How Meghan the networker extraordinaire won over the people who really count... the girlfriends and wives of Prince Harry's tight-knit circle of aristocratic pals
- Behind the scenes Meghan and Harry and no different to any other young couple
- Meghan's friends have been tripping over themselves to welcome Prince Harry
- But Harry's inncer cricle has proved especially harder to impress for the couple
behind the scenes, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are no different from any other young couple, having celebrated their first anniversary, braved a holiday together and, most nerve-racking of all, introduced each other to their friends
That perfectly planned public kiss, a joint royal appearance, tea with the Queen . . . when you’re engaged to the fifth in line to the throne, relationship milestones are anything but ordinary.
But behind the scenes, Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are no different from any other young couple, having celebrated their first anniversary, braved a holiday together and, most nerve-racking of all, introduced each other to their friends.
While Meghan’s pals — a glamorous girl gang of fashion designers, actresses and LA socialites — have been tripping over themselves to welcome Harry, the Prince’s inner circle has been rather harder to impress, especially given the whirlwind nature of their romance.
Indeed, the couple — who met in July last year but until recently lived 5,400 miles apart — have had a mostly long-distance courtship, so there has been little time for cosy London suppers or country house bonding sessions with the Prince’s notoriously cliquey pals.
But sources say Meghan, 36, who has already shown herself to be poised and polished in her new role as royal fiancee, has played a blinder, winning over not only Harry’s male friends but, crucially, their wives and girlfriends, too.
In fact, wooing the women of the Royal Family has been a sensible strategy on Meghan’s part, which she has used to cement herself in Harry’s life within a remarkably short time.
‘Meghan needs the WAGs [wives and girlfriends] on her side,’ a Palace insider says. ‘Harry’s friends come from an intricate, criss-crossed network of English aristocratic families. She has been fast-tracked into high society and there are pitfalls to be avoided. She needs a network loyal to her.
‘Meghan is a keen networker and it would seem natural to her to befriend the women. It’s a power base to dilute Harry’s infamous boys-only club.
Rose Astor, pictured left with her husband Hugh van Custem and right, are power players in Harry’s circle and at the heart of life in Chipping Norton, the chic Cotswolds enclave that Harry and Meghan are eyeing up as their marital base
‘She’s not a horsewoman, hates shooting and isn’t a big nightclubber, so she needs to cultivate social power and be accepted by the well-connected wives and girlfriends who organise the power lunches, dinner parties and holidays.’
Top of her list was strawberry blonde Rose Astor, married to Hugh van Cutsem, a long-term family friend of Harry and William.
Rose and Hugh (whose daughter Grace was the cheeky bridesmaid on the balcony at the last royal wedding) are power players in Harry’s circle and at the heart of life in Chipping Norton, the chic Cotswolds enclave that Harry and Meghan are eyeing up as their marital base.
Stylish Rose, 38, is also head of the membership committee at Soho Farmhouse, the £1,600-a-year private members’ club and swanky A-list retreat beloved of the Beckhams, the Clooneys and Harry’s cousins Beatrice and Eugenie.
She is believed to have befriended Meghan there, offering her and Harry full use of the farmhouse — where luxury cabins cost £725 a night — as a safe meeting place away from prying eyes. They have stayed over on at least three occasions and, during one weekend in February, were accompanied by some of Harry’s wider circle, who congregated at the venue to meet Meghan en masse.
The next woman to impress was Lara Hughes-Young, the flame-haired literary agent who married Tom ‘Skippy’ Inskip, Harry’s closest schoolfriend, in a three-day ceremony in Jamaica in March
‘Meghan will be made to feel right at home with the Van Cutsems,’ says a source close to the couple. ‘Rose has been instrumental in introducing her to the fashionable end of the aristocracy.’
The next woman to impress was Lara Hughes-Young, the flame-haired literary agent who married Tom ‘Skippy’ Inskip, Harry’s closest schoolfriend, in a three-day ceremony in Jamaica in March.
Sources say Harry organised a discreet dinner to introduce Meghan to the pair shortly after they started dating last summer, most likely in West London.
