The Story Behind the Regal Portrait of Meghan Markle That Appeared in Beyoncé and JAY-Z's Speech

Artist Tim O'Brien was shocked to see his work appear alongside music's power couple

Beyoncé and JAY-Z may not have attended the 2019 Brit Awards in person, but they still made their mark – thanks to a surprise “cameo” from royal mom-to-be Meghan Markle.

Music’s power couple accepted their award for Best International Group via video message, recreating their music video for “APES—.” But instead of posing in front of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” they stood in front of a regal portrait of the Duchess of Sussex donning a sparkling crown and pearl necklaces.

The illustration by artist Tim O’Brien sent social media buzzing immediately. However, the artist was surprised to see his work appear alongside Beyoncé and JAY-Z.

Beyoncé and JAY-Z with portrait of Meghan Markle. Beyonce/Instagram

“The first I heard of it was seeing it online,” O’Brien – a Brooklyn-based illustrator who has designed magazine covers for Time, Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated – tells PEOPLE via email.

Although the couple didn’t ask O’Brien’s permission to use the image, he says, “I think using the image as a double homage to Meghan and their own video ‘Apes–’ was brilliant. Judging by the reaction online, countless others agreed.”

The portrait first appeared on the cover of The Key – the alumnae magazine for Meghan’s sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma – for their summer 2018 issue after O’Brien was contacted by them.

“It was their concept to paint Meghan as a princess, and we worked collaboratively on the sketch before final approval and then my painting,” he explains.

Shortly after the acceptance speech aired, Beyoncé shared a photo posing with the portrait to Instagram.

“In honor of Black History Month, we bow down to one of our Melanated Monas,” she wrote. “Congrats on your pregnancy! We wish you so much joy.”

In a post on her website, Beyoncé began by celebrating Meghan’s “charitable work in communities of color,” which the Grammy winner noted began “years before becoming the Duchess of Sussex.”

“Meghan’s background as a film and tv actress has allowed her to use her platform for good,” Beyoncé, 37, wrote of Markle, also 37. “As a global ambassador for World Vision, she traveled to Rwanda to see how access to clean, safe water impacts children, an issue that is near and dear to our hearts. She also visited and supported the Myna Mahila Foundation in Mumbai, an organization that helps solve the menstruation challenges many women and girls in the community face.”

Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock; Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Then, Beyoncé looked to Meghan’s May wedding to Prince Harry. For the ceremony, she made sure her Black culture was incorporated, something Beyoncé was happy to see.

“[She] brought many Black traditions to her Royal Wedding including a Chicago-based Black pastor, an amazing gospel choir, and a young Black cellist,” Beyoncé recalled. “At the wedding her culture was front and center, and she and Prince Harry have continued to push the race relations dialogue forward both near and far.”

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