Eleanor Steafel un­rav­els the long-sim­mer­ing fam­ily feud that has dom­i­nated the head­lines be­fore Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE -

In many ways, the events of the past few days beg­gar be­lief. As Bri­tain be­gan to pre­pare in earnest for the royal wed­ding — an event destined to whip up a cir­cus at the best of times — a fam­ily saga so far-fetched it would not seem out of place if writ­ten into the plot of a soap opera has been play­ing out for real.

But for many, the re­mark­able an­tics of the ex­tended Markle clan will be no sur­prise.

Over the past few months, while Bri­tain had its back turned on the Amer­i­can gos­sip col­umns car­ry­ing de­tails of hate-filled open let­ters from dis­grun­tled rel­a­tives, bit­ter asides on break­fast tele­vi­sion and “kiss-and-tell” pub­lish­ing deals, a chaotic feud has been brew­ing.

By Mon­day, a fam­ily saga — the “Markle de­ba­cle” — was threat­en­ing to shake the foun­da­tions of the royal wed­ding.

It be­gan on Sun­day, when it emerged Meghan Markle’s fa­ther, Thomas — whose at­ten­dance at his daugh­ter’s side in St Ge­orge’s Chapel on Satur­day had been a given — had posed for staged pho­tos with a pa­parazzi pho­tog­ra­pher. Em­bar­rass­ing, but not un­for­giv­able.

On Mon­day, Ms Markle’s es­tranged half-sis­ter, Sa­man­tha Grant — who had made some­thing of a name for her­self since the royal re­la­tion­ship went pub­lic, com­ment­ing reg­u­larly on Ms Markle’s im­pend­ing nup­tials and se­cur­ing a lu­cra­tive book deal — ap­peared on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion to de­fend her fa­ther, claim­ing the un­for­tu­nate mishap had all been her fault.

“I am en­tirely the cul­prit,” she said. “It was my sug­ges­tion, to ben­e­fit him and the royal fam­ily.” She had no idea her fa­ther would be “taken ad­van­tage of”, she said on Twit­ter.

Hours af­ter the rev­e­la­tion, TMZ, the on­line gos­sip jug­ger­naut, re­vealed that Mr Markle had de­cided he could not walk his daugh­ter down the aisle, nor even at­tend the wed­ding, for fear of em­bar­rass­ing the royal fam­ily or his daugh­ter.

In any case, Mr Markle was re­ported as say­ing, he might not be al­lowed to at­tend for med­i­cal rea­sons: he had a heart at­tack six days ear­lier, check­ing him­self out of hos­pi­tal shortly after­wards in his de­ter­mi­na­tion to travel to Lon­don.

But on Tues­day, Ms Markle’s half-sis­ter again ap­peared on TV, telling Piers Mor­gan and Su­sanna Reid on Good Morn­ing Bri­tain the stress of the me­dia back­lash had been too much for her fa­ther and his at­ten­dance at the wed­ding hung in the bal­ance.

“When you say he had a heart at­tack,” Mor­gan probed Ms Grant, “he went to the hos­pi­tal just for a cou­ple of hours and then checked him­self out and drove 100 miles, and was seen the next day eat­ing McDon­ald’s and KFC. This doesn’t seem like nor­mal be­hav­iour for some­one who’s had a heart at­tack.”

By Tues­day evening, Mr Markle, a re­tired tele­vi­sion light­ing en­gi­neer who lives in Mex­ico, had given an in­ter­view to TMZ (which, at this point, ap­peared to have taken on the role of Mr Markle’s mouth­piece), say­ing he would, of course, at­tend the wed­ding — he was ea­ger not to miss out on this “historic mo­ment”.

“I hate the idea of miss­ing one of the great­est mo­ments in his­tory, and walk­ing my daugh­ter down the aisle,” he said.

By the time Mr Markle spoke to TMZ again, he told them he needed ur­gent heart surgery and would not be able to go to the wed­ding af­ter all.

