Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was in turmoil on Tuesday after a reported string of U-turns from her father over whether he will attend, just four days before the big occasion.
Thomas Markle had been due to walk his daughter down the aisle during the meticulously-planned ceremony at Windsor Castle’s St. George’s Chapel on Saturday.
He had decided against travelling from his home in Mexico to accompany his daughter due to his health — and to spare her further embarrassment after a paparazzi scandal where he posed for staged pictures, according to celebrity news website TMZ.
Then on Tuesday, the site initially reported an about-face from Markle, who said he would try to attend after he had been contacted by his daughter via text — before he revealed once more that his health was preventing him from attending.
“I hate the idea of missing one of the greatest moments in history and walking my daughter down the aisle,” he told TMZ from hospital, where he was suffering chest pains, a week after reportedly suffering a heart attack.
The site later said Markle could not make the trip after all, thanks to a major operation scheduled for Wednesday to clear a blocked artery, repair coronary damage and put a stent in his heart to help keep the artery open.
Harry’s Kensington Palace office issued a brief statement that did not mention Markle’s heart drama, but 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.”
The palace could not be reached for further comment.
– ‘Positive photos’ –
Thomas Markle told TMZ he had agreed to pose for a paparazzi photo shoot in a bid to rehabilitate his image, rather than for money, but that he now regretted the move.
The pictures — in which he was being measured for a suit and admiring a photo of the future royal couple on his computer — sold for $100,000 (83,000 euros), according to British tabloid the Daily Mirror.
TMZ said he had suffered a heart attack last week due to stress and that he was continuing to suffer from chest pains.
Markle senior said his ex-wife Doria Ragland would be a good choice to walk their daughter down the aisle in his place, according to the website.
Meanwhile, Meghan Markle’s half-sister Samantha Grant, who has criticised the bride-to-be’s relationship with her father’s side of the family, revealed her dad was feeling “quite depressed” and had indeed suffered a heart attack.
“I don’t know as of today what his plans are, but there’s a very real concern,” she told Britain’s ITV television.
Whether he attends the wedding will be based on “whether or not it’s safe” for him to go, said Grant.
She said her father had “suffered at the hands of the media” who had presented him “in the most horrible ways”.
Staging the photos was intended to counter the way he had been “so unfairly presented in the media as being sort of shabby”.
– ‘Circus’ in town –
Kensington Palace’s attempts to project a sense of serenity around the wedding preparations have been clouded by Markle’s relatives, who have not been invited to Saturday’s nuptials following stories of bust-ups, heavy drinking and an arrest.
Meghan’s half-brother Thomas Markle Junior accused her of shunning the family in an open letter last month.
In what The Daily Telegraph newspaper called “the circus” surrounding the wedding, Tom Junior’s ex-wife Tracy Dooley — also not invited to the wedding — rolled into London with her two sons Tyler and Thomas.
“We’re here! Yay!” she said, posting pictures of London landmarks, after they were spotted pushing luggage through Heathrow Airport.
The Dooleys are reportedly appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme as part of their royal wedding coverage.
US actress Markle, 36, grew up in Los Angeles and remains close with her parents, who divorced three decades ago.
Her 73-year-old father is an Emmy-winning Hollywood lighting director who retired to Mexico, while her mother, 61, is a yoga instructor and clinical therapist.
– ‘Not so awful’ –
Ragland, who has reportedly already arrived in Britain, is expected to spend Friday night with her daughter in a plush hotel before travelling with her by car to Windsor Castle.
On Tuesday, Americans already in Windsor ahead of the wedding were sympathetic to their compatriot.
“It’s disappointing for her,” said Jean Rice, 48, from Orlando.
“But things happen. I hope they’re happy.”
Karen Yaney, 64, from Chicago, said she hoped Markle’s father would attend.
“Staging those photos, that didn’t seem so awful. I imagine she’s on the phone with him trying to persuade him to come,” she added.