FBI agent Alex Parrish in the TV series Quantico, but in India she is revered as one of the country's most famous film stars.

Before her Hollywood breakthrough in last year's film remake of Baywatch, Chopra already had more than 50 Bollywood film roles under her belt; her 2012 thriller Agneepath made more money at the box office in a single day than any film in India's history.

Early in her career, she heard a callous producer tell her manager that "women are replaceable" – a comment that left her in tears. From that day on, she resolved only to take on strong, "irreplacable" characters; highlights include playing boxing champion Mary Kom in a biopic about the Olympic athlete's life, and a black widow who murders seven of her husbands in Bollywood comedy 7 Khoon Maaf.

The daughter of two Indian army doctors, Chopra was moved to the US aged 13, where she lived for five years – often facing racist bullying at school, where people would insult her appearance. "It broke my spirit," she told Glamour magazine in 2016. "It made me question who I was. Why was it so uncool being Indian?" In response, she has said, "I taught myself confidence... You've got to teach yourself to take over the world." Less than two years after she moved back to India, she was crowned the winner of the Miss World beauty pageant.

Meghan Markle and Priyanka Chopra watched the Broadway musical Hamilton toghether Credit: Meghan Markle/Instagram

Chopra has a fledgling singing career, recording singles with Will.i.am and and the US rapper Pitbull, and is also a prominent activist for children's education. "Priyanka is one of the most recognizable people on the entire Asian continent," according to Holly Gordon, CEO of Girl Rising, an international charity that promotes education for women and girls. "It's impossible to overestimate her power in making it acceptable to send girls to school."

When she met Malala at the United Nations last year, the 20-year-old Nobel Prize-winner was starstruck.

The actress uses 10 per cent of her earnings to fund a children's charity, The Priyanka Chopra Foundation, which (as of 2016) was supporting 50 girls and 20 boys in India through their schooling. She became a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador for Child Rights in 2010, using her celebrity profile to promote the cause. This Monday, less than 48 hours after the royal wedding, she had already flown over to Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on a Unicef field visit to a refugee camp for the Rohingya people, who had fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

In a social media post about the visit, she wrote of the refugees: "As they finally start to settle and feel a sense of safety, monsoon season looms... threatening to destroy all that they’ve built so far. This is an entire generation of children that have no future in sight. Through their smiles I could see the vacancy in their eyes."

Her tireless work as a campaigner and philanthropist is something she and Meghan have in common. After Vanity Fair ran a profile of her friend, Chopra was quick to criticise the magazine for focusing solely on her relationship with Prince Harry and ignoring her charity work. 

"I don't know if I will get into trouble for this, but I have an opinion," she told Entertainment Tonight. "She's on the cover of Vanity Fair. It would have been nice to write about her, not just her boyfriend. I'm just saying. I mean, she's an actor, she's an activist, she's a philanthropist... she does so much more."

When they first met, they instantly "bonded as actors", Chopra has said. "We just became friends, like two girls would." They would frequently appear on each other's Instagram feeds – until Meghan deleted her account in January. It's a testament to their closeness that Time magazine asked Chopra to write their profile of the Suits star when she was featured on their 2018 list of the world's 100 most influential people (Chopra had already been on the list herself in 2016).

Priyanka Chopra at the 2018 Met Gala Credit: Ray Tamarra/GC

"Somewhere among biryani, poutine and endless conversations, I realized just how deeply Meghan Markle cares for the world," Chopra wrote. "With her, what you see is real, and what you get is a relatable young woman with her heart and mind in the right place. Her compassion, evident in the causes she supports, and her drive to break down stereotypes – obvious in her actions – will connect her to a generation in much need of kindness."