Simone Ashley is Bridgerton’s New Leading Lady

Simone Ashley in a black dress.
Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images

If you haven’t figured it out by now, each new season of Bridgerton will focus on one of the titular family’s siblings finding love. So while the first season’s leads Regé-Jean Page and Phoebe Dynevor will still appear, the central romantic arc of the follow-up will instead spotlight Jonathan Bailey’s Anthony, the eldest child of the clan. Of course, any good romance involves two characters, and today Netflix announced the second season’s next leading lady: Simone Ashley.

Ashley, 29, is a product of the Netflix pipeline. She’s best known as Olivia, one of the mean girls from fellow British Netflix hit Sex Education. Though, Ashley also has credits on several other thoroughly British series like Broadchurch and The Sister (the latter of which just arrived in America on Hulu).

While Anthony spent most of season one stringing along his opera singer mistress Siena Rosso, he concludes it by vowing to get serious about marriage. Enter Simone Ashley’s character Kate Sharma. According to the plot from the novel upon which the series is based, however, don’t expect love at first sight. Author Julia Quinn’s website describes the character as the “most meddlesome woman ever to grace a London ballroom” and a “spirited schemer” who is turned off by Anthony’s formerly rakish ways. Love doesn’t come easily to the Bridgertons, but that’s what we’ve come to expect.

Though, Ashley’s casting adds a new dimension to the show’s much-talked-about diverse casting. The decision to imagine the Regency era as one where people of color could achieve status in society has been praised for the opportunities it affords actors and a corrective to so many completely white period pieces. Though, it’s also been criticized for ignoring the actual plight of people of color during the period.

Many have also noted that the Shonda Rhimes show largely portrays the era as almost strictly Black and white.

Ashley is of Indian descent. The character’s last name has been changed to “Sharma” from “Sheffield” in the books.

South Asians did live in England during the era, with some attaining notoriety. Perhaps the most notable was actually King George IV’s “shampooing surgeon” Sake Dean Mahomed. Mahomed also ran a successful business and was the first Indian to publish a book in English (one of his grandchildren, Frederick Akbar Mahomed, went on to become an internationally known physician who helped pioneer the study of blood pressure). It should be interesting to see if Bridgerton either acknowledges Mahomed or uses his backstory for inspiration.

Of course, it also begs the delicate question of how the show will acknowledge British colonialism as well.

Related: Are You Really Sure You Love Bridgerton?