Even the most organized of brides aren't immune to a bit of anxiety in the days before their wedding.
Now consider those vows will be viewed by more than a billion people across the globe and you can understand why maybe Meghan Markle didn't need more stress in the lead up to her May 19 nuptials with Prince Harry.
A yet there it was, mere hours after Queen Elizabeth II officially consented for her beloved grandson to wed the former Suits star: another scandal. The Mail On Sunday obtained surveillance footage proving the onetime actress' father Thomas Markle had conspired to set up a series of staged paparazzi photos near his Rosarita, Mexico residence. Just a day later, the retired television lighting director admitted he'd gone along with the scheme, visiting an Internet café to look at clippings of his daughter and Harry, reading Images of Britain: A Pictorial Journey Through History, and getting measured, purportedly for the tux he'd wear to walk his little girl down the aisle.
Now he's taking a walk of shame. Though the onetime Married...with Children crewmember told TMZ he was so determined to be a part of the Windsor Castle affair, he checked himself out of a hospital after a May 8 heart attack, he feels this misstep is too much to overcome. Calling the photos "stupid and hammy", he told the outlet he regrets agreeing to the shoot and that he's opted out of attending for fear he'd embarrass Markle and the royal family.
In a statement to E! News, a Kensington Palace spokesman called the incident "a deeply personal moment" and a "difficult situation." And as with many other trying situations the 36-year-old has had to endure since royal watchers learned she was being romanced by Britain's most eligible prince, her estranged half-sister Samantha Grant was at the helm. "I have to say, I am entirely the culprit," Grant, currently penning a tell-all about the duchess-to-be, announced on the ITV talk show Loose Women May 14, adding of her dad, "he's 73, which makes him a bit more fragile. He's a quiet man. I feel that the media have unfairly preyed on him. He's really been admirable about laying low and not speaking out, with all due respect. I merely wanted him to be seen in a respectable light."
Markle, meanwhile, would prefer the focus remain firmly on her union with the 33-year-old prince. A source tells Us Weekly the philanthropist "is upset and disturbed by the entire ordeal and just wants to move past it. She doesn't want to let anything ruin her day."
First, though, she'll have to watch the entire calamity play out. To hear Grant tell it, she was simply trying to be her dad's champion. While Markle's mom Doria Ragland has been at her side through much of the engagement proceedings, little was known about her father. As a result, the onetime California resident was subjected to somewhat unflattering profiles about his secluded life in Mexico.
"As we know the media can take very unflattering photographs of people on their casual days and blow it way out of proportion," she explained on Loose Woman. So even though the palace had issued a stern directive to media outlets about respecting Thomas' privacy, his eldest daughter came up with a plan. "I said, 'You know, the world has no idea you're getting in shape, doing healthy things. They don't photograph you buying vegetables and PH water. They photograph you as unflattering ways as they can,'" noted Grant. "I said, 'Really, you need to show the world that you're getting in shape and doing great healthy things.' So, I suggested it."
Though Thomas later told TMZ he's been offered anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 for interviews about he famous offspring, Grant insisted he wasn't motivated by money: "It was my suggestion that to benefit him and to benefit the royal family, everyone look good and they depict you as you are: in shape and doing healthy things."
And it was important to Thomas to shift the public's perception of him ahead of his Windsor Castle debut. He told TMZ he was frustrated with shots of him buying beer and looking disheveled, noting he wasn't even purchasing the alcohol for himself.
But his efforts did little more than make a significant dent in his reputation. The Mail On Sunday unleashed a bombshell report detailing how Thomas set up each of the four supposedly candid pics. On Mar. 27, the paper reports, he was captured by CCTV cameras walking into Mexico's Omega internet cafe with L.A. photographer Jeff Rayner. "They didn't stay long, probably about 10 minutes and they left together" manager Jessica Anaya, revealed, adding Rayner snapped the pictures from just a few feet away. "I thought it was strange that they were taking pictures in here."
The duo performed similarly head-scratching actions at a nearby suit shop. Turning up to find the store closed, the newspaper outlines, they recruited 17-year-old student and party supply store employee David Flores to pose as a tailor. Unfurling a measuring tape from his pocket, Thomas requested that the teen take his measurements. "The big man was showing me what to do with the tape, holding it across himself. I just went along with it," Flores said. I was telling him the measurements but he didn't write them down or anything. After around 20 minutes, he said, 'thank you' and gave me about $15 tip." His take on the whole ordeal: "It was really strange."
