Meghan Markle‘s close friends are opening up for the first time about the woman they know and love.
After maintaining their silence for nearly two years, five women who form an essential part of Meghan’s inner circle have spoken with PEOPLE to “stand up against the global bullying we are seeing and speak the truth about our friend,” says a longtime friend and former costar.
“Meg has silently sat back and endured the lies and untruths,” her former costar says in this week’s cover story. With Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, expecting their first child this spring, “we worry about what this is doing to her and the baby,” adds the costar. “It’s wrong to put anyone under this level of emotional trauma, let alone when they’re pregnant.”
In candid interviews, the women — who requested anonymity to protect the private relationships they hold dear — set the record straight on everything from Meghan’s relationship with her dad to an up-close view of her wedding to the reality of her day-to-day life at Kensington Palace’s Nottingham Cottage.
“We’ve all been to their cottage,” says a close confidante. “It’s small and she’s made it cozy, but the perception of their lifestyle and the reality are two different things. Meg cooks for herself and Harry every single day.”
A friend from L.A. recalls visiting the cottage, sharing, “We had a couple of days together recently. Her husband was out of town on work. In the room she made up for me, there was a candle lit by the bed, slippers and a robe. We were the only two in the house. It was our time. She made the most lovely meals. She made tea every day. It was raining and muddy outside, so the dogs got all dirty, and she’s wiping them off with towels. How much she loves her animals, how much she loves her friends, how much she loves feeding you, taking care of you — none of that has changed.”
But since her relationship with Harry became public in 2016, Meghan has been the subject of intense scrutiny — along with various mistruths.
Among them: Meghan’s relationship with her dad, Thomas Markle, and half-sister, Samantha.
“They have been made to appear as siblings who had this falling out, and that’s not the truth at all,” a longtime friend says of Samantha and Meghan’s half-brother Thomas Jr., who were in their mid-to late teens when Meghan was born: “They were not a part of her life.”
As for Meghan’s father, who has said he can’t reach Meghan, “He knows how to get in touch with her,” adds the longtime friend. “He’s never called; he’s never texted. It’s super-painful.”
For the friends who talk to her daily, Meghan is an ever-present support: a consummate listener who balances passion for her work with an intense interest in people.
“When you see her at walkabouts, when she crouches down to talk to the kids and genuinely has real conversations with people, that’s Meg,” says the former costar. “That’s how she crouches down with our kids at home. That’s how she plays with them. That’s how she engages with people and how she always has.”
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Even amid the worldwide spotlight focused on her wedding day last May, “We could feel Meg’s energy,” says the confidante. “The calm that she moves with. That’s how it felt because that’s how she and Harry are as a couple.”
A “selfless” friend who writes thank-you notes for reasons big and small and is “the best listener,” Meghan is also a clutch advice-giver for those who rely on her. “If I’m thrown some kind of curveball, I always think, ‘I gotta talk to Meg,’ ” says a former colleague. “We talk daily. And the first thing out of her mouth is, ‘How are the kids? How are you?’ I’m not even allowed to ask about her until she finds out about me.”