Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images
by Sarah Grossbart | Wed., Jun. 27, 2018 10:47 AM
Toby Melville - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Plunged into the spotlight for the first time, with no idea how to cope, Thomas Markle turned to a man well-versed in notoriety.
Over a series of chats, his future son-in-law, Prince Harry, along with his daughter Meghan Markle, stressed the importance of not engaging. "For the most part, it was always, 'Don't speak to the press,'" he explained without a single trace of irony while giving his first tell-all interview to Good Morning Britain. "They were very emphatic about not giving any information to the press or talking to them because it just encourages them more. So, nonetheless, that's what I tried to do."
But a year of seeing unflattering images of him buying cans of beer or taking the trash out of his home in Rosarito, Mexico began to wear and soon he put forth his infamous plan to have photographers snap staged pictures of him. "Obviously that all went to hell," he admitted, "and I feel bad about it. I apologized for it and that's all I can do. I can't do much beyond that."
Welllll, he probably could have chosen not to do it again. But there he was, not even a month after the royal wedding and the whole will-he-or-won't-he-walk-her-down-the-aisle debacle, accepting a $10,000 payout for that half-hour long interview with Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.
Meghan hasn't commented on his decision to riff on everything from Harry's thoughts on Brexit ("I think he was open to the experiment") to his successful heart surgery ("They went up through my groin,") to how he gave his blessing for the pair to wed ("I said, 'You're a gentleman. Promise me you'll never raise your hand against my daughter,'"). But Kensington Palace insiders have made it clear that neither they, nor the royal couple themselves, were looped in.
So it seems safe to label this another blunder in the father-daughter duo's complicated relationship—one that was tenuous well before Thomas grabbed hold of that Images of Britain book and posed for his first staged photograph.
Good Morning Britain
As with most parental relationships, everything started out well. To hear Meghan tell it, her early days growing up in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley were downright idyllic.
Having crossed paths on a soap opera set in the late 1970s—"I like to think he was drawn to her sweet eyes and her Afro, plus their shared love of antiques," Markle wrote in an essay for Elle UK—her lighting director father and studio temp mother wed, welcomed Meghan and settled into a leafy suburban neighborhood in short order.
The overwhelming white area was far from diverse, but Thomas took strides to shield his youngest daughter from any discrimination. "When I was about seven, I had been fawning over a boxed set of Barbie dolls," Meghan recalled to Elle. "It was called The Heart Family and included a mom doll, a dad doll, and two children. This perfect nuclear family was only sold in sets of white dolls or black dolls. I don't remember coveting one over the other, I just wanted one. On Christmas morning, swathed in glitter-flecked wrapping paper, there I found my Heart Family: a black mom doll, a white dad doll, and a child in each color. My dad had taken the sets apart and customized my family."
So while her mom was fending off stares from the neighbors as she held her light-skinned child, Meghan was blissfully ignorant to the fact that she was somewhat unlike her peers: "They crafted the world around me to make me feel like I wasn't different but special."
Even after they divorced, Meghan's parents took pains not to upend her world. Most of the time, she lived with her mom, yoga teacher and social worker Doria Ragland, their relationship so close Meghan named her one of the "10 Women Who Changed My Life" in a 2017 Glamour article. But afternoons belonged to her father.
By trade he was a lighting director and photographer on Married...with Children, but a 1990 California State Lottery victory (using five numbers including Meghan's Aug. 4 birthday) gave him enough of a nest egg to send his little girl to Immaculate Heart, an upscale private academy. And after the final bell, she'd report to the set of the Fox sitcom, "which is a really funny and perverse place for a little girl in a Catholic school uniform to grow up," she told Esquire in 2013. "There were a lot of times my dad would say, 'Meg, why don't you go and help with the craft services room over there? This is just a little off-color for your 11-year-old eyes.'" (While she wasn't allowed to tune into the provocative sitcom, "I could watch the end credits so I could give the screen a kiss when I saw my dad's name go by.")
Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
His guidance went even deeper when she was faced with a mandatory census form in a seventh grade English class. "You had to check one of the boxes to indicate your ethnicity: white, black, Hispanic or Asian," she recalled to Elle. "There I was (my curly hair, my freckled face, my pale skin, my mixed race) looking down at these boxes, not wanting to mess up, but not knowing what to do. You could only choose one, but that would be to choose one parent over the other—and one half of myself over the other."
She relayed the story to Thomas that night, how her teacher had informed her to "check the box for Caucasian 'because that's how you look," but that she couldn't bring herself to summarily reject her mother, and watched as his face grew red in anger. "He said the words that have always stayed with me," she wrote, "'If that happens again, you draw your own box.'"
He fostered her creativity in other ways, too. When she got into the theater scene at Immaculate Heart, Thomas volunteered to craft sets for their plays, a former classmate revealed to People, "and he would volunteer his time even after Meghan graduated. She was close with her parents. They were affectionate."
Still, as a source told People their relationship could be rollercoaster-like with "ups and downs over the year." And in the months before she left for Northwestern University, where she would double major in theater and international relations, they seemed to be on the decline.