If Mexico residents were confounded by the routine, Markle was straight-up horrified. And, according to Us Weekly, she wasn't surprised that Grant had played a role. After all, this is a woman who continues to speak about her despite one source telling E! News the estranged siblings don't have a relationship: "As they were 17 years apart, they were never raised in the same house. Meghan was raised an only child by her loving parents."
Since her parents split when she was young, notes the source, Markle has only had limited interactions with Grant during the past three-and-a-half decades. Which is why the Northwestern University grad was so surprised when Grant began speaking out. "This woman who she hardly knows, who has had a lifelong history of lying and manipulation is setting her sights on her for no reason," says the insider. "In their very limited contact, Meghan has never been anything but nice to her and for the majority of those interactions, Meghan was just a little girl." Yet despite her dismay, says the insider, "Meghan has never done anything to her and continues to take the high road."
Privately, though, she's understandably a little miffed by this latest drama, which comes on the heels of half-brother Thomas Markle, Jr. penning an open letter urging Harry, 33, to back out of the wedding. "Meghan is disappointed that her father hasn't spoken up and stopped his children from trashing her in the press," a source tells Us Weekly. "Instead, she sees his collaboration with Samantha, who Meghan feels he is much closer to, and it hurts her."
Thankfully, she has Ragland in her corner. Before flying out to join Markle in London in early May, the psychotherapist left her position at California's Didi Hirsch Mental Services. Which means she won't have any distractions as she helps Markle oversee the final touches on the 600-person vows. "Meghan is keen to include her mom as much as possible in the wedding plans," a source tells E! News. "Meghan wants her mom to experience all of this with her, it's such an exciting time for her and Harry."
With many of the details set, from the gown (potentially Ralph & Russo) to the photographer (Alexi Lubomirski, the man behind their December engagement portraits), their work will likely be limited to final approvals.
This week, the 30-person Windsor Castle kitchen staff is busying themselves washing and peeling the seasonal, local vegetables onetime lifestyle blogger Markle and her groom have selected to be featured in the canapés and main dishes being served at the 600-person luncheon. Lead royal chef Mark Flanagan told the press the couple were decisive when it came to setting a menu. "We purely made suggestions," he said, adding the pair "tasted everything, they've been involved in every detail." The main directive: no unnecessary. "We've really just been trying to let the ingredients stand proud within the dishes," said Flanagan. "There's no experimentation on Saturday whatsoever, tried and tested and predominantly classics."
London-based pastry chef Claire Ptak will follow the same guidelines as she begins to assemble the pair's buttercream-covered lemon elderflower cake. "I can't tell you how delighted I am to be chosen to make Prince Harry and Ms. Markle's wedding cake," Ptak said when she was tapped this March. "Knowing that they really share the same values as I do about food provenance, sustainability, seasonality and most importantly flavor makes this the most exciting event to be a part of."
Staying local is also key for floral designer Philippa Craddock. Heading up a team of florists, Craddock, one of the palace's approved suppliers for private events, will direct them to create pink and white arrangements using foliage from the grounds of The Crown Estate and Windsor Great Park and in-season blooms such as white garden roses, foxgloves and peonies—Markle's favorite.
Once every to-do has been checked (including a May 17 rehearsal at St. George's Chapel, just one of many walk-throughs that have been performed in the final weeks), Markle and Ragland will be whisked away to Clivedon House Hotel, where suites rent for upwards of $2,000. In keeping with wedding tradition, Markle will spend her final night as a commoner away from her groom. (Harry will stay with best man Prince William a half hour away at the Dorchester Collection's Coworth Park.) Having been unable to select a maid of honor from her tight-knit group of friends, Markle has tapped Ragland to be by her side up until the moment a car deposits them at the church for the 12 p.m. ceremony.
Roughly an hour later, Markle's life will be dramatically altered—and it's a moment she's eager to embrace. From her very first date with Harry back in July 2016, the pair have discussed the type of charitable impact they could have together. "It was one of the first things we started talking about when we met was just the different things that we wanted to do in the world and how passionate we were about seeing change," she explained in their November engagement interview with BBC's Mishal Husain.
And Harry's excited for her to join The Firm and become the fourth patron of the Royal Foundation. "For me, it's an added member of the family," Harry added. "It's another team player as part of the bigger team and you know for all of us, what we want to do is be able to carry out the right engagements, carry out our work and try and encourage others in the younger generation to be able to see the world in the correct sense rather than perhaps being just having a distorted view."
So while Markle has yet to don the tiara she's sure to wear this Saturday, Harry knows it will be an ideal fit. "You know, the fact that I fell, the fact that I fell in love with Meghan so incredibly quickly was a sort of confirmation to me that everything, all the stars were aligned," he explained. "Everything was just perfect."