Is the Cult of Meghan Markle Alive and Well in the U.K.?

Royal weddings—and the pomp and circumstance that surrounds them—have always been an area of fascination for us Americans. When Princess Diana wed Prince Charles in 1981, an estimated 17 million U.S. viewers tuned in to watch. Her ivory dress, with its giant puffed sleeves and 25-foot train, became the bridal ideal during the ’80s. In 2011, when Prince William and Kate Middleton married, an estimated 23 million viewers in the United States were up at 6 a.m. to watch. Since then, Kate’s fashion choices have become so influential—anything she wears sells out almost immediately—that the phenomenon has been dubbed the “Kate Middleton Effect.”

Once Meghan Markle entered the picture, though, America’s fascination grew to an entirely new level. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what draws us to her so much—is it the messy buns? The starter marriage? The IMDB page filled with Suits seasons and Hallmark movies? That her family is so, well, messed up? The fact she’s over 35 years old? It’s most likely a combo of all of the above, but the fact is this: We can’t get enough of the California-born actress who landed an actual prince.

Some of us will do anything to emulate her: We’ll try Meghan’s “weird” face massage, buy bathing suits with her face on it, sit through a Lifetime movie about her life. She’s been declared one of Time‘s most influential people, gotten her own wax figure, and anything she wears sells out instantly. (It seems buyers have moved on from The Kate Effect to The Meghan Effect.)

But has this fervor for all things Markle translated across the pond? The short answer? Meh.

I went to London last week—two weeks before the royal wedding—to find out, but most people I talked to didn’t even know the date. That includes my very first interaction in the U.K. with the Uber driver who picked me up from Heathrow. Fardin was perky at first—giving me detailed descriptions of the different neighborhoods we drove through—but as soon as I mentioned I was there to talk to people about the royal wedding, he fell silent. “Huh. Good luck,” he said. Then, a beat later, “Would you like a bottle of water?” The rest of the ride was silent, save for the American country music on the radio he would occasionally hum along to.

PHOTO: Anna Moeslein

Katie, an 18-year-old student I ran into while shopping on Oxford Street, summed it up best: “We’re not as excited as the Americans are.” Katie was in Florida for William and Kate’s royal wedding and remembers Americans treating it as a big event. Back home, though, it’s less of a big deal. “I think it’s ‘cause we’re English,” she explains. “We’re just like, ‘Yeah, it happens.”

That’s the thing: It’s hard to get a read on whether or not there’s a cult around Meghan Markle in the U.K. because the Brits I talked to were so ambivalent. Every morning, I’d watch news programs and talk shows hoping to get an idea of the culture around Markle. A show called Sunday Brunch played a clip from the satire The Windsors: Royal Wedding. When the host asked comedian Marc Wootton if he’ll be watching, he replied, “I’m taking my mom to an endoscopy on that day.” The conversation moved on.

Later that night, as I lay in bed unable to sleep because jet lag is a real thing, I watched an after-midnight airing of The Royal Wives of Windsor. Meghan got a small shout out, but the special was largely focused on Princess Diana’s life. The most I saw, TV-wise, was this: On Monday, Good Morning Britain (the U.K. equivalent of The Today Show) had a segment on Markle’s skin-care secrets.

PHOTO: Anna Moeslein

As for print media, headlines I saw were relatively kind, given Britian’s take-no-prisoners approach to tabloid media. None of the newspapers on the stand featured anything remotely royal above the fold, but the gossip magazines—about half of which had her on the cover—were pretty benign. (This was, it should be noted, before the Thomas Markle paparazzi scandal broke.) Headlines like, “Meghan’s Wedding Dream Team Revealed” and “Meghan Puts Family First” were much fuzzier fare than New! magazine’s generic “Surgery Shockers” and The National Enquirer‘s cover about 12-year-old Suri Cruise’s “birthday heartbreak.” (Its headline—”Daddy Where Are You?”—wins for the most histrionic I’d seen.)

There weren’t as many souvenirs as I was expecting, either. I found a random assortment of Harry and Meghan mugs and magnets in the shops around Piccadilly, but that’s like finding a “I <3 NY” T-shirt in Times Square. In other words, meant for American tourists only. The Harrods at the airport sold a Harry and Meghan tote bag.

I saw a single “Marry Me Harry” T-shirt in a location of fast-fashion brand River Island. It’s now on sale for $14. The biggest surprise was the gift shop at Kensington Palace, where William and Kate reside and Meghan and Harry are expected to live once they wed. There was only one—one!—Harry + Meghan item: a single postcard of their engagement photo for 70 pence. Buckingham Palace’s gift shop was a little better, selling commemorative china, Jordan almonds, champagne, tea towels, and more. I bought a package of all-butter shortbread biscuits. They were OK.

PHOTO: Anna Moeslein

Not getting much from the media or shops, I hit the streets to ask real women what they think of Markle. I was surprised at the amount of women who watched Suits, even before When Harry Met Meghan. “We’ve been watching [Suits] for ages,” Skylar, a 22-year-old nurse told me in the West End. Her friend, Elizabeth—”like the Queen”—was quick to add that they like her as an actress, but don’t know much about her personal life. Still, “Meghan seems really nice.”

Most of the women I talked to, when pressed, described Markle with words like beautiful, elegant, and intelligent. They didn’t have much to add beyond that, though the general consensus seems to be that she’s modern and appears, at least outwardly, to be a good match for Harry. “It’s nice that she’s kind of normal,” Chloe, 22, a teacher, explains. “Well, I say normal, but…she’s not.”

So, to get back to my original question: Is the cult of Meghan Markle alive in the U.K.? I don’t think so—not yet, at least—but there’s hope that’ll change as Brits get used to her.

“I’m not excited, honestly, [for the royal wedding because] it doesn’t really affect my day in any way. But I think it’s refreshing to see that Harry’s getting married to someone that’s not British and that he loves as well,” Karima, a 28-year-old marketing executive, told me.

“It shows change, and it shows that the royal family’s moving forward with the times. I think this royal wedding will be something that more people will be able to relate to, especially the younger generation. Good on Harry, and good on Meghan. Hopefully, she’ll be able to put her spin on the royal family.”