In the clip from a home video Meghan's former pal Ninaki Priddy gave to British newspaper The Sun, the 18-year-old aspiring actress points in the direction of her father's place before asserting, "From Dad's house, you can see the Hollywood sign. But we aren't going to go there because my dad and I aren't on the best of terms."
By the time she landed her breakout role in Suits in 2011, after bit parts on The League and 90210, they were back on the ascent. In her 2017 Vanity Fair profile, Meghan spoke about how both parents offered emotional support as they watched her audition and try "to make ends meet, taking all the odds-and-ends jobs to pay my bills. I was doing calligraphy, and I was a hostess at a restaurant—and all those things that actors do." As a Hollywood vet, she said, her dad was especially chuffed when she landed the USA legal drama. "My father knew how hard it is for an actor to get work," she said, "so he above all people was so proud that I was about to beat the odds."
Though Thomas had moved south of the border (the San Diego Union-Tribune reported he lives in an oceanfront gated community with other American ex-pats) and Meghan was stationed in Toronto, he'd offer his well-honed expertise from afar.
Ben Mark Holzberg/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank
"I will always find my light. No question," she told Esquire. "And if I don't, I'll know, because my dad will be the first person to call me and say like, 'You need to have him bring another 2K in,' and 'Why aren't you using this sort of lighting gel?'"
And in a 2016 Father's Day post on her since-deleted Instagram account she credited him with providing a slew of her best traits, writing, "Thanks for my work ethic, my love of Busby Berkeley films & club sandwiches, for teaching me the importance of handwritten thank you notes, and for giving me that signature Markle nose. I love you."
Their relationship was one of give-and-take, with Meghan offering her own type of assistance over the years. Though the L.A. native's (clearly estranged) half-siblings accused her of abandoning their father when he declared bankruptcy in 2016, that was hardly the case, a source told People. (Samantha Grant is currently penning a memoir, The Diary of Princess Pushy's Sister and Thomas Markle Jr.'s son grew his own strain of cannabis, the "Markle Sparkle" to sell in honor of the vows, so their motives can comfortable be put into question.) Meghan, insisted the source, has "been supportive of him in every way, including financially. She has paid many of her father's bills over the years."
And by Thomas' own account, she was eager to welcome him into her new royal fold. Ahead of his planned role in the May 19 nuptials, she arranged for him to have fittings at Beverly Hills ateliers and none other than the royal cobblers were tasked with making his custom shoes. "I was excited about it and ready for it," he said of walking Meghan down the aisle in his June 18 Good Morning Britain interview. "It was all set in place for me to go."
Even after his misstep with the paparazzi—a move that likely cut deep with Harry's who's long rallied for the privacy of his bride and her family—they embraced him. As he stated his case to both Meghan and Harry and apologized for going rogue, "They were very forgiving," he revealed, and stressed again that they were prepared and excited for him to visit them at Kensington Palace and participate in their vows, Harry having even enlisted a military pal to help look after him should they get distracted by other wedding obligations. It wasn't until he learned he needed to have heart surgery that the duo tapped Harry's dad Prince Charles to serve as replacement.
After all, Thomas' biggest crime was wanting to appear worthy of his little princess. "This was a presentation to me to change my image because for the last year photographs of me were always derogatory," he explained. "They'd take pictures of my hand grabbing a beer. They'd take pictures of me getting in my car, taking the garbage out. They'd take pictures of me buying a toilet and making a big deal out of it. They'd take all kinds of pictures of me, making me look negative. So I thought this would be a nice way of improving my look."
UK Pool/Sky News via AP
But his latest act may just be his worst look yet. By all accounts Meghan and Harry were blindsided with the interview, which took place not long after they arrived home from their private African honeymoon. "They were not given advanced warning," a source told ET. "They understand he has been harassed by the paparazzi 24/7 but it's hard for them to accept his apology when he's again taking cash."
Good Morning Britain host Morgan tried his best to defend his guest, noting he could have pocketed much more than $10,000 for the chat and was simply interested in "having his say". But beyond the money, worldwide exclusive interviews are the sorts of activities that are generally run by the palace and appropriately vetted. And having the newly minted duchess' father giving an off-the-cuff, my side of the story-type interview with little media training is simply not the done thing.
John Stillwell/PA Wire/AP Images
Thomas seemed to at least consider that the palace wouldn't approve of his actions, musing that he hoped they wouldn't be offended and that they'd "understand my feelings." But the silent treatment he's received the past week from both the royal family—and his daughter—appears to be a solid indication that they don't.
Rather than apologize for, once again, going rogue, Thomas seemed to double down on his decision by speaking to TMZ this week. Opining he's been put in the "penalty box," he went on the offensive, lashing out at Queen Elizabeth II for agreeing to meet with Trump when he visits the UK in July. "If the Queen is willing to meet our arrogant, ignorant, and insensitive president she has no excuse not to meet me," he fumed. "I'm nowhere near as bad."
Perhaps not, but Meghan can hardly be thrilled he's speaking out again and this time lashing out at the in-laws she's doubtlessly trying to impress. While it remains to be seen what her next move will be, our money is on The Firm's newest member choosing the most discreet avenue possible.
As for Thomas, he may want to reflect back on Harry's previous words and remember those crucial instructions: Above all, thou shall not speak to reporters.
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