For as much as one gains, in material terms, by marrying into the royal familyâjewels, palace apartments, Hamilton ticketsâthere is just as much to lose. If you were not a member of British, royal-adjacent high society from birth, you would suddenly find yourself in an unfamiliar world, with a complete lack of privacy and anonymity, a calendar of public events, and a crush of critics.
Meghan Markle reportedly met Prince Harry when she was 34 years old. She had been married before, and was starring on a successful basic-cable television series, Suits. She had a lifestyle Web site and more than a million Instagram followers. She also had a close-knit circle of friends, many of whom appeared in that social-media feed, dining, laughing, and traveling around the world.
Now that she is marrying the man who is fifth (soon to be sixth) in line to the British throne, though, Markle is leaving that role behind. Sheâll become a citizen of the U.K. She has shut down her site, The Tig, as well as her social-media accounts. But the question remains whether she will have to give up her friends and confidantes as well.
Traditionally, those who marry into the royal family find themselves completely subsumed by their new station. As Toronto-based royal observer Patricia Treble points out, now that Markle is in âthe firm,â as the royal family is known, her associations are going to be monitored much more closely and strategically. âThe royals are very careful about being seen with people who are perhaps out for something of their own. So, are [these people] friends, or are they advisers? Thereâs a difference. You have a lot of people who will say, âI know them, but Iâm not their friend. I work with them, but Iâm not their friend.â You look at all the senior royals, and theyâre incredibly careful about whom theyâre friends with. They end up having lots of âacquaintances,â or people who âknow them.ââ
Markle already defies precedent. She is âunusual as a royal bride because she had such an extensive public profile before meeting Prince Harry,â says London-based royal-watcher Emily Nash, of Hello! magazine. âI think it was inevitable that once their relationship became serious, she would shut down her social-media accounts.â But deactivating Instagram doesnât necessarily mean she is no longer keeping up with her friends. Nash says that while Markle will be âgetting used to a more discreet social life . . . she is still going to be seeing and speaking to her most trusted friends just as before.â The exact shape those friendships will take is what remains to be seen.
Markle, who was born and raised in Los Angeles and went to college at Northwestern, just outside Chicago, began filming Suits in Toronto in 2011. Though she wasnât a âcelebrityâ while she lived and worked in the Canadian city (one Toronto gossip reporter told me she was very much off their radar pre-Harry), she did run with a chic, affluent crowd. Markle, who wrote of her homebody tendencies on her lifestyle Web site, now reportedly maintains a low-key day-to-day existence with Harry. But Toronto-based gossip writer and TV host Elaine âLaineyâ Lui says that, while Markle wasnât a constant presence on the scene, she was in with what would be considered, âby Toronto standards, the social influencers.â Lui adds, âI wouldnât say she was the type to be out every single night, but I would say that she was pretty selective about the events she did attend, and that crowd was Toronto society.â
During her time in Toronto, Markle developed a friendship with Markus Anderson, a consultant at Soho House, the members-only club with locations in London, Toronto, New York, and elsewhere. Anderson and Markle often attended events together, and she even referred to Anderson as the âuncleâ of her two dogs, Guy and Bogart. (Guy has since relocated to London, while Bogart reportedly remains with friends in Toronto.) According to Toronto reporter Shinan Govani, Markle met other friends through ex-boyfriend Cory Vitiello, a well-known Toronto chef whom she reportedly dated for about two years prior to her relationship with Prince Harry. âA lot of the contacts she ended up making were because of Vitiello,â says Govani, who once entertained the couple at a dinner party at his house. âHe was this strapping young guy who cooked, and he had this thing where he bridged uptown and downtown [Toronto].â
Markleâs inner circle also included the telegenic Toronto power couple Ben and Jessica Mulroney. Ben is a television presenter and the son of former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney, while Jessica is a stylist and consultant. The Mulroneys have double-dated with current Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, whom Jessica has often styled. Markle and Jessica Mulroney became fast friends, connecting over a shared affection for yoga and frequently taking vacations together. (Mulroney posted an Instagram about two years ago of her and Markle on a trip to Italy, with the caption âHappy wife happy life,â including the hashtag #fakehoneymoon.) âThe Jessica Mulroney relationship was key in that it opened up the eco-system of her world,â Govani says. âItâs what probably connected her to people like Justin [Trudeau] and to Sophie, and I think also to Markus and Soho House.â In addition to Jessica Mulroney, Markleâs socialite squad included New York-based designer Misha Nonoo. Nonoo and Markle have traveled together to Europe, with Anderson along for the revelryâand the Instagrams.
