Among the many well-wishers sending Meghan Markle public congratulations on her recent 40th birthday, there was one most notable exception.
Long-time friends such as Meghan’s make-up artist Daniel Martin sent effusive, gushing messages (Happiest Birthday my love!), yet the woman once considered her BFF, or Best Friend Forever, remained silent. In public, at least.
And as celebrities including singer Adele and fashion designer Stella McCartney rushed to endorse Meghan’s ‘40×40’ initiative – which encouraged people to donate 40 minutes of their time to mentor women re-entering the workplace – her one-time ‘ride or die’ friend and stylist Jessica Mulroney posted… nothing.
Mulroney, 41, regularly updates her 416,000 Instagram followers on things as mundane as her daily workouts and what her children eat for supper, which made the birthday silence all the more surprising.
Throw in a mysterious – and quickly deleted – post on Mulroney’s Instagram about friends who ‘distance’ themselves, and it’s little wonder that some are starting to wonder if the once close relationship between Mulroney and the Duchess of Sussex might have started to unravel.
The importance of the decade-long friendship, which began when Meghan moved to Toronto to film legal drama Suits, can hardly be overstated.
The way they were: Meghan Markle and Jessica Mulroney pictured attending the Equinox Yorkville Dinner held at Kasa Moto in Toronto, Canada, in 2015
Mulroney, wealthy in her own right and a high-powered figure in Canadian smart society, is married to the son of a former Canadian Prime Minister. She is often credited with helping Meghan expand her contacts book.
Meghan’s fashion sense, too, was at one point said to have been inspired by her soignée friend and mentor, and certainly there are pictures of the two of them together looking eerily similar.
But more than that, Mulroney has been a key player in Team Meghan, a source of both help and advice. She was, for example, named in court papers as having helped Meghan try to influence what was published about her.
Throughout the many and often dramatic changes in Meghan’s rise from little-known actress to household name, Jessica Mulroney has been a constant. So it was no surprise when it emerged that Mulroney was both unofficial organiser and maid of honour at Meghan’s 2018 wedding in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Her daughter Ivy was one of the bridesmaids, alongside Princess Charlotte, while her twin sons, John and Brian, were the pageboys who held Meghan’s veil and nearly upstaged the bride with their high spirits.
It was an argument about the bridesmaids’ dresses which is said to have left the Duchess of Cambridge in tears – although Meghan later said ‘the reverse happened’ and that she, not Kate, had been made to cry.
According to a Palace insider, Jessica even played an important role in Harry and Meghan’s controversial decision, announced in January last year, to leave Britain, and set up home first in Canada and then in California.
‘Jessica was more influential on “Megxit” than anyone really realised,’ said the source.
Soon after the announcement that Harry and Meghan were to leave the Royal Family, Mulroney said: ‘A strong woman looks a challenge in the eye and gives it a wink.’
So why the new-found reticence? It is certainly significant, according to one woman who knows both Toronto-based Jessica and her husband Ben Mulroney, a Canadian TV presenter and son of former premier Brian.
‘Jess would post about the opening of an envelope, so the fact she’s the only one of Meghan’s close friends not to wish her a public happy birthday is definitely strange,’ she told The Mail on Sunday.
Happier days: The friends on holiday in Italy in 2016. Throughout the many and often dramatic changes in Meghan’s rise from little-known actress to household name, Jessica Mulroney has been a constant
Canadian fashion stylist Mulroney is seen holding bridesmaids’ hands as they arrive for Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding ceremony in Windsor in May 2018
‘It is something which has certainly raised eyebrows. Yes, Jessica was always protective of her friendship with Meghan. But it was always something that was there, front and centre. You could tell how important it was to Jessica.’
This is not the first time there has been speculation about a potential rift between the two women.
