Meghan Markle's father will reportedly not attend her wedding to Prince Harry on Saturday
British royal wedding in turmoil amid bride’s family scandal
The British royal family is scrambling to contain a series of embarrassing revelations about Prince Harry's future in-laws which threaten to turn his wedding to Meghan Markle into a farce.
Harry, 33, Queen Elizabeth's grandson and the sixth-in-line to the British throne, and Ms Markle, a 36-year-old American actress, are set to marry on Saturday in a glittering ceremony at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle.
But after months of meticulous planning, things started to unravel over the weekend after reports emerged that Ms Markle’s father had allegedly staged paparazzi shots of himself in return for money.
On Monday, American celebrity news site TMZ reported that Thomas Markle, 73, has now decided to stay away to avoid embarrassing his daughter or the royal family following the photo fiasco. He also said he had suffered a heart attack a week ago, brought on by the media frenzy surrounding the nuptials.
Mr Markle had been due to walk his daughter down the aisle in front of 600 guests, including all the senior British royals and multiple celebrities, before she marries the prince. He had also been expected to meet the Queen, her husband and other senior members of the Windsor family this week.
According to media reports, his daughter only found out her father wasn't planning to attend her wedding through the press, and had no prior warning.
A spokesman for Kensington Palace said: “This is a deeply personal moment for Ms Markle in the days before her wedding. She and Prince Harry ask again for understanding and respect to be extended to Mr Markle in this difficult situation.”
But some members of the public were less sympathetic.
“Run Harry run, before it’s too late!”, a Twitter user calling himself D. Robert wrote.
Another, Helen Dale, claimed that she is a monarchist who hates long-haul flights, but she’s still glad she’ll be on a plane to Australia this Saturday. “The whole Prince Harry and Meghan Markle thing [sic] is turning into quite the circus.”
Johanna Edmond replied saying she’s a republican who doesn’t mind flying, “but deliberately got on a boat to Tasmania in the hope of avoiding the [latest] royal farce”.
Others took pity on Ms Markle, saying they feel her pain in having an embarrassing family. “My life is just like Meghan Markle’s except I’m not hot or engaged to a prince, I just have a lot of family drama,” mused a Twitter user called Annalise.
The comparisons between the Markles and the Windsors were also plentiful. “And I thought the Royals were dysfunctional. Sheesh!”, wrote another user.
The scandal emerged when Britain’s Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Markle had agreed to stage pictures with a photographer ahead of his trip to the UK, showing him looking at images of his daughter with Harry. The snaps were sold to media for more than US$100,000 (Dh367,315), the newspaper said.
TMZ said it had spoken to Mr Markle who said a paparazzi agency had approached him and offered him money, although the sum was not close to the reported figure.
He told the website he had agreed to the pictures because he hoped they would improve his image, as previously he had been ambushed by paparazzi whose snaps had shown him buying beer and looking dishevelled.
The topic of press intrusion is particularly sensitive for Harry and his elder brother Prince William after the death of their mother, Princess Diana, in a Paris car crash in 1997 as her limousine sped away from chasing paparazzi.
On Monday, Ms Markle's half-sister Samantha Grant, who has not spoken to Ms Markle since 2015, admitted involvement in faking the photos, but insisted it wasn't motivated by money.
“There’s a lot of scrutiny that it was money motivated, it was not,” she told the British press.
She continued to hog the airwaves on Tuesday as she told TV show "Good Morning Britain" that their father has been under an "unbelievable" amount of stress because of media intrusion.
According to her, journalists "rented the house next to him in Mexico, four or five of them. He can't open his blinds, he can't go anywhere without being followed".
She added that their father had recently suffered a heart attack, again blaming “media vultures” for the pressure they had piled on him.
However, the show’s presenter Piers Morgan turned her words back on her, telling her: “There is no bigger media vulture in this wedding than you.”
He also referenced the book that she is writing, called The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister, saying: “You’ve been trashing [Meghan] for two years.”
Ms Grant did add that she hoped their father would make it to the wedding, even though she herself is not invited.
"I don’t know as of today what his plans are, but there’s a very real concern. I wanted to see him go [to the wedding]. I didn't want him deprived of that. But clearly the priority should be whether or not it’s safe for him to do that."
The bride-to-be's parents are divorced and while Harry has been pictured with her mother Doria Ragland, 61, there had been speculation about how Mr Markle, a former lighting director for TV soaps and sitcoms, would feature.
However, Harry's communications secretary told reporters last week he would have an important role and would give away his daughter on the couple's big day.
If her father does not come, British newspapers suggested that her mother, with whom she is spending the night before the ceremony at a nearby luxury hotel, would walk her daughter down the aisle.