This is the life of casual travel and nights out that Markle will have to leave behind, even if she manages to maintain the friendships. As royal commentator and author Heather Cocks told me, perhaps the surest sign that the Toronto friendships are authentic is that we havenât heard much from the socialite squad since Markle and Harryâs relationship went public. âShe does seem to have a good sort of inner circle,â Cocks says. âNone of them are out being [photographed by the paparazzi] or interviewed about any of this. . . . I think those are probably the friendships that are real, the ones that you donât see, because those are ones that you trust.â (Mulroney and Nonoo both declined to comment for this piece.) The British socialite Violet von Westenholz, who is credited with setting up Harry and Meghan on the blind date that started it all, also declined to talk about her friendship with Markle. (Von Westenholz met Markle through her work in press relations at Ralph Lauren; her father is friends with Prince Charles, and she knew Prince Harry growing up.)
The discretion continues. Mulroney reportedly visited Markle in London for four days in January to help her with her wedding-dress fittings, and was not so much as photographed the entire time she was there. Last September, Markle wore one of Nonooâs designs (a white blouse called the Husband Shirt!) to the Invictus Games, an event founded by Prince Harry, but Nonoo refuses to comment on how Markleâs endorsement may have affected sales. (Markle brought Anderson along to the games, a full-circle friendship moment for the pair.) âHer Harry-era crew is totally on lockdown,â Lui notes. âI think thatâs super-smart of them, because, first, theyâre hoping for an invitation [to the wedding]âwhy would you jeopardize that? And number two, her social circle in Toronto is quite affluent. They donât need to sell a story to the Daily Mail for $10,000.â
Markle also has a group of Hollywood friends whose names are better known to the public: Quantico star Priyanka Chopra, tennis legend Serena Williams, Timeless actress Abigail Spencer, True Bloodâs Janina Gavankar. Most of them have talked about Markle since she started dating Harry, in the course of giving interviews. Their comments, however, generally take the form of vague platitudes, and none of them have been seen in public with Markle since she became a household name. Spencerâwho recurred on Suits for five seasons, alongside Markleâshared details about her friendship with the soon-to-be royal with me, and, when I asked if she has been in touch with Markle since she started dating Harry, responded simply, âOf course, sheâs my friend!â Spencer says of their relationship, âShe is definitely my go-to for not only career advice but all-things advice. I call her my life curatorâher taste is impeccable, and because of our similar nature, I know she . . . really gets me.â According to Spencer, Markle has acclimated to the increased attention wellââMeghan has been a famous and successful actor for a very long time. Sheâs handling it as she handles everything: with grace, ease, humility, a sharp wit, and a deft sense of humor.â Spencer also underscores Markleâs commitment to her friends: âShe finds her tribe and loves them hard.â Gavankar, who met Markle at a diversity talent-development program, says Markle was her âfirst girlfriend in Los Angelesââand now her oldest. She also says she has been in touch with Markle since she and Harry began dating, and observed that Markle âhas no confusion as to what is important. She isnât distracted from her priorities: her family, her chosen family, and what she puts into the world.â Gavankar says that Markle takes her friendships seriously, and that the two of themâalmost always in different cities, on locationâhave Facetime or Skype sessions, which they call âState of the Unions.â Gavankar notes, with some laughter, âTheyâre full-bodied rundowns of all the moving parts in our lives: realizations in personal growth, priority organization, nudges on self-careâmostly her nudging me.â
Markle also has her longtime Los Angeles friends, about whom the least is known, since they, for the most part, keep an extremely low profile. Benita Litt, a brand curator, has been close with Markle for years, and Markle spent Christmas with the Litt family in 2016. One imagines Heather Dorak is on a group-text thread with Litt and Markle as well: Dorak, a Pilates instructor based in Los Angeles, visited Spain with Markle in 2016 and used to appear in photographs often with Markle and Litt. And in her own special category is New York B.F.F. Lindsay Jill Roth, Markleâs best friend from Northwestern, currently a television producer. Markle was the maid of honor in Rothâs 2016 wedding.
Markle clearly has no shortage of pals to text with, even if she canât see them as often or tag them in sun-kissed photos taken in foreign countriesâshe canât go to Whole Foods without it becoming a four-day-news-cycle story.