Last year, Mulroney found herself isolated after a nasty row involving a black lifestyle blogger, Sasha Exeter, amid angry claims about ‘white privilege’. Exeter accused the stylist of abusing her power and threatening her livelihood when the pair had a row over the Black Lives Matters movement. Exeter had implored her acquaintances to speak out in support of BLM but, Exeter claims, Mulroney ‘took offence’, believing she was being targeted.
While Mulroney has denied being a racist, Exeter, a single mother, said messages from Mulroney had left her ‘paralysed with fear’ and claimed Mulroney had bombarded her with ‘offensive messages’ including that she would speak to companies working with Exeter to complain.
Whatever the two friends said in private about the furore, Meghan maintained a discreet silence in public on the matter. And it was reported in the United States (but never confirmed) that Meghan had ‘cut ties’ with Mulroney following the embarrassing spat.
It is all the more intriguing, then, that just days before the Duchess’s August 4 birthday, Mulroney posted – and then swiftly took down – a message which some have interpreted as a sign that all is not well.
Mulroney wrote: ‘I’ve spoken about mental illness for years as well as being a hard worker my whole life but never thought I’d have to go through intense treatment the way I did this year.
‘I don’t blame anyone, any company who erased me without investigations or what the press made me go through. Just working on myself.
Revealing: Jessica Mulroney’s post, which seems to refer to Meghan’s ‘not many have asked if I’m OK’ interview
‘All the pain is now in the past… It can be lonely having the world, friends distance from you and not even ask how you are.’
As one source pointed out: ‘Those final words about not even asking how you are is like a reference to that interview Meghan gave to ITV anchor Tom Bradby, when she complained that no one in the Royal Family had asked how she was or “if I’m OK”.’
Back in June, Mulroney had shared an equally enigmatic quote which read: ‘Life changes. You lose love. You lose friends. You lose pieces of yourself that you never imagined would be gone. And then, without even realizing it, these pieces come back. New love enters. Better friends come along.’
The controversy with Exeter proved damaging for Mulroney, whose professional life took an immediate hit.
Canadian TV network CTV pulled all episodes of her wedding-focused reality show I Do, Redo from its platforms and the series has so far failed to appear on streaming channel Netflix, as some had been expecting.
The American network ABC severed ties with Mulroney, confirming she would not be returning as a fashion contributor on its Good Morning America show.
Mulroney also stepped down from the board of directors of The Shoebox Project, a charity she helped found which distributes boxes filled with gifts to women hit by homelessness in Canada.
Mulroney and Meghan Markle are pictured attending the Instagram Dinner held at the MARS Discovery District in Toronto, Canada, in May 2016
But if the friendship between the two women has cooled, neither is admitting it openly. Last year, Mulroney told a reporter from the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column that she and Meghan remain ‘constantly’ in touch via social media saying: ‘She constantly FaceTimes and checks up on me.’ Today, meanwhile, Jessica is back working as a humble fashion stylist and recently travelled all the way to New York to primp D-list actress Mindy Kaling.
Any career boost from being involved in ‘the wedding of the decade’ appears to have evaporated.
Mulroney’s Instagram, once filled with glamorous images of herself jetting around the world with Meghan, now focuses on workout routines, her children and posts asking fans to choose their favourite outfit from her well-stocked closet.
Even a recent attempt to ‘re-launch’ herself as a designer of high-end suits backfired when she posted a picture of a cream-checked trouser suit. Eagle-eyed observers quickly noticed there was something familiar about the image, which had come from a 2018 advertising campaign by designers Ralph & Russo.
The suit in question had even been worn by Michelle Obama to a book signing in 2019. Needless to say, the image was quickly deleted from Mulroney’s Instagram.
One source told the MoS: ‘It’s quite sad. When Jessica stood on the steps of St George’s Chapel on Meghan’s wedding day in front of millions of TV viewers, she really looked like she was on top of the world.
‘Who would have thought she would find herself in the position she’s in now? Of course, all friendships change over time, but it does seem telling that the only one of Meghan’s close friends not to wish her a public happy birthday online was Jess.
‘You have to wonder what is really going on behind closed doors?’