In the nine months since Meghan Markle married Prince Harry, the American former actress has been subjected to an almost daily onslaught of hostile stories in parts of the British media.
Despite the wedding ceremony being lauded by commentators as a celebratory reflection of modern Britain and a turning point for the monarchy, the abuse has exposed a rift between the royal family and the British tabloid press.
Now the heat is set to rise further after five "best friends" of Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex -- described as "an essential part" of her inner circle -- have spoken out against what they say is the "bullying" she has endured since entering royal life, in an interview with People magazine.
After "maintaining their silence for nearly two years," the five unnamed female friends attempted to "set the record straight" about the rumors swirling around the Duchess.
"(We have) to stand up against the global bullying we are seeing and speak the truth about our friend," a friend, identified as a "former co-star" of the Duchess, said.
With the Duchess expecting a baby this spring, the friends worry "about what this is doing to her and the baby." The former co-star added that "Meg has silently sat back and endured the lies and untruths... It's wrong to put anyone under this level of emotional trauma, let alone when they're pregnant."
Kensington Palace declined to comment on the interview.
'Stop victimizing me'
The women addressed Meghan's relationship with her father, Thomas Markle, and half-sister Samantha.
"(Thomas Markle) never called; he's never texted. It's super painful, because Meg was always so dutiful. I think she will always feel genuinely devastated by what he's done," the friend told People in reference to the former television lighting director saying in various interviews that he can't reach his daughter.
"And at the same time, because she's a daughter, she has a lot of sympathy for him," the friend said.
Samantha -- who has spoken critically about the Duchess in the British tabloids -- and half-brother Thomas Jr., were "not a part of [the Duchess] life," the friend added.
"They have been made to appear as siblings who had this falling out, and that's not the truth at all," she said.
In the wide-ranging interview, the contents of which CNN has been unable to independently verify, the friends say Prince Harry and the Duchess tried to bring Thomas to London even after it emerged that he had arranged for paparazzi photos be taken of himself.
A friend said they tried to get in touch with him but "Tom wouldn't take her calls, wouldn't take Harry's calls."
The friend alluded to Thomas not picking up calls from the Duchess after he had a heart attack.
"The next morning when the car got there (to take him to the airport), he wouldn't get in. (Later) Meg heard he had a heart attack and she's calling and texting, even up to the night before the wedding. It was like, 'Please pick up. I love you, and I'm scared.' It was endless."
After the wedding, the Duchess allegedly reached out to her father and asked him to stop "victimizing" her in the press.
"She's like, 'Dad, I'm so heartbroken. I love you. I have one father. Please stop victimizing me through the media so we can repair our relationship,'" the friend said.
"Because every time her team has to come to her and fact-check something (he has said), it's an arrow to the heart. He writes her a really long letter in return, and he closes it by requesting a photo op with her. And she feels like, 'That's the opposite of what I'm saying. I'm telling you I don't want to communicate through the media, and you're asking me to communicate through the media. Did you hear anything I said?' It's almost like they're ships passing."
Nothing has changed
The friends also reveal the Duchess has not changed since joining the British royal family. They spoke to the magazine about a visit to Kensington Palace's Nottingham Cottage.
One friend described it as small and cozy, "but the perception of their lifestyle and the reality are two different things. Meg cooks for herself and Harry every single day."
Another friend from Los Angeles described her recent visit to England while Harry was "out of town on work."
"We were the only two in the house. It was our time. She made the most lovely meals. She made tea every day," the friend said. "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," she said.
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