Even before Bridgerton premiered on Netflix, it had a dedicated fan base thanks to its super-popular source material. The Shonda Rhimes-produced show is based on Julia Quinn's Bridgerton romance novel series, whose readers love to discuss all the books' twists and turns at great length. With the show now out for everyone to see, longtime fans and Bridgerton newcomers alike are all talking about the big reveal at the end of Season 1: the identity of anonymous gossip raconteur, Lady Whistledown. And there's no one better to break down the Lady Whistledown bombshell than Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan.
Warning: Spoilers for Season 1 of Bridgerton follow. You can think of Bridgerton as London-set Gossip Girl, in which the Upper East Side party scene is replaced by Regency-era high society and the snarky, titular blogger is Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews). In this story, the thing that matters most in society is who's being courted by whom, and Whistledown's column plays a big role in influencing the marriage market.
Coughlan plays Penelope Featherington, the youngest of the three Featherington sisters, who is mostly overlooked as the "ugly duckling" of her family. Her own (reluctant) courtship attempts throughout Season 1 are pretty dismal, but she comes out on top in the end. In the very last scene of the Season 1 finale, it's revealed that Penelope is actually the one pulling the strings as Lady Whistledown.
Viewers watching the big reveal were likely shocked that Pen was the one moonlighting as a vicious tea-spiller... unless they were already familiar with the Bridgerton novel series, which confirms Whistledown's identity in Book 4. In fact, Coughlan learned about her character's little hobby from the novel's readers.
"I found out on the fan forums that [Penelope] was Lady Whistledown and I was completely shocked," Coughlan tells Elite Daily. "I was really bowled over."
Coughlan was pumped about this twist and what it means for her character. "She’s a fascinating juxtaposition in that she’s the most low-status character in the room most of the time, while also being the most high-status person in all of London, because she controls everything. She can change people’s fates," Coughlan explains. "I think of it sometimes like the way drag queens are. Lady Whistledown is sort of her drag persona."
Throughout the first season, eagle-eyed fans might notice some easter eggs that hint at Penelope's gossipy tendencies. For example, during filming, Coughlan made sure Penelope was around for all the big moments Whistledown ends up writing about in her column. "I would say to the directors, 'I know this scene is about the Duke and Daphne, but I write about this in my column, so can I please be near here,'" she says. "So I think it should be fun for people to watch Season 1 back and have a Where’s Waldo [moment] with Penelope to see if they can find her at the balls."
Even though the audience learns Lady Whistledown's identity at the end of Season 1, none of the other characters know it... at least for now. That leaves a lot of room for Penelope's storyline to be explored in a possible Season 2.
"I think there’s something really juicy in the audience knowing a secret that the other characters don’t know," Coughlan says. "So it’s like they’re in on it and they’ll get to go to the balls with her and know whatever she witnesses could make or break somebody."
As of Dec. 30, Bridgerton hasn't been renewed for a Season 2, but with eight books in the original series, there's plenty of story — and Lady Whistledown gossip — left to explore. For now, fans can watch Season 1 of Bridgerton on Netflix.