Shortly after their engagement, Harry said in an interview that Markle is marrying into the âfamily sheâs never hadââa remark which, particularly in the British press and among Markleâs own family members, caused a stir. Markle has spoken publicly several times about her close relationship with her mother, Doria Ragland, but less is known about her relationship with her father, Thomas, a former lighting director who currently lives somewhat under the radar in Mexico. (Harry had met Ragland but not Thomas when he and Meghan became engaged.) Markleâs two half-siblings, Thomasâs children from a previous marriage, are not likely to be giving toasts at her wedding, either, as she is reportedly estranged from both: Samantha is said to be writing a tell-all memoir; Thomas junior spoke to the press in January about the pressures of having a suddenly extremely high-profile relation, after an altercation with his fiancĂ©e (who was initially charged with fourth-degree assault but did not face prosecution). Some of Markleâs childhood friends have attempted to capitalize on their associations as well, such as Ninaki Priddy, who provided information to the press, including a photo of a teenage Markle standing in front of Buckingham Palace and a video of an eight-year-old Markle dressed up like the Queen. And according to Deadline Hollywood, Markleâs ex-husband, Trevor Engelson, to whom she was married from 2011 to 2013, is currently producing a television program with Fox inspired by his relationship with her.
While Harryâs phrasing may have been extreme, itâs true that Markle will gain a new family circle: her husband and his network of close confidants and friends, plus Prince William and Kate, who will live in the same complex with them in Kensington Palace. The British tabloids are already having a field day analyzing the dynamic between Markle and her future sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge. Cocks notes that while they seem to be getting along just fine, itâs an unusual amount of scrutiny to place on a sister-in-law relationship: â[Their getting along] doesnât mean theyâll be braiding each otherâs hair. And I think the pressure is only going to increase, especially because the most recent analog for them in the British royal family is obviously Diana and Fergie [Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York], who I think were very close at the beginning. Then there was the question of whether Fergieâs more outgoing persona had an influence on Diana, whether Diana influenced Fergie in different ways, and how symbiotic that relationship was. And I think people will probably be starting to look to that.â
Itâs possible Markle will have trouble reconciling the life she once led, in which she could enjoy the freedom to travel and the ability to maintain a fairly low-key existence when she wanted to, with the new reality she faces. She canât text Anderson to join her in an hour for dinner at a London hot spot, or fly to meet Litt and Dorak for a Miami girlsâ weekend. Such plans will have to be carried out with extreme discretion and attention to logistics; itâs interesting to note that there has rarely been a photograph of Kate just hanging out with a friend since she married William, and there are hardly ever shots of her with sister Pippa anymore, either. Nash says that the royal family is extremely well practiced in organizing such private visits: â[William and Kate] have a very close circle of friends who they can absolutely trust and rely on for their discretion. Theyâll host people at Anmer Hall or Kensington Palace, or visit them at their country houses.â The U.K. press also plays along, Nash says, âlargely [adhering] to guidelines over the use of paparazzi imagery, which is another reason it might feel like we donât see them out and about.â
But itâs hard to make any predictions about what Markleâs future in the royal family will bring. It is possible that Markle will chart a different course from those before her. Govani notes that she has a âLone Rangerâ quality to her, despite having so many friends. Her worldliness and independent streak could very well be an advantage. Govani remembers talking to Markle at a Toronto party about the time she spent in Buenos Aires (she worked at the U.S. Embassy there for a few months during her college years) and contemplating how adaptable she seemed: âOne thing that makes me think she could easily absorb the role is that sheâs picked herself up and lived in many different parts of the world,â he says. âSheâs a bit of a shape-shifter, able to adjust to any social context.â
And, of course, this is not the royal family of Dianaâs era, or even Kateâs. âWhat [the Palace] learned from the Diana and Sarah [Ferguson] experience is that [allowing royal wives to] keep strong relationships with their families and old friends is really important,â Treble notes. While Cocks acknowledges that Markleâs âanonymity is gone, unless she starts wearing wigs,â she thinks the couple might continue to take a less conventional approach to how they fulfill their dutiesâone that Harryâs relative distance from the throne makes possible. âIf Markle is as interested in philanthropy as she appears to be, maybe she can try to push the boundaries a little bit. . . . I would think that all the ingredients are there for her to carve out a bit of her own space, especially if she has Harryâs backing. And I think because heâs not the [direct] heir, they might have a little more room to challenge things.â Nash concurs: âI think she will potentially have more freedom than other royal wivesâ[Harry and Meghan] are not preparing to become King and Queen one day.â
However strong her existing friendships remain, Markle is likely to make new friends who will understand the day-to-day stresses of her current station quite well. Challenging as it will be for her to maintain some of her earlier tiesâespecially with the responsibilities of her new roleâher resourcefulness, as well as the loyalty of her friends and evolving royal-family mores, could work in her favor. And anyway, sheâs probably created a private Instagram account.