Meghan Markle's new Montecito inner circle: from polo wives to Britney's stylist


Diana Ross’ Emmy-nominated daughter. The fashion designer wife of the Paramount Pictures president. Britney Spears’ former stylist and the Suits co-star who stuck up for her in that 2022 Netflix documentary.

These were just some of the 50 recipients of the Duchess of Sussex’s first batch of limited-edition jam — the first product from her new lifestyle brand, American Riviera Orchard (ARO), announced last month and set to formally launch later this spring.

Netflix star Mindy Kaling, parenting campaigner Kelly McKee Zajfen and socialite Delfina Blaquier are among those to have posted pictures with hampers of Meghan’s hand-numbered strawberry preserve so far — names that insiders say offer a fascinating window into the duchess’ new and ever-changing inner circle of California power players.

Jam from Meghan Markle's new business (Instagram)
Jam from Meghan Markle's new business (Instagram)

“She has a small, tight-knit group of women she’s surrounded by,” New York Post editor Sara Nathan says of the duchess’ fresh set of influential female allies since beginning her PR blitz for ARO. “Most of them are incredibly wealthy and often married to very important men. But they’re doing projects in their own right, usually in charity or philanthropy.”

Indeed, most names on the list so far are certainly of a very specific ilk: California-based, moneyed, successful, often with their own business that Meghan may have supported, too, over the years. Many have seemed enthusiastic in championing Meghan and her new venture. But many more have stayed quiet — just seven people, all except one of them women, have shared pictures of their exclusive gift on social media so far.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at a charity polo event in Florida (Yaroslav Sabitov/PA) (PA Wire)
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex at a charity polo event in Florida (Yaroslav Sabitov/PA) (PA Wire)

What of figures like Oprah Winfrey and Katharine McPhee, known to have played key roles in Meghan’s support bubble over the years since she and Harry moved to California? Do the numbers really speak to each person’s place in the inner circle? And who else was on the list but hasn’t chosen to share it publicly?

From the pilates pal she and Harry went skiing with last month to the new celebrity stylist she’s hired as part of her rebrand, here’s who’s in the duchess’ 2024 inner circle.

Abigail Spencer

Suits actress Abigail Spencer (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty)
Suits actress Abigail Spencer (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty)

In a nutshell: Close friend and former Suits co-star

Jam jar number out of 50: 6

Did Meghan hand-deliver the jars herself? That’s the question being asked after Spencer’s post over the weekend, which features a surprise appearance from the Sussexes’ pet dog Mamma Mia (Mia, for short), a rescue beagle the couple adopted in 2022.

Spencer, 42 — a Grey’s Anatomy actress turned entrepreneur who previously starred alongside Meghan in Suits before she met Harry — was gifted jar number six, according to the Instagram she posted over the weekend showing her reclining in the grass holding a bowl of lemons and flowers, the duchess’ jam placed neatly in the middle.

“This jam is my jam,” she wrote, tagging her friend’s new lifestyle brand. “A delicious taste of what’s to come indeed... love you so M.”

Spencer’s support for her friend was unsurprising, in many ways. The pair met at an audition 15 years ago, before starring on Suits together, and bonded immediately. "We were born on the same day, hours apart, in the same year,” Spencer said back in 2018. “She's a trusted friend and one of the most glorious people I have ever met. I saw her and was like, 'Who is this gorgeous girl? She was just so stunning and there was just something about her, and that's how we met."

Spencer was a contributor to Meghan’s previous lifestyle brand The Tig, and has since shared many a public display of affection for her friend since, attending her royal wedding in 2018 and Meghan’s baby shower for Archie in New York in May 2019.

In 2021, she posted a tribute to her friend Meghan on Instagram, alongside a photo of them embracing. “I've learned so much from Meg,” she wrote. “The power of a handwritten note. The loveliness of surprise flowers. That she has a perpetual rolodex in her brain of recommendations for the heart, soul, & body. When I’m headed to a new town, there’s a hotel or dinner reservation at the ready, as well as a connection with one of her friends to show me around so I feel less alone. She’s been there for me - and physically held me - in my darkest hours: After my dad died. After a gut wrenching break up she brought me into her home & nursed me back to health. Soup & salad waiting in the kitchen, just, if I needed it. She’s taken my son in as her own. I can’t tell you the value of having another working mother I can lean on when with the pressures of visibility & child-rearing woes become overwhelming. She’s always been a safe harbor for me, someone I can fall apart in front of... and with.”

