Meghan Markle steps out for her first engagement of the New Year - here's why the announcement of her four patronages are important to her life as a royal
Meghan Markle has become a fully paid-up member of the British royal family by taking on her first patronages.
Lending their name and giving their time to charities is an important duty for the Windsors, and the associations often last for decades. The royals are currently patrons or presidents of more 3,000 organisations and charities in total. Meghan's first four patronages represent a key step for the duchess, who is still in her first year as a newbie royal.
According to the royal family's website: "Royal patronages add status to an organisation, and visits and involvement from a royal patron can often bring much-needed publicity."
Meghan will have been inundated with requests from charities asking for her support since marrying the Duke of Sussex in May. Members of the royal family each receive hundreds of pleas each year. Most royals tends to limit their patronages to a manageable number to allow them to devote enough time to each.
The Duchess of Cambridge has 17 and has focused on early intervention for children. Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh have more than 1,000 patronages between them, many of which were inherited from previous monarchs. According to he royal family's website, the most influential member regarding patronages is still the queen.
"The Queen's patronage carries the most weight, and Her Majesty receives the most requests for patronages of all the members of the royal family," the site says.
In 2016, following her 90th birthday, the British monarch stepped down from 25 patronages, including the NSPCC, which was taken over by the Countess of Wessex, and the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, which went to Kate. Now she has handed two over to Meghan, with the duchess becoming patron of the National Theatre and the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
But she still has 599 patronages or associations. Philip stepped down as patron or president of more than a dozen organisations when he turned 90 in 2010. He was patron, president or a member of 785 organisations at his retirement in 2017, and continues his association with them behind the scenes.
Princess Diana, made a shock announcement following her divorce in 1996, when she ended her links with more than 100 charities. She resigned her position as patron or president from all but six - Centrepoint, the English National Ballet, the Leprosy Mission, the National Aids Trust, London's Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children and the Royal Marsden Hospital.
Those she stepped down from included Help the Aged, Barnardos, Relate and the Parkinson's Disease Society. The late princess said she made her decision "with great sadness", but wanted to concentrate her efforts on fewer causes.
The first recorded patronage was George II's involvement with the Society of Antiquaries in the 1700s. The organisation was concerned with architectural and art history, conservation and heraldry.
It still exists today and and the Duke of Gloucester, is its patron. Patronages generally reflect a royal's interests, such as the Duchess of Cornwall, who is president of the National Osteoporosis Society after both her mother and grandmother died due to the brittle bone disease.
The Duchess of Sussex celebrated becoming the patron of a women's charity supporting vulnerable job-seekers by meeting its clients, and declared: "I'm so happy to be here."
Meghan visited the London premises of Smart Works after Kensington Palace announced the duchess had taken on a range of patronages reflecting her interests in the arts, access to education, support for women and animal welfare.
Meghan accepted honorary roles with the National Theatre, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Smart Works, which helps vulnerable or long-term unemployed women find jobs, and Mayhew, an animal welfare organisation. She arrived at Smart Works, based in St Charles Hospital in north Kensington, west London, wearing a dress from Hatch and tan coat by Oscar de la Renta.
The duchess heard from staff members about the work of the charity, and met women who have benefited from its support. She told the group, which included two former clients: "I'm so happy to be here. You guys know I've been quietly coming by ... close to a year.
"It's nice to be able to now do it publicly and really talk about the work that you do."
Meghan, who is expecting her first child in the spring, was initially greeted by Smart Works chief executive Kate Stephens.
Ms Stephens said the duchess had made several private visits to the centre in 2018.
She added: "She's really hands-on and involved, and has a natural empathy with people that we've been really impressed by, she's amazing. She puts people at their ease. It does feel slightly surreal."
The 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.
Kensington Palace said in a statement: "The Duchess is delighted to become patron of both national and grassroots organisations that are part of the fabric of the UK, and is very much looking forward to working with them to bring wider public attention to their causes.
"Her Royal Highness feels she can use her position to focus attention on, and make a particular difference to these organisations and, more widely, the sectors they each represent."