Everyone can agree that Alexander Gilkes — urbane, handsome and impeccably polite — is the most charming fellow.
His close friends range from Prince William and Prince Harry to Beyonce’s husband Jay-Z, and also encompass Oscar-winners, supermodels, billionaires, the titled heads of Europe and the cream of the artistic world.
You may not have heard of him — his surname is pronounced ‘Jill-kess’, with a soft G — but this 38-year-old Old Etonian truly must be one of the best-connected men in the world.
Earlier this month he was spotted with Maria Sharapova, the glamorous tennis ace worth £125 million, after his four-year marriage to Misha Nonoo, the fashion designer and best friend of Meghan Markle, broke up.
Alexander Gilkes is the world’s most formidable networker and is the boyfriend of tennis star Maria Sharapova (couple pictured together)
Gilkes is suspected of being the matchmaker between Meghan and Prince Harry, and naturally is on the royal wedding list.
So how has he done it? Those who know him speak of an infallible charmer, with model good looks, who knows how to put everyone — from royalty to catering staff — completely at their ease. His old boss Simon de Pury, of London auction house Phillips, says his appeal ‘goes across sexes and strata’.
Another business partner describes him as ‘incredibly charming and the kind of person everyone likes instantly’.
But don’t assume his climb to the top of the networking ladder has been a mere accident. Even in his schooldays, Gilkes could spot and capitalise on a good connection. He’s one smooth operator.
So who is Alexander Gilkes? ALISON BOSHOFF investigates.
One of the most fascinating things about Gilkes is that he isn’t terribly posh but from solid upper-middle-class stock. Gilkes’s father is a top dermatologist, while his mother Robyn held an administrative role at the University of Oxford’s Department of Russian and East European studies for many years. The family home is a £2 million, four-bedroom house in Battersea.
The parents obviously had keen ambitions for their boys (Gilkes’s younger brother, Charlie, is a nighclub entrepreneur) and packed them off to prep school at the age of seven, then on to that seat of privilege and connection, Eton.
Gilkes found boarding at such a young age tough, however. ‘That was a time in my life I didn’t enjoy,’ he has said. ‘I think we were the last generation to have that Victorian education.’
Eton was a totally different experience, though. He loved it there, and it served him well. ‘It incubates the individual… detecting your strengths and flaws very quickly,’ he enthused.
It also gave him a giant leg-up on the social ladder, for it was there that he met Prince William. Even though he is three years older than the Prince, they became friends — unusual, you might think, for an older boy to fraternise with younger ones — but with that hand of friendship, Gilkes was able to claim his first royal ‘scalp’.
He was astute with his subject choices, too. At Eton, as well as French and Spanish, he learnt Russian, as he perceptively realised that Russia was emerging as a major market force.
Gilke’s is good friends with the Royal family and attended the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011 (pictured greeting Kate in 2014)
After studying languages at Bristol University he did work experience with the film-maker Stanley Kubrick, then took a job arranging luxuries for the rich and famous with concierge service Quintessentially. This provided another handy pass into the world of the A-listers.
There followed a few years in a swanky job as international communications manager for Krug champagne in Paris, then a stint as chief auctioneer at Phillips de Pury (now Phillips) in London, before he moved to New York with his then girlfriend Misha Nonoo, who has since become Meghan Markle’s right-hand woman. In 2011 he founded a company called Paddle8, which pioneered a new era of fine art trading, with online auctions for the ‘middle market’ of $100,000 or less.
Perhaps a hint at Gilkes’s character can be found in his coffee order: a ginger turmeric matcha on ice with hemp milk and an extra shot for, he claims, ‘a calmer wake-up than normal coffee’.
His romance with Nonoo lasted more than a decade: they met when she was 17, he was 25 and they both worked at the concierge firm Quintessentially. Recalling their meeting, she said: ‘I thought he was gay. He was so handsome and well dressed.’
He said: ‘The first thing I noticed was how incredibly beautiful she was. The fact that I was looking at her sort of sheepishly probably gave her reason to believe I wasn’t interested. But we quickly became very enraptured.’
Their 2012 wedding in Venice lasted for three days and was attended by Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice — whom he had presumably met through his friendship with Prince William.
Singer Lana Del Rey performed a set, there were jazz bands, shucked oysters and gelato, and parties in a hill fort and on the roof of a museum.
At their apartment in New York’s trendy and affluent Greenwich Village, the gilded couple threw lavish parties. Alexander won a place on Vanity Fair’s ‘best dressed’ list and permanent residence in the gossip columns.
His U.S. connections hit the stratosphere last summer when he seemed to have formed some sort of friendship with former U.S. President Barack Obama.
Tantalisingly, he posted a picture on Instagram of himself cuddling Obama’s dogs on the White House lawn, without elaborating on how he’d been invited there.
When he and Nonoo split in 2016, the only explanation given was that the union had been a casualty of their mutual ambitions.
He was spotted with new girlfriend Sharapova at an airport in January, then last week they were pictured strolling hand-in-hand outside an art gallery in LA.
When William started dating Kate Middleton, naturally Gilkes made friends with her, too, and ended up charming the entire Middleton family. (His younger brother Charlie dated Pippa for a time — parents Michael and Carole Middleton are fans of both brothers.)