Abigail Spencer and Priyanka Chopra arrive at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (PA Wire/PA Images)
Abigail Spencer and Priyanka Chopra arrive at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (PA Wire/PA Images)

The following year, she was among the talking heads to star on the couple’s Netflix documentary in 2022. “She’s like, um, I think I met someone and I’m in love. It’s Prince Harry,” Spencer says in the documentary, of the moment she met up with Meghan at their favourite New York spot Bergdorf Goodman in 2017, after Meghan’s trip to Botswana with Harry. “I could just feel everything in her body vibrating... I could just tell it was different.”

Spencer — who is dating vertical farming startup founder Oscar Valls after her divorce from e-sports businessman Andrew Pruett — runs her own flower-delivery service, County Line Florals and lives in LA (her home has been described as having a “Santa Fe meets French Riviera meets Gulf Coast of Florida” vibe) with her son Roman, 15, and rescue pup Lucky. She and Meghan were spotted watching Beyoncé's Renaissance tour in LA last year and seen posing together in ‘love like a mother’ t-shirts to promote their friend Kelly McKee Zajfen’s charity Alliance of Moms just last week, three days before Spencer’s jam-fluencer post.

Insiders say Spencer is one of the few the duchess stays in touch with, despite previously describing themselves as a “family”. Gina Torres, who played the Suits character Jessica Pearson, claimed in January that the duchess’ ex-castmates simply “don’t have her number” when asked if any of them had reached out. Patrick J Adams and Gabriel Macht, who played Mike and Harvey in the show, have since revealed they’ve had “no communication” from the duchess.

Kelly McKee Zajfen

In a nutshell: Parenting campaigner and former model who met Meghan through her ex-husband Trevor Engelson

Jam jar number out of 50: 3

Number three. That’s how high up in the inner circle pecking-order Zajfen seems to be these days, or so says the label on the jam jar she posted to Instagram this week — the highest number to be shared publicly so far.

It was Zajfen’s charity, Alliance of Mums, that Meghan and Spencer posed in their ‘love like a mother’ t-shirts for last week. So it’s no surprise she chose to return the favour and support Meghan’s new brand.

"Ohhhhh Just a taste of what’s to come!!! So proud of you M @americanrivieraorchard,” the parenting influencer and longtime friend of Meghan’s wrote on Instagram last week alongside a similar picture to Spencer’s: her holding a grey bowl filled with lemons, flowers and a pot of Meghan’s jam.

Unlike Spencer, she chose not to include her face. She’s seen wearing jeans and a ‘best mom ever’ sweater, leaning against a wall of wisteria. She also posted a clip of the preserve being spooned onto a slice of toast.

This isn’t the first time Zajfen, 44 — whose organisation supports pregnant teenagers and parenting teens within the foster care system — has shared a tribute to Meghan on her account. Last year, she praised the duchess for her support after she tragically lost her nine-year-old son Georgie to Covid and meningitis in 2022.

“You are always the first to say yes and support those you love. You are a fierce advocate for those who are in need,” she wrote after Meghan and Harry donated $5,000 to a GoFundMe fundraiser in the names of their children Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet after George’s death. “You are a fierce advocate for those who are in need.”

The pair reportedly met through Meghan’s ex-husband, the American film producer Trevor Engelson, who is friends with Zajfen’s husband Julian, an entertainment lawyer. In March, the two families went skiing in Salt Lake City together with another close friend Heather Dorak, a pilates business owner.

Tracy Robbins

Brian Robbins, Tracy Robbins, Meghan and Harry attend the premiere of
Brian Robbins, Tracy Robbins, Meghan and Harry attend the premiere of "Bob Marley: One Love" in Jamaica (Getty Images for Paramount Pictu)

In a nutshell: Fashion designer and wife of Paramount Pictures president Brian Robbins, who was pictured at a premiere with the Sussexes in January

Jam jar number out of 50: 17Robbins, 44, was the first to thank Meghan publicly for the jam, tweeting that she “absolutely love[d]” the duchess’ new product. “Thank you for the delicious basket!” she wrote on X on Tuesday. “I absolutely love this jam so not sure I’m sharing it with anyone.”

The Texan-born, California-based designer — who has her own range of dresses and kaftans, Tracy James Collection — lives just down the road in Los Angeles with her three children Miles, 23, Justin, 21, and Stella, seven, and husband Brian, the CEO of Paramount Pictures, which just so happens to be one of Netflix’s main rivals and whose comedy show South Park mockingly showed Harry and Meghan promoting a fictional book called ‘Waaagh’ back in February 2023.