Lara, 30, was hugely impressed by the actress, raving to friends afterwards about her charm, intelligence and general niceness, and has since hosted the royal couple several times for dinner.
She and Meghan — along with Tom’s sister Victoria, a charity fundraiser who shares the actress’s philanthropic interests and bohemian outlook — are also believed to have met for girly lunches.
As a sign of their approval, Lara and Tom invited Meghan to be Harry’s plus-one at their wedding — when the couple were first pictured together.
‘Tom and Lara not only liked her but trusted her not to grab headlines,’ says a mutual friend. ‘They didn’t need to invite her because she wasn’t engaged, but she didn’t put a foot wrong. She barely knew anyone there but she judged the event perfectly.
Alexandria Jackson, a film producer and University of California graduate, is ideal friend material
‘She looked elegant [in a £1,200 Erdem dress and £249 Dior sunglasses] but was also very mindful about how to fit in. There was no overt hand-holding, much to photographers’ disappointment.’
If the wedding was a test, then Meghan, a smooth and practised social operator, passed with flying colours.
Insiders say she used it as an opportunity to get to know Harry’s other pals: film-maker Arthur Landon and his girlfriend Alessandra Balazs; Eton friend Jake Warren and his wife Zoe Inez Stewart; and property agent Thomas van Straubenzee and his on-off partner Alexandria Jackson.
Like Meghan, striking Alessandra is American and an actress, so they have plenty in common — and her father André Balazs, a hotelier worth £500 million, owns the trendy London restaurant Chiltern Firehouse, a handy spot for cocktails with a publicity-shy Prince.
Meanwhile, Thomas, whose exclusive property agency, VanHan, is believed to have been tasked with finding the royal couple a country estate, has met Meghan several times — at least once with Alexandria in tow. ‘Meghan listens attentively to him,’ a friend says. Alexandria, a film producer and University of California graduate, is ideal friend material.
As a whole, Harry’s friends came away from the Inskips’ nuptials singing Meghan’s praises — and the more they get to know the actress, the more they see her as a breath of fresh air.
Despite being married himself — to Holiday Inn heiress Lizzy Wilson (left) who gave birth to their daughter Willow in April — Guy Pelly (right) still sees himself as chief ringleader in the ‘Animal House’, the nickname given to the Prince’s inner circle of Old Etonian and Army pals
‘Some of his friends were quite rude about Harry’s girlfriends in the past,’ says one who knows the group. ‘They could be dismissive about Chelsy [Davy, whom he dated for seven years from 2004] and Cressida [Bonas, his girlfriend from 2012 to 2014]. But Meghan is a ready-made star. They wouldn’t dare try to dismiss her.’
Another pal describes Meghan as ‘formidable but in a nice way’, adding: ‘She treats Harry like a normal person, not like a royal. She has opinions, likes debates and isn’t afraid to disagree with him or make fun of him.’
Harry’s friends are said to tease her too, gently mocking her Americanisms and love of New Age fads such as meditation, vegan clothing and inspirational quotes, which she used to share with 2.7 million followers on her now-defunct Instagram account.
The only one who may not be thrilled by Harry’s engagement is Guy Pelly, the London club owner and his partner-in-crime from his wildest bachelor days.
Guy, say friends, likes Meghan a lot but may be saddened that her arrival marks the end of an era. Despite being married himself — to Holiday Inn heiress Lizzy Wilson, who gave birth to their daughter Willow in April — he still sees himself as chief ringleader in the ‘Animal House’, the nickname given to the Prince’s inner circle of Old Etonian and Army pals.
As a case in point, he was behind the boys-only ski trip in March on which Prince William was seen ‘dad dancing’ in a Swiss nightclub — much to Kate’s disapproval.
‘Guy knows Meghan won’t put up with raucous partying,’ says a friend of the club owner. Another adds: ‘Harry’s a loyal guy. And he used to love to party hard. But it’s obvious that he’s now getting his old friends to fit in with his new life. He’s not so dependent on them any longer.’
