Belfast Telegraph

Gail Walker: Meghan Markle’s father let her down with photoshoot, but it’s still sad he won’t be there on big day

The royal bride-to-be has been embarrassed by her dad’s antics, but weddings bring out troublesome relatives, says Gail Walker

It’s the job of relatives to let you down at a wedding. Uncle Sidney drinking the free bar dry. Brother-in-law Steve, with wispy comb-over and gravity-defying belly, trying to chat up bridesmaids a third his age.

Cousin Simon laying down crucial moves on the dancefloor, while yelling at the DJ ‘D’ye not have any of that Nik Kershaw?’ At Table 3, Aunt Rose is a seething ball of barely-repressed fury who has not forgotten the terrible slight of Christmas 1987. (“A coffee percolator! They know perfectly well coffee upsets my stomach.”)

And a thousand-and-one other little, but all-too-painful, mortifications.

How much worse then must it be if you’re Meghan Markle. Sitting in the eye of the storm, the world waiting for the tiniest slip up. She thought her problem would be getting Harry’s name wrong, or a page boy standing on her train or her mascara starting to run.

I’ll bet she never reckoned on the comedy turn her old dad would put together in the week leading up to her nuptials.

Just as the royal advisers were issuing warnings to the Press to respect the privacy of the bride’s family, it emerged that Thomas Markle had agreed to take part in staged photographs of himself shopping for wedding gear.

The photos, taken in Mexico where the retired Hollywood lighting director lives, showed the 73-year-old getting measured up for his wedding suit, and casually surfing the internet in a cafe for news of the royal couple.

The only thing missing was for Thomas Markle to be pictured channelling Stanley Holloway as Alfred P Doolittle in My Fair Lady, thumbs in his wedding braces, rattling his top ‘at on his bonce, and skipping down the street with waifs and strays at his tail, crooning ‘My daughter’s gettin’ married in the morning’ or ‘Thanks for the hospitality, George. Send the bill to Buckin’ham Palace.’

Innocuous though they are in themselves — there was something quite endearing, in fact, about Thomas’s eye for the main chance — the photos reportedly could have netted £100,000 from newspapers hungry for royal exclusives. However, given that this is no distant relative, but actually Prince Harry’s prospective father-in-law, the match due to be made in Windsor on Saturday was once again beset with embarrassment.

Of course now that Thomas last night, with considerable dignity, tendered his regrets at not now being able to attend the wedding due to “ill health”, the prospect of this individual having the rare opportunity to walk his daughter down the aisle towards a prince of the House of Windsor has been denied us all. He will no doubt be able to view proceedings on his TV in Mexico — an image I think many will find poignant and unfortunate.

After all, it is his daughter’s big day yet clearly Thomas has found himself engulfed by events he felt unable to cope with. It’s not easy to pull out of such an occasion — especially when the eyes of the world are focused upon it — and there is a kind of nobility in his decision. Ultimately, he has put his daughter first even if that means denying himself the chance to give her away. Meghan will feel his absence too. 

Let’s be honest — his photoshoot was ill-advised but hardly the end of the world, given some of the scandals the Windsors have brought upon their own heads in the last few decades.

And, to be fair, some of the Markles had made spirited attempts to repair the damage. Meghan’s half-sister, Samantha (like a few of the clan, not invited to the wedding) had fallen on her sword, saying it was all her idea and that it was meant for the ‘benefit’ of the Royal Family.

Mind you, this is the same Samantha who is apparently penning a memoir with a working title ‘The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister’ and has been badmouthing Harry for allowing ‘Meg to ignore the Markles’…

Meghan’s half-brother, Thomas Jr, has had his say too. Also smarting from not being invited, he penned an open letter to the prince, saying it was not “too late” for him to call off the wedding.

“As more time passes to your royal wedding, it became very clear that this is the biggest mistake in royal wedding history,” he opined. “Meghan Markle is obviously not the right woman for you.”

And other so-called ‘friends’ have dished the dirt, smearing Meghan as a Diana-obsessed social climber.

All this could, in a certain light, be said to add to the merriment of the nation. After all, is there not something very familiar about the Markle family? Second marriages, estranged cousins, half-siblings, a sensible daughter, wayward brothers, a matriarch trying to keep the show on the road ... Ahem ...

Well, yes ... it’s really all our lives, isn’t it? The idea that there ever were families into which any royal could marry that wouldn’t have had extraordinary personalities was always an illusion. All that’s changed is visibility through social media. Welcome to the 21st century.

Meghan could well turn out to be a big plus for the royals. She is undeniably beautiful in a classy way. At 36, she has had a life before being a royal — if that could prove hard to give up, it could also have equipped her with the necessary skills to cope with her new life. It may be a bit ridiculous to declare the star of the so-so TV drama Suits as being in touch with ‘real people’, but she is a self-made modern woman. She exudes a certain charisma over and above her Hollywood status. Even her divorce may stand her in good stead with ‘the people’ — divorce is an accepted fact of life. Plus, thanks to William and Kate, there is little prospect of King Harry and Queen Meghan, so there is no constitutional crisis on the horizon.

If she is successful in managing her instinct to say what she thinks — not even Prince Philip gets away with that — she could well become an asset in the modernising of the monarchy.

And she has one great thing going for her — we all love love. Only the sourest and most churlish will begrudge Meghan her day on Saturday, especially now that it is tinged with the pathos of an absent father who it would seem is a bit vulnerable. The bogus argument about the ‘cost’ of the royals is just that — utterly countered by the vast capital in reputation, tourism, investment and cachet which accrues to the nation thanks to the longevity of this great institution.

On Saturday, Meghan will look beautiful. Her dress will be stunning. Her husband will be dashingly handsome in his uniform. And the watching billion or two will daub an eye at both the pageantry — and the simplicity. For at the heart of it all is just this — a man and a woman declaring their love for each other. That’s a hard thing to beat.

Back in Mexico, watching on TV, Thomas Markle can enjoy it in his own way, without added stress and strain. Wiv a Little Bit of Bloomin’ Luck.

Belfast Telegraph

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