It is not known how the two couples met but they were pictured together at the premiere for the biopic Bob Marley: One Love in Jamaica in January and commentators say the friendship is particularly notable given that the Sussexes are on the hunt for new forms of income after their Spotify contract was ended early last summer. Could they be on the charm offensive with the hope of building a working relationship, too?

Delfina Blaquier

Nacho Figueras and his wife Delfina Blaquier (pictured) are good friends of the Sussexes (PA Wire)
Nacho Figueras and his wife Delfina Blaquier (pictured) are good friends of the Sussexes (PA Wire)

In a nutshell: Ex-model and socialite who is the wife of Argentinian polo player Nacho Figueras, a longtime friend of Harry’s

Jam jar number out of 50: 10

Blaquier’s jar came in at number 10 and she too chose to share pictures of the gift on social media. “Strawberry jam makes me happy,” she wrote on Instagram on Tuesday, with a fuzzy picture of the jam spread onto a slice of bread. “And I love your jam, @AmericanRivieraOrchard.”

Blaquier, 43, first met Meghan through her husband Nacho Figueras, 47, the Argentinian millionaire, Ralph Lauren model and polo player — dubbed the “David Beckham of polo” — who has been a close friend of Harry’s for more than a decade. The couple attended the Sussexes’ wedding in 2018 and the two couples were pictured together at the Royal Salute Polo Challenge in Florida earlier this month — the day after the duke and duchess revealed they had two new Netflix series in the “early stages” of production, including one centred around polo.

Blacquier revealed in 2022 that Meghan calls the two of them the “P-wives” or polo wives “She is so wonderful and strong,” Blacquier said of Meghan at the time. “Stronger than she knows. I love being around my friends, and I will always support her.”

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, second right, Prince Harry, Delfina Blaquier, third right, and her husband Argentine polo player Nacho Figueras, third left (AP)
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, second right, Prince Harry, Delfina Blaquier, third right, and her husband Argentine polo player Nacho Figueras, third left (AP)

Blaquier seems to have stayed true to that promise. She and her husband — who have four children together: Hilario, 24, Aurora, 19, Artemio, 14, and Alba, 11 — have long stood up for the Sussexes publicly. In 2019, Figueras released a selection of six fragrances including one named Windsor, which many interpreted as a nod to his “brotherhood of kindred spirits” with the duke. Three years later, he appeared in the first episode of the couple’s Netflix documentary, recalling the moment Harry told him he’d met Meghan. “Right after [he and Meghan] met, my wife [Delfina Blaquier], me and him, we had dinner together – and he looked at us and said: ‘Guys, I’ve met a girl. We’ve just met but I think this may be the one’,” the father-of-four recalls. “You could tell right away that those were the eyes of someone who had fallen in love.”

Figueras also shared Meghan’s new product on social media this week, posting snaps of himself spreading the jam on a piece of buttered toast and biting into it on Instagram. “Did I tell you I love your jam?” he wrote.

Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling (AFP via Getty Images)
Mindy Kaling (AFP via Getty Images)

In a nutshell: The Office star and Netflix hitmaker who starred on Meghan’s podcast two years ago

Jam jar number out of 50: 19

Kaling, 44 — an award-winning actress who played Kelly Kapoor in The Office and has since written comedy for Netflix — appeared on the third episode of Meghan’s podcast Archetypes back in 2022 and listeners will probably remember the frank discussion they had about single parenting and the pressures young girls can face to get married and have children.

“I'm a highly traditional person,” Kaling, a mother-of-two, told Meghan. “I came from a really happy sort of nuclear family. Mom, dad. And I wanted that for myself, plus more. Growing up, I used to write in journals like, 'I'm going to be married to a guy named Josh and we're going to have five children and I’m gonna start having kids when I'm 24.' But 24 came and went. No Josh. No marriage. No four kids. And I started as a writer on 'The Office' when I was 24. … I was just so focused on keeping that job and earning money and earning a good reputation professionally. And so it just happened."

The pair bonded over parenthood and feeling unattractive growing up during the episode, and have clearly stayed in touch since then, Kaling posting a jokey snap of herself alongside Prince Harry at a life coaching event for the app BetterUp in San Francisco last week. “Met my friend's husband at a work event,” she teased. “Seemed pretty cool. Said he wrote a book. Gonna go check it out!”

