Wednesday, May 16, 2018

On Royal Watch by Diane Clehane

When Did the Fairy Tale Wedding Turn into Such a Nightmare?

Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle
Official portrait
Photo: Alexi Lubomirski

With less than a week until the big day, Meghan Markle’s wedding to Prince Harry, what everyone expects will be an incredibly elegant royal wedding with all the attendant pomp and pageantry, has been turned – seemingly overnight – into a reality show with a rather pathetic and unexpected star, the bride’s father, Thomas Markle.

How did this happen?

Royal weddings are exercises in protocol and tradition. Ever since the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton in 2011, the Palace has been incredibly savvy when it comes to public relations with a website and Twitter feed (@KensingtonRoyal). Everything for this wedding has been handled with the utmost taste and control, timed perfectly to coincide with the mailing of the invitations, the selection of the baker (a lemon elderflower cake with vanilla buttercream frosting for Harry and Meghan), and the recent announcement that Prince William would be Harry’s best man.

Back in March, in my role as royal correspondent for Best Life Online and MSN, I reported based on a reliable source close to the Palace, that William would walk Meghan down the aisle because her father would not be in attendance.

There was no way I thought that Thomas Markle, who had never met Harry and hadn’t seen his daughter in over a year, would be at the royal wedding. Perhaps that’s because his side of the family would be considered too trashy for even a TLC reality show. They all seemed to be in regular contact with him as opposed to Meghan who seemed to spend all her family time with her mother, Thomas’ second and now ex-wife, Doria Ragland. His other children -- Meghan’s half-siblings, the charming Samantha Grant (who has said she’s writing a memoir called “The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister” and told Harry to “man up” on Twitter). And Thomas Markle, Jr. (who was charged with menacing last year when he allegedly pulled a gun on his girlfriend), ratcheted up the crazy and became an almost daily presence in the tabloids and British television trashing Meghan.

These people were from a long-ago chapter in Meghan’s life she had left behind and forgotten – at least until she got engaged to Harry.

In fact, Meghan, who had worked so hard to establish herself as a singularly independent woman and strong voice through her acting career, side hustle as a lifestyle blogger and global activism, had seemingly wiped the slate clean of all traces of her former life – even before becoming engaged to Harry. Her constant presence on social media and her popular blog disappeared early last year when rumors started to bubble up that she was quitting her role in “Suits,” the USA Network show that finally gave her a big break she’d struggled ten years in the business to get.

When the engagement was announced, she moved into Nottingham Cottage with Harry, and the press office at Kensington Palace said Meghan would end her involvement with the charities she’d been working with to join the prince in his philanthropic projects. She was also getting baptized and confirmed into the Church of England. She started wearing hats and pantyhose.

The soon-to-be royal bride who has painstakingly navigated an incredibly smooth transition from Hollywood television star to the first American to marry into the British royal family in eighty-one years was just five days shy of sailing through her engagement without a blip. The formerly snarky (and not so secretly racist) coverage in the British tabloids had been tamed and now was downright gushing in its praise of Meghan’s warmth and poise on walkabouts and newly royal (but still modern) fashion sense.

Then her father decided to stage those fake photographs with the paparazzi.

When the news broke on Sunday, all hell broke loose in TMZ land who somehow managed to be Thomas Markle’s mouthpiece for his version of the story. The Palace, who has been putting on weddings for a century, had lost control of the narrative to an organization known for catching celebrity implosions on video.

And this one was a doozy.

On Monday, Markle backed out of the wedding amid reports he secretly cooperated with Los Angeles photographer Jeff Rayner to stage shots that looked as if he was studying up on Britain while at Starbucks, getting fitted for a suit in some cheesy back room and looking at pictures of Harry and Meghan at an Internet cafe. Breathless reports of how profoundly upsetting this was to the bride-to-be started to surface as did ones who claimed Meghan was texting “I love you” her father and had not heard back.

Markle told a reporter he’d “been away from his phone” when his daughter tried to reach him.

What?

