TORONTO — A ticket for a minor traffic infraction and a sudden preponderance of black SUVs were Tiffany Babiak’s early clues that something was different about her normally quiet downtown neighbourhood.
Then she learned the reason why: Prince Harry’s then-rumoured girlfriend Meghan Markle lived just a few blocks over and the area was crawling with security.
As word of the royal relationship would eventually spread, so too, did media scrutiny of the tree-lined enclave of stately family homes next to the University of Toronto campus.
The British media were especially hungry for any tidbit related to Prince Harry’s love life, but the royal couple had little to worry about, says Babiak.
By and large, she says neighbours closed ranks and kept mum about anything they’d seen of the couple, ensuring they’d have as much privacy as possible under the circumstances.
“Everyone got very protective of her because it was just like, it’s our neighbourhood, and we didn’t want these kind of paparazzi driving around and harassing anybody,” says Babiak.
“It was funny, my (friend) one day went up to one of the SUVs which was idling … and she went up to the window and she was like, ‘Listen, I don’t know who you are but this is a residential neighbourhood so can you turn off your engines?’ And they were Prince Harry’s drivers.”
Markle, who is set to marry Prince Harry on May 19, may be a California actress, but she’s an honourary Canadian in the eyes of many fans who followed her seven-season run on the Toronto-shot TV series “Suits.”
“We kind of adopted her,” Babiak quips. “As far as I’m concerned she’s more Canadian than American.”
And from all that appeared, Markle certainly embraced Toronto as her home away from home: volunteering at a local soup kitchen, vacationing with cast members over Canadian Thanksgiving, hobnobbing in downtown hotspots, and taking to social media to tout favourite restaurants and hangouts, biographer Andrew Morton writes in “Meghan: A Hollywood Princess.”
By 2016, Markle was the promotional face of no less than two storied Canadian institutions — the 92-year-old retailer Reitmans, for which she designed a capsule collection of wardrobe staples, and the Christian charity World Vision Canada, to which she lent her burgeoning celebrity power to promote aid work in the developing world.
Longtime royal watcher Patricia Treble says Markle’s ties to Toronto portrayed a sparkling version of the city that was young, stylish, and glamorous.
And she provided an invaluable boost to little-known Canadian designers by wearing their clothes abroad, including coats by Mackage and Line the Label, and outfits by Erdem, Greta Constantine and Aritzia’s Babaton brand.