This week, she received jam jar number 19. “Obsessed,” she wrote alongside a snap of the bowl of jam and fresh lemons on her Instagram Stories, tagging Meghan’s new lifestyle account.

Tracee Ellis Ross

Tracee Ellis Ross (Getty Images)
Tracee Ellis Ross (Getty Images)

In a nutshell: Star of hit comedy Black-ish and daughter of music executive Tobert Ellis Silberstein and singer Diana Ross

Jam jar number out of 50: 21Among the newer of Meghan’s friends out in California is Tracee Ellis Ross, 51, the Emmy-nominated actress known for her lead roles in Girlfriends and Black-ish and for being the daughter of singing legend Diana Ross herself (she recently made headlines for recalling her parents’ meetups with Michael Jackson and Cher when she was growing up).

It’s unclear how she and Meghan met, but they attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance concert in LA together last summer and she was one of the lucky recipients of one of the duchess’ 50 jam jars this month.

Ellis Ross didn’t picture herself with the jam on her Instagram story, but she did share a photo of the handwritten envelope that came with the bowl of jam and lemons, believed to have been written by Meghan herself thanks to her history as a calligrapher. Hers was number 21 out of 50.

Jamie Mizrahi

Jamie Mizrahi (Getty Images for Jennifer Meyer)
Jamie Mizrahi (Getty Images for Jennifer Meyer)

In a nutshell: Meghan’s new stylist, who’s worked with everyone from Britney to Adele

“Styling is not just about picking out the most flattering outfit,” Mizrahi once said about helping her clients to reinvent themselves through clothes. “Part of my job is to look at the larger picture of my clients’ careers. I have to take into account what their goals are. How you dress is a clear statement of how you want people to view you. Shifting that perspective can change your whole career.”

Could this shifting of perspective be the reason Meghan hired her ahead of her new lifestyle launch? The duchess reportedly hired Mizrahi, 35 — an LA-based former Juicy Couture creative director who’s worked with everyone from Britney Spears to Jennifer Lawrence and Adele — to fine-tune her wardrobe in alignment with her new American Riviera Orchard brand.

The pair were spotted having dinner ahead of a Katy Perry concert in Vegas in November and fashion insiders say Mizrahi is a fan of ‘quiet luxury’, the look Meghan appears to be adopting as part of her overhaul.

Charlie Gipson

In a nutshell: The Sussexes’ new UK brand manager from south-west London

From being chauffeured around the BBC by Blue Peter presenter Matt Baker to strategising for the Sussexes, Charlie Gipson will certainly have a broad and eclectic CV when he starts as Meghan and Harry’s new brand manager in the UK.

The south-west London PR guru — whose previous clients include Mars, Cadbury, Smirnoff, Dominos, Samsung and Instagram — was recently hired to join the couple’s operation from global communications firm Edelman. His job will involve representing them in Britain, working alongside their US-based PR team to be their main point of contact for all UK and European media.

Recent weeks have seen Gipson, 41, remove much of his personal history from the internet as he prepares to start the new role, but he is said to have “excelled in media relations and strategic communication planning” for his previous clients. Career highlights include launching “delicious new treats for Mars”, dressing up as Pudsey the Bear for Children in Need and being “chauffeured around the BBC TV studios by Matt Baker in a rickshaw”.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey (AP)
Oprah Winfrey (AP)

In a nutshell: TV host who lives round the corner and is “protective” of the couple

Whether Winfrey, 70, received a jar or not is not yet clear, but it’s certainly likely. The TV host attended the couple’s royal wedding back in 2018 and has been one of the key members of Meghan’s Montecito support bubble over the years since she and Harry moved in just down the road in the ‘American Riviera’.

It’s the reason they trusted her with their first official TV interview since their move to the US in 2021 (the tell-all interview reportedly took place in the garden of a friend’s house between their two homes), and despite rumours they now regret that interview three years on, they’re still believed to be close, with Winfrey said to be “protective” of Meghan.

On top of being rumoured dinner party pals, the couple reunited with Winfrey at a celeb-studded fundraiser in September, seen joking and laughing together, and Winfrey is understood to have orchestrated an extravagant birthday dinner for Harry from celebrity chef Cat Cora last year. “One day I hear my phone ringing, and it's Oprah, and she says: 'Cat, it's Harry's birthday and I need you to cook for them'," Cora revealed after the duke’s 39th birthday in September.