Then came a new twist, TMZ reported Thomas told them he suffered a heart attack six days ago, but checked himself out of the hospital so he could attend the wedding. But the Daily Mail had photos of him at McDonald’s and KFC. According to TMZ, he now had decided not to go because he didn’t want to further embarrass the royal family or his daughter. He also admitted the staged photos looked “stupid and hammy.” Markle told the site he was going along with the paparazzi agency, which he now deeply regrets. He was now planning to stay away from the wedding.

As much I as imagined this was stressful for Meghan, I could not begin to comprehend how furious and confused Harry must have been. He and his brother have always (rightly) believed the paparazzi played a direct role in Diana’s death. To learn that his soon to be father-in-law was in cahoots with the paparazzi must have angered him beyond belief. I’m sure there was some concern from the Palace if this man could be trusted to come anywhere near the wedding – and would he sell the story to a tabloid.

The bride-to-be, who had worked so hard to erase anything that might make those people not-so-sure about her in Britain (believe me, just read the comment sections on British websites – there’s plenty of them), was blindsided.

“Meghan hasn’t put a foot wrong since her engagement to Harry,” one insider told me. “She has worked hard to gain the trust and respect of the Queen and the royal family, and this is hugely embarrassing and upsetting for her.”

The hugely embarrassing story about the fake photos broke right after the Palace issued a statement asking the press to leave Meghan’s father alone. When Markle announced he was backing out of the wedding, TMZ, not the Palace became the go-to source for news. For the father of the bride marrying into the British royal family. The website’s staffers called the whole episode “surreal.”

The only word from the Palace on Monday evening was this: “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  be extended to Mr. Markle in this difficult situation.”

Which told reporters precisely nothing -- no confirmation if he was going to be there or that he was not.

On Tuesday, I awoke to the news on the Daily Mail’s website that Markle had changed his mind and was now planning on going. I hadn’t left my office for 13 hours on Monday to chase the story, but I wasn’t going to jump on this bit of news just yet. “This is insane,” I told my editor. “There is no way this guy is any part of the royal wedding now.”

Then came the news Tuesday night – from TMZ that Markle wouldn’t be at the wedding after all because he was going to have heart surgery. Late Wednesday, Markle told TMZ that he completed heart surgery and his doctors implanted multiple stents in his blood vessels. That’s the first thing you do after heart surgery – call TMZ. Not your daughter whose wedding is going to be seen by billions of people in three days.

Color me cynical, but the whole thing makes no sense. The press, who have been able to track Markle’s every movie, can’t seem to find out any information on where Markle had his supposed medical procedure. Nothing. Major news organizations like CNN and NBC are reporting this story according to information that comes from TMZ. It’s as if outlets want to go along with the story because it sullied the one shiny, happy event people are looking forward to during such dark times. We don’t want this ruining the royal wedding.

But this is no “modern fairy tale” as much as I (and presumably, you) want it to be.

I can’t help but think there is so much more to this story than we know – which is scary in and of itself. What is Meghan’s real relationship with her father? Why didn’t the Palace have any control over this story? Is anyone having second thoughts? What must the Queen be thinking about her decision to be so open-minded about welcoming an American actress estranged from her entire family except for her mother? How will this affect the glossy public relations campaign starring their newest modern member? These are real concerns in the UK.

It’s a shame that when people talk about this wedding, this tawdry episode will hang over it. Those Meghan bashers will use it as an opportunity to shore up their argument that she is unfit to be a British royal. The royal haters will say that the Palace should have taken better care of this man, the father of the bride, who is grappling with serious issues.

One thing is for sure, Meghan has had to master the British stiff-upper-lip, and all of this won’t show at all when she steps out of the chauffeured car that will drive her to St. George’s Chapel with her mother at her side. She is going to have to put on the performance of her life on Saturday. The fairy tale is real, she’ll be telling us. I am the heroine of my own story, and I am marrying my prince.

Someone asked me what advice I think Diana would have had for Meghan. I knew the answer right away. There is one thing I know she would have said: “You wanted to be famous. You wanted to change the world. And now you have. Be careful what you wish for.”




- Diane Clehane

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