Updated with statement from Kensington Palace
Thomas Markle will not walk his daughter, Meghan Markle, down the aisle of her royal wedding to Prince Harry on Saturday, the American gossip site TMZ states. “He’s now decided not to go because he doesn’t want to embarrass the royal family or his daughter,” TMZ reported, after revelations that he’d cooperated with a paparazzi photographer who sold “stupid and hammy” pictures of him to the London tabloids.
Markle said that he was paid for the photos, and “he figured there was no harm in it and it would help recast his image,” TMZ’s website stated, after being ambushed by photographers who took unflattering pictures of him “looking dishevelled and reclusive.”
Markle also revealed to TMZ that “he suffered a heart attack six days ago but checked himself out of the hospital so he could attend the wedding,” Now, he’s decided not to escort his daughter at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in an effort to forestall further embarrassment to her and the royal family.
After news broke that Thomas Markle would not attend the wedding, Kensington Palace released the following statement: “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.”
Markle had broken the golden rule of royalty: thou shall not cut secret deals with the media. In his case, he allowed a paparazzo to capture him near his Mexican seaside home of Rosarito Beach, around 25 km from the U.S. border. Though everyone was told he was a shy, reclusive man, the Internet was flooded with pictures of Markle in an Internet café, reading articles about the upcoming wedding of his daughter, Meghan, to Prince Harry; buying a toilet at a home-building centre and eating pizza in a restaurant; reading a pictorial book of Britain; and the pièce de résistance of being measured for his wedding suit.
— The Sun (@TheSun) May 4, 2018
The dichotomy was too good to be true.
On Saturday, the cracks appeared. Valentine Low wrote in the Times of suspicions that Thomas Markle had cooperated with a Los Angeles-based agency to capture images of him that were sold to British papers thirsty for any information about Meghan’s reclusive father.
Then, that evening, the Mail on Sunday published its front page exclusive: “Meghan’s dad staged photos with the paparazzi,” complete with a blurry shot showing Thomas Markle walking behind a man identified as photographer Jeff Rayner, who has a long-lensed camera slung over one shoulder. Its article title blared out all the scandalous details: “Royal Wedding scammers! Meghan Markle’s father STAGED photos with paparazzi that were shared around the world and sold for up to £100,000 – just days before he walks her down the aisle.” It laid out in excruciating detail how the pictures were staged, even including CCTV footage of choreographed photo shoots.
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) May 12, 2018
It’s unclear as to whether Markle told his daughter or palace officials about his lucrative deal. For, around the same time those photos were appearing in the papers, “An official letter, written by Prince Harry’s communications secretary Jason Knauf, described how Mr. Markle had been ‘followed and harassed’ by photographers and journalists. The letter urged editors not to publish pictures of Mr. Markle and called on them to stop pursuing him,” the Sunday Mail explained.
Early Monday morning, as the storm over the photos intensified, Thomas Markle’s older daughter, Samantha, who is Meghan’s half-sister, took the blame. In a tweet, she said that their dad’s “staged photos is my fault.” She said the media made him look bad so “I suggested he do positive photos for his benefit” and the royals. “We had no idea he would be taken advantage of. It was not for money.”
Yet, in an interview that aired on the ITV show Loose Women Samantha Grant (who also goes by Samantha Markle) admitted she didn’t know if her father was paid for the photos, saying “but if he did it was pittance.” That explanation may not cut much ice with the royal family or the palace as she and other Markle clan members have spent months opening their mouths and photo albums to Britain’s pay-for-play tabloids.
Later this week Markle was set to fly to London in advance of the wedding of his daughter, Meghan, to Prince Harry. It would have been the first time he met his future son-in-law (Harry called Thomas Markle in Mexico to get permission). Even with Thomas Markle’s decision not to attend the wedding, the revelations about the paparazzi photos could make for a difficult relationship between the two men later on.
That’s because Prince Harry hates the paparazzi (and, by extension, the mainstream media). The freelance photographers, known for breaking any rule to get a high-paying shot of the rich and famous, hounded his late mother, Diana, princess of Wales. They were weaving through traffic, on the backs of motorcycles that night in Paris when the car carrying their prey, Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed, crashed in a tunnel in 1997. Then they snapped photos of the fatally injured princess as she lay in the destroyed vehicle.
As for those wondering how the Mail on Sunday got such an amazing scoop, the explanation isn’t too hard to find. Huge numbers of those set-up photos of Thomas Markle were conveniently published in the Daily Mail, the sister of the Sunday tabloid. Anyone looking at the volume of Thomas Markle photos that passed through its photo department would have raised questions about how Rayner got so many perfect pap snaps. So the Mail sold papers featuring the photos as well as exposing how they were obtained.
TODAY: Fury as man whose life we have spent months ruthlessly exploiting for cash turns the tables on us and, along the way, reveals that we go through absolutely no authentication processes before publishing stories.#FearlessInvestigativeReporting#FreeAndFairPress pic.twitter.com/NdZm9s9Xnj
— The DM Reporter (@DMReporter) May 13, 2018
This isn’t the first time that royals, or those related to them, have sold pictures and stories to media outlets eager to drive sales. In 2008, that same tabloid, the Daily Mail, labelled Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson, Peter Phillips, and his Canadian bride, Autumn Kelly, as “grasping, vulgar” for selling 60 pages of wedding photos (including inside their reception at Frogmore House) for a reported $1 million. In 2014, Peter Phillips’s sister, Zara Tindall, sold exclusive baby photos of her daughter, Mia, to Hello.
While the Queen’s grandchildren were open about their deals with Hello, other relationships between royals and members of the media occur without public knowledge.
Even Diana was known to tip off photographers to her location, even while decrying their intrusion into her privacy. After Andrew Morton’s inside story on her marriage was published in 1992, she denied involvement in his scandalous creation to palace officials (including the Queen’s private secretary, Robert Fellowes, who was also her brother-in-law) yet at the same time made sure photographers captured her leaving the home of her friend, Carolyn Bartholomew, one of the book’s main sources. Her implicit message in that photograph: I’m standing with my friends so the book is true. Five years later, when she was staying with Dodi Fayed on his family’s opulent yacht off the south of France, she regularly updated photographer Jason Fraser on her whereabouts, he revealed to, yes, the Daily Mail.
This time, the photo seller is not going to join the royal family—his daughter is. The turmoil in the lead-up to wedding, not to mention the fact Thomas Markle’s older son and daughter, as well as their families, have not been invited to their half-sister’s wedding for, in part, selling their stories to the tabloids, means one thing is sure: any future Markle family reunions are sure to be fraught.