So what is re­ally be­hind all this chaos? Is this sim­ply the tale of a frac­tured fam­ily be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by me­dia com­pa­nies flash­ing dol­lar signs and prom­ises of ca­reers as royal com­men­ta­tors? Or the lash­ing out of es­tranged fam­ily mem­bers jeal­ous at not be­ing in­vited to a once-in-a-life­time event.

What part has Thomas Markle Sr truly played in it? To be­gin to fathom this drama, you need to un­der­stand a lit­tle about the key play­ers. The fam­ily feud had been build­ing for some time. From the mo­ment Prince Harry and Ms Markle’s re­la­tion­ship was an­nounced in Novem­ber 2016, her ex­tended fam­ily took ad­van­tage of the me­dia storm.

Ms Grant an­nounced she was writ­ing an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy ti­tled The Di­ary of Princess Pushy’s Sis­ter. She has since been ad­mon­ished by her own fam­ily for al­legedly har­bour­ing a long­stand­ing, all-con­sum­ing jeal­ousy. “She has never liked Meghan, and she’s al­ways been jeal­ous of her,” her mother Roslyn told the Mail On­line.

Be­hind a closed Twit­ter ac­count, Ms Grant has re­port­edly writ­ten of her dis­gust that she and other fam­ily mem­bers had not been in­vited to the wed­ding.

Ms Markle’s half-brother, Thomas Markle Jr, seems to have his own agenda. His ex­plo­sive open let­ter last month to Prince Harry ap­peared to reveal a deep anger at the heart of the

Markle clan to­wards the sis­ter who had gone on to lead such a dif­fer­ent life — and left them off the guest list.

“It’s not too late,” he wrote. “As more time passed to your royal wed­ding, it be­came very clear this is the big­gest mis­take in royal wed­ding his­tory. Meg is show­ing her true colours.”

It was this pub­lic at­tack that trig­gered his heart at­tack, Mr Markle Sr told TMZ.

But Ms Markle’s half-sib­lings seem to have done a bizarre volte-face. Now there is out­pour­ings of sen­ti­men­tal­ity, and a yearn­ing to right old wrongs.

Ms Grant has gone back on her plan for the book, say­ing it won’t be a “slam­ming tell-all”; her orig­i­nal “Princess Pushy” ti­tle was meant to be a mock­ery of tabloidese, not of her sis­ter.

Last Fri­day, Mr Markle Jr wrote a sec­ond let­ter, this time to Ms Markle, apol­o­gis­ing for his be­hav­iour. “Meg, I know I’m not per­fect,” he wrote in the let­ter pub­lished by In Touch mag­a­zine. “But good, bad or per­fect, we’re the only fam­ily you have. It does hurt my feel­ings not get­ting in­vited to your wed­ding ... It’s not too late to send me an in­vite along with your en­tire fam­ily.”

He added: “It can be a royal wed­ding fam­ily re­union.”

What a story that would be. It would keep the US chat shows and gos­sip sites in busi­ness for months. And the Markles would not do too badly out of it, ei­ther.

Some among the ex­tended clan have taken mat­ters into their own hands. On Tues­day, Mr Markle Jr’s ex-wife, Tracy Doo­ley, and her sons Tyler and TJ, arrived in Lon­don to cover the wed­ding for Amer­i­can TV.

Af­ter a gripe about not be­ing in­vited to the wed­ding, (af­ter all, Ms Markle used to babysit her sons), Ms Doo­ley posted on Face­book: “Just glad to have landed safely and hop­ing for Tom se­nior to be well, healthy and happy.

“I wish the same for Meghan, Prince Harry, my chil­dren, friends, fam­ily and those who need our prayers and love. Peace, love and good works.”

At this mo­ment, some peace and love would not go amiss among the Markles.

Picture: Aus­tralscope

Meghan Markle’s neph­ews Tyler and Thomas Doo­ley and their mother Tracy Doo­ley flew to Lon­don for Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion.

Picture: AP

Meghan Markle with her mother Do­ria Ragland, whom she at least can count on.

Meghan Markle’s fa­ther Thomas Markle Sr will not at­tend the wed­ding to­mor­row.

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