A measure of the bond between the clans is that Gilkes was one of those invited to Prince William’s wedding in 2011. He will only say: ‘It’s not something I talk about. I respect their privacy enormously.’
Sadly, William couldn’t make it to Gilkes’s own wedding in 2012, but Pippa and her brother James did attend, and Pippa stayed at his home in New York that year.
He is also friends with Prince Harry, and will be among the invited throng at Windsor Castle on May 19, when the Prince marries Meghan Markle.
Alexander Gilkes pictured with the Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and her daughter Princess Eugenie in 2014
Gilkes gave Princess Eugenie a role in the New York office of his arts company. She worked there for two years, from 2013 to 2015, as an auction manager.
Gilkes said: ‘She has been an amazing asset. She loves art, she studied art. She’s a good friend, a loyal colleague and a very hard-working team member.’
He is also close to Eugenie’s sister Beatrice and their mother, the Duchess of York.
Both Beatrice and Eugenie attended his wedding in Venice, with Beatrice telling the fashion and style magazine W that the flotilla of boats to the ceremony at an ancient fort was ‘the most spectacular thing’.
Other titled friends include Princess Maria-Olympia of Greece and Denmark, a New York model and socialite once spoken of as a potential bride for Prince Harry.
His Serene Highness, Prince Alexander von Furstenberg is another Gilkes friend. The son of fashion designer Diane, he works for an investment house and is said to be among the financial backers of Paddle8.
Although he is based in New York, Gilkes can be found looking dapper at parties around the globe — you can expect him at top art fairs in Miami, Basel and London, and in summer he is usually to be found on the nicer beaches of southern Europe with art curator Jay Jopling and his fiancee.
He also hosts charity auctions, where his suave manner on the gavel is greatly admired. Good friend Sir Elton John and his husband David Furnish hire him for their Oscars-night party. Madonna has used him, too, for her Malawi charity, and has become a trusted friend.
He is a prominent member of the Chiltern Firehouse set in London — a rather wilder and richer bunch than the Soho House crowd.
This group is led by Chiltern’s patron, the restaurateur and serial bachelor Andre Balazs. Among Gilkes’s party-hard friends in this set is Arthur Landon, a close chum of Prince Harry, who will be at the May wedding too.
Gilkes is also friends with Presidents and visited the White House in July 2016, above you can see him meetings pooches Sunny and Bo
Aside from the Chiltern crowd, he is also friends with LA-based model Liberty Ross. Through Ross he knows Bryan Lourd, a big noise in Hollywood and the boss of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) whose clients include George Clooney, Daniel Craig and Scarlett Johansson.
Gilkes got to know rapper Jay-Z, Beyonce’s husband, during a stint working for the champagne marque Krug, and took him on a vineyard tour that ended in a night of partying in Paris.
Other pals include Sting’s daughter Mickey Sumner, Victoria Beckham and actress Uma Thurman.
More sedately, he also enjoys Sunday lunches with Jemima Khan in Oxfordshire, where pianist and TV music host Jools Holland is one of the crowd.
Gilkes is the darling of the arty set. One close friend is Hikari Yokoyama, a much-lionised young American art curator. She is now based in London and, like Gilkes, has a berth at Vogue under new editor Edward Enninful, as a contributing arts editor.
Yokoyama is engaged to the multi-millionaire art mogul Jay Jopling, another Gilkes pal, with whom he spends his summers.
Old Etonian Jay, whose father Michael served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher, set up the White Cube gallery in 1993, which made stars of Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. Gilkes is friends with Emin, too, and Hirst is such a fan that he is said to be one of Paddle8’s financial backers.
The fashion pack can’t get enough of Gilkes, who is handsome enough to be a model. He regularly makes the Vanity Fair ‘best dressed’ list and favours informal tailoring by the Australian designer Patrick Johnson.
In New York he is friends with the redoubtable former model Grace Coddington, who until 2016 ruled the roost as creative director of Vogue. The formidable former Vogue boss Anna Wintour has been seen at his parties, too, and is a friend insofar as she has friends.
He is close to British supermodels Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell — he got to know Kate when he was cast in a Burberry campaign with her, and Naomi he knows via the New York party scene.
Another fashion friend is Indre Rockefeller, a ballet dancer who married into the Rockefeller millions and now designs bags. Before that she was Anna Wintour’s gofer at Vogue.
We know about the Misha Nonoo connection — and they have stayed friends after splitting in 2016. Indeed, they will see each other at Prince Harry’s wedding.
Gilkes said last year: ‘We grew up together but we’re good friends.’
He is also on good terms with Meghan’s close pal Markus Anderson, a Soho House executive who is helping her plan the wedding and will be there, front and centre, at Windsor in May.
According to Gilkes’s Instagram, he and Anderson went on a weekend break to Mexico with other pals last year.
The Eton connection has served him again here, as Gilkes is friendly with Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne. The two of them were pictured partying with the little gold statuette at the Vanity Fair Oscars party in 2015.
He is also on cuddly terms with Old Etonian Foreign Secretary and former London mayor Boris Johnson, posting a picture of the two of them having lunch last year.