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Meghan Markle Image Credit: AFP

Diana, Princess of Wales was once deemed the ultimate Vogue cover girl and the Duchess of Cambridge followed in her footsteps.

But the Duchess of Sussex has decided to shun the honour to focus on female empowerment and diversity.

As the first to guest edit the September issue of British Vogue, she has chosen to make 15 other women cover stars, using the opportunity to promote inspirational role models. It was revealed on Sunday that the Duchess has spent the past seven months working on it.

She has curated an issue that focuses on her choice of “trailblazing changemakers”, headlined ‘Forces for Change’.

It includes a conversation between her and Michelle Obama, the former US first lady, whom she has long admired, as well as an interview between her husband, the Duke of Sussex and Dr Jane Goodall, a primatologist she has idolised since childhood.

The Duchess said: “These last seven months have been a rewarding process, curating and collaborating with Edward Enninful, British Vogue’s editor-in-chief, to take the year’s most read fashion issue and steer its focus to the values, causes and people making impact in the world today.

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Image Credit: Supplied

“Through this lens I hope you’ll feel the strength of the collective in the diverse selection of women chosen for the cover as well as the team I called upon within the issue to help bring this to light.”

While it was the Duchess’s idea to feature 15 women on the cover, she eschewed the chance to appear with them. Instead, the 37-year-old identified a group of women she admired and felt strongly about.

They include Adwoa Aboah, a model and campaigner for mental health. The Duchess appeared with her on a panel marking International Women’s Day in March. Jameela Jamil, a body positivity advocate and actor, has been promoted online by the Sussexes.

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, who hosted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their first joint overseas tour in October and said she had “real empathy” for the then-pregnant royal, also features, as does Sinead Burke, an Irish diversity activist who met the Duchess at a garden party in Dublin last July; and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian novelist who hosted a talk with Michelle Obama attended by the Duchess in December.

Others she chose to celebrate are Adut Akech, a South Sudanese model and former refugee; Ramla Ali, a London-based Somali boxer; Gemma Chan, a Kent-born campaigner and actor; and Laverne Cox, the transgender activist and actor who stars in Orange is the New Black.

The inclusion of Jane Fonda, the US actor and activist, was likely inspired by the 2018 Netflix documentary Feminists: What Were They Thinking? which the Duchess referenced earlier this year.

The others featured are Salma Hayek Pinault, the actor and women’s rights advocate; Francesca Hayward, the Kenyan-born Royal Ballet principal dancer who stars in the Cats remake; Greta Thunberg, the climate change campaigner; Christy Turlington Burns, the model and campaigner against maternal deaths; and Yara Shahidi, the actor and founder of Eighteen x 18, which engages young people in politics. The 16th spot on the cover is blank, at the Duchess’s request, to represent a mirror designed to “include the reader”.

The Duchess of Cambridge appeared on the cover in 2016. Diana, Princess of Wales, featured on the cover four times.

The issue will include a feature on Smart Works, a charity of which the Duchess is patron.

Mr Enninful spoke of his delight that the Duchess guest edited the September issue. “To have the country’s most influential beacon of change... is an honour, a pleasure and a wonderful surprise,” he said.