For her part, not wanting to alienate anyone, Meghan is outwardly friendly to Guy. He wasn’t able to attend the Inskip wedding but they are believed to have chatted since at mutual friends’ soirees and low-key dinner parties, where Meghan has made polite conversation with his wife, 34, a fellow American.
‘I wouldn’t think he is her type,’ a royal source confides. ‘And Lizzy can be quite po-faced. But Meghan seems to get on with her well — she has a knack.’
Another couple in thrall to Harry’s fiancee and relieved that she is steering him down the straight and narrow are Mark Dyer and Amanda Kline, the former equerry and Welsh Guards officer often dubbed Harry’s ‘second father’ and his vivacious Texan wife.
In the early days of their courtship, Harry and Meghan met for top-secret dates in The Sands End, Mark’s South-West London gastropub, and it was the Dyers who looked after Meghan at the polo in Ascot back in March, standing either side as she cheered Harry on (and keeping a respectful distance when she joined him for a good-luck kiss in the car park between chukkas).
Amanda has become something of a mentor to Meghan, helping her traverse the tightrope of royal protocol. ‘Meghan loved her from the start,’ says a friend of the couple. ‘She is a compatriot and terribly kind and jolly — and Harry trusts the Dyers implicitly.’
So what of the other royals?
Well, Meghan has certainly been working her charm on the females of Harry’s family, not least the Queen, whom she is believed to have met three times at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace.
The Queen and her courtiers are said to approve of Meghan’s fastidious note-taking and impressed by how well she has dealt with the media attention'
The Queen and her courtiers are said to approve of Meghan’s fastidious note-taking and impressed by how well she has dealt with the media attention. ‘She’s keen to learn, smiley, well-mannered and asks relevant questions,’ says one senior aide. Still, some feel the actress, three years Harry’s senior, is a little too ‘mumsy’ towards him.
Camilla, who knows only too well what it’s like to be a royal outsider, has been effusive in her praise, declaring: ‘America’s loss is our gain.’
Meanwhile, Charles is no doubt pleased for his son. He, like many of the old guard, is likely to be a little wary, though any reservations are to do with the breakneck speed of their relationship rather than with Meghan herself.
Aunt Fergie — who has worked hard to fight her way back into the ‘Firm’ — was one of the first to congratulate the couple and is said to have extended an open invitation to Harry and Meghan to stay at Chalet Helora, her £22,000-a-week Swiss ski lodge.
Her daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, are delighted to welcome a starry A-lister — rather than another haughty Sloanie — into the family.
Eugenie, 27, and Meghan have become firm friends, bonding over a shared love of art, dogs and late-night macaroni cheese suppers. She and her nightclub manager boyfriend, Jack Brooksbank, are understood to have had a couple of double dates with Harry and Meghan and there are even rumours of a royal holiday together in the new year.
As for Kate and William, they are said to have ‘taken forcefully’ to Meghan, though Kate’s crippling morning sickness has prevented her spending much time with the actress
‘They have all become great friends,’ says an insider. ‘Eugenie loves Meghan to bits and believes she is perfect for Harry.’
As for Kate and William, they are said to have ‘taken forcefully’ to Meghan, though Kate’s crippling morning sickness has prevented her spending much time with the actress. But with Harry and Meghan due to move into Nottingham Cottage, a stone’s throw from their front door, after the wedding, there will be plenty of opportunities to get to know her new neighbour.
‘Meghan is effusive about Kate and Kate is effusive about Meghan,’ a Palace source says. ‘But Kate did let it be known to William that she only wanted George and Charlotte to meet Meghan when Harry had definitely decided they were to marry, as she didn’t want the children to get to know her and then [see her] disappear.’
Meghan’s last-minute invitation to Pippa Middleton’s wedding in May, as a favour to Harry, was no doubt the result of a quiet word in her little sister’s ear.
That wedding, like every other social occasion in the past 18 months, has all been part of Meghan’s carefully orchestrated fast-track to the Palace.
And just as she has won over a Prince and his public, her charm offensive on her fiancé’s friends has been a triumph.
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