Thomas Markle Snr: How Meghan Markle's reclusive father helped propel her into the spotlight

Richard Jones
Thomas Markle Snr worked long hours, but found time to take his daughter Meghan to ballet classes every Saturday - Tim Stewart

Earlier this week, just days before the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it seemed even Royal nuptials can suffer last-minute setbacks. On Thursday, the bride-to-be confirmed her father will no longer be able to attend the occasion.

In a statement issued through Kensington Palace, Meghan Markle said: "Sadly, my father will not be attending our wedding. I have always cared for my father and hope he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health.

Thomas Markle Snr underwent heart surgery on Wednesday, which he confirmed to TMZ had been completed later that day. The news came two days after it emerged he had allegedly collaborated with the paparazzi on a series of staged photographs.

But what do we know about the previously reclusive father, who has made headlines around the world? 

Where is Thomas Markle Snr from?

Thomas Markle, the proud 73-year-old father, was born and raised in the state of Pennsylvania on the East Coast before his job as a cinematographer took him to Los Angeles.

Markle was the lighting director on daytime medical drama General Hospital (the longest-running American soap opera still in production) when he met Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland, the assistant make-up artist at the studio, in 1979. Markle was 12 years older than Ragland; at 6ft 3in, he towered over his 5ft 2in bride.

Copy of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle: The story of their relationship, in pictures

In an article written by Miss Markle for Elle UK, she describes her father’s progressive world-view and how it affected his relationship with her mother. “Growing up in a homogeneous community in Pennsylvania, the concept of marrying an African-American woman was not on the cards for my dad,” she writes.

“But he saw beyond what was put in front of him in that small-sized (and, perhaps, small-minded) town, and he wanted me to see beyond that census placed in front of me. He wanted me to find my own truth.”

When did Meghan's parents divorce?

Markle already had two children from a prior relationship (Markle’s half-siblings Samantha and Thomas Jr); two years into their marriage, Ragland gave birth to Meghan. The union didn’t last much longer. Officially the divorce went through in 1988 when Miss Markle was six, with both parents’ sharing custody. However, in an interview with Vanity Fair, Miss Markle revealed that her mother and father split up when she was just two.

Even though her parents weren’t together, the family would still go on holidays together and Miss Markle claims she never saw them fight. When dropping her off at the end of the weekend, her dad would stay for dinner while the three of them watched the game show Jeopardy!, eating their food on TV trays.

How Meghan's father helped to make her a star

On her now deleted lifestyle blog The Tig, Miss Markle regularly paid tribute to her father, who despite working over 75 hours a week in his job would still find time to take her to ballet classes “religiously” every Saturday morning. She reminisces about fishing trips to Big Bear Lake in Southern California with her dad, and him lending a helping hand in the lighting of her high school musical shows, “so that they felt as grand as a Broadway show”.

She would also post tributes to her father on Instagram (her account has now also been deleted), crediting him for her work ethic and love of handwritten thank-you notes (Miss Markle took a job as a freelance calligrapher to support herself at the beginning of her acting career).

Thomas Markle Snr with his daughter Meghan Credit: TIM STEWART NEWS LIMITED

In 1989, he started work as the director of photography on the raunchy sitcom Married with Children (he also kept his role on General Hospital). In an interview for Esquire, Miss Markle recalls visiting her dad at work. “Every day after school for 10 years, I was on the set of Married... with Children, which is a really funny and perverse place for a little girl in a Catholic school uniform to grow up. 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-colour for your 11-year-old eyes."

A year later he won an estimated $750,000 in a Californian state lottery when his daughter was just nine years old. The win helped fund Miss Markle’s education through an all-girls private Catholic school and then Northwestern University where she studied theatre and international studies.

After she graduated, Miss Markle returned to Los Angeles to try to make it as an actress, securing her first role in 2002 as a nurse on an episode of her father’s show, General Hospital. After a decade of minor parts, Miss Markle got her big break as Rachel Zane on the legal drama Suits. Filming took her to Toronto, Canada for the majority of the year while her father, who never remarried, continued working in Los Angeles.

On her success, Miss Markle told Vanity Fair: “My father knew how hard it is for an actor to get work, so he above all people was so proud that I was able to beat the odds.”

Retirement and bankruptcy

In 2011 he won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Lighting Direction for a Drama Series before retiring from the business a year later.

On retirement, he moved to Mexico, where he is still thought to live. In 2016, he filed for bankruptcy claiming he had just $200 to his name (Meghan’s mother has also filed for bankruptcy back in 2002).

In the TV interview used to announce their engagement, Miss Markle said that while Harry had met her mother a few times (to which a beaming smile spread across his face – “she’s amazing") he has yet to meet her father. However, the pair  have spoken over the phone.

A joint statement, with a Kensington Palace letterhead, was released by her parents on the engagement news. It read: “Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person. To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us as parents”.

However, after confirming he will not attend the ceremony, it may instead now fall to Ms Markle's mother to give her away at the altar.

Meghan's family tree

The wedding week u-turns

Two days before the wedding, Meghan Markle has confirmed her father Thomas Markle will not be attending her wedding to Prince Harry, saying she hopes he can be given the "space he needs to focus on his health". 

Thomas Markle Snr had been intending to travel from his Mexico home to the UK to meet his future son-in-law for the first time, as well as the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. He was also intending to walk Ms Markle down the aisle on Saturday, meeting her at the chapel's west door after her drive to the ceremony with her mother.

But after disclosures about his alleged dealings with the paparazzi and reports he suffered a heart attack earlier this month, the 73-year-old said on Monday he would avoid the ceremony for fear of embarrassing his daughter.

The Mail On Sunday newspaper reported the story at the weekend claiming the images were staged and published CCTV footage stills of the US actress' father in the internet cafe with a photographer.

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The pictures were published earlier this month in a number of newspapers and news websites showing Mr Markle in a series of royal wedding related activities, apparently unaware he was being snapped.

Mr Markle was pictured being measured for what was thought to be his wedding suit, looking at screen pictures of Ms Markle and Harry while in an internet cafe, and reading a picture book about Britain while having a coffee.

On Tuesday he revealed he required heart surgery after falling unwell again.

He told the site: "They [doctors] will go in and clear blockage, repair damage and put a stent where it is needed." On Wednesday night TMZ reported that Thomas Markle had been in touch to say his heart surgery had been completed.