The last thing Meghan Markle needs this week is a scandal.
And as scandals go, this one is beyond weird. On Sunday, royal watchers clutched their pearls after an investigation in the Daily Mail: “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.”
By Monday, the fallout was as swift as a lashing inside a King John court prison: TMZ reported Meghan’s dad will not be walking her down the aisle. He’s not even attending the royal wedding anymore. Hope he bought travel insurance, because he’ll be watching on TV like the rest of us. Though he had recovered from a recent heart attack and planned to be inside Windsor Castle on Saturday, it seems he does not want to further embarrass his daughter.
And somewhere, Prince Harry is staring into the middle distance and wondering what he’s getting himself into. With each passing day, his future in-laws seem more Jersey Shore than The Crown.
But