Heather Dorak

Heather Dorak (Instagram - @heatherdorak)
Heather Dorak (Instagram - @heatherdorak)

In a nutshell: Pilates pal who has two young sons close in age to Archie

There was a third member of that ski trip Meghan and Zajfen recently took to Powder Mountain in Salt Lake City: Heather Dorak, a pilates and yoga company founder who first met Meghan back in 2005.

“My heart is so full,” Dorak wrote in an Instagram post afterwards, sharing a group shot of the trio together. “The kids crushed the slopes by day, and the adults howled with laughter deep into the night,” she continued, in a nod to her husband Matt Cohen, founder of money-saving app Grand, and sons Noah and Cody, a regular feature on her Instagram.

Dorak, the founder of Pilates Platinum with six studios across LA and Texas, has been friends with Meghan since just before opening her first studio in Los Angeles in 2006. “17 years ago, [Meghan] walked into my fledgling Pilates studio and instantly became my rock in all things early 20s - career, love, figuring out how to adult,” Dorak wrote in March 2021. “Since that day, she has never stopped being one of my brightest sources of light. It may be hard to see, but she lives for the little, thoughtful things – flowers for no reason, a random sweet, handwritten note. She’s always been truly wonderful.”

Meghan with friend and fitness instructor Heather Dorak
Meghan with friend and fitness instructor Heather Dorak

Dorak has continued to show various public displays of support for Meghan in the years since, from attending the royal wedding in 2018 to celebrating the launch of the duchess’ Archetypes podcast in 2022. “So proud of you and so excited for your podcast to launch,” Dorak wrote on Instagram at the time. “An especially important format for these times… Women talking openly to each other about the labels, challenges, stigmas and expectations we all face. Love you beautiful girl!”The pilates founder and her husband live just down the road from the Sussexes in LA and she and Meghan have been spotted doing yoga and hikes together since Megxit. Her two young sons are close in age to Archie, making for easy playmates on their recent ski trip.

Dorak used to lend her expertise to Meghan’s old lifestyle blog The Tig. Will she play a key role in American Riviera Orchard, too?

Katharine McPhee

David Foster and Katherine McPhee (Getty Images  for Breakthrough P)
David Foster and Katherine McPhee (Getty Images for Breakthrough P)

In a nutshell: Meghan’s schoolfriend and her producer husband who supported the Sussexes when they first moved to LA

Katherine McPhee, 40 — the actress and American Idol runner-up who has starred on Broadway and the West End — went to school with Meghan and the pair are understood to have reconnected when McPhee was in London to star in the show Waitress in 2019. “Meghan and I did musicals together as kids," McPhee wrote in an Instagram throwback of the two of them together in 2019. "She grew up to be the Duchess of Sussex and I grew up to star on the West End, so same life if you ask me. #Tbt".

McPhee’s Hollywood music producer husband David Foster, 74 — a stepfather to Gigi, Bella and Anwar Hadid — reportedly helped the royal couple to find a temporary bolthole in Canada when they first left the UK and is said to have been like a surrogate father to Harry when the couple were first settling in LA.

“I felt honored that I was able to help Meghan there, because I'm a Canadian and we're a commonwealth country, we're the Crown's,” Foster said at the time. “It's important to us, so I grew up with that kind of sentiment. I was really happy to be able to help them to find a respite just to take a little time off.”

Since then, Foster has reportedly helped the Sussexes to find a home in California and was allegedly the Hollywood power player responsible for brokering their £112m deal with Netflix. The two couples have been spotted out on double dates and Foster and McPhee’s son Rennie is close in age to the Sussexes’ daughter Lillibet so the pair can be playmates.

Serena Williams

Serena Williams (AP)
Serena Williams (AP)

In a nutshell: Tennis player and long-time friend of Meghan’s who lives near the Sussexes in LA

Meghan and the tennis superstar first crossed paths at a charity football game back in 2014. “We hit it off immediately, taking pictures, laughing and chatting — not about tennis or acting, but about good old-fashioned girly stuff. So began our friendship... She quickly became a confidante I would text when I was travelling, the friend I would rally around for her tennis matches, and the down-to-earth chick I was able to grab lunch with a couple of weeks ago in Toronto,” she wrote on her former lifestyle blog, The Tig.

The admiration is mutual. “Her personality just shines. I told her, ‘You’ve got to be who you are, Meghan. You can’t hide,’” Williams, 42, has since told Vanity Fair.

The now-retired tennis pro briefly lived near to the Sussexes during their stint in LA and has come out in support of her friend several times since Megxit and the Oprah interview. They were pictured sipping champagne together at a charity polo match in Miami earlier this month.