ROYAL WEDDING INSIDE THE MARKLE DEBACLE
Eleanor Steafel unravels the long-simmering family feud that has dominated the headlines before Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day
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.
Meghan Markle’s nephews Tyler and Thomas Dooley and their mother Tracy Dooley flew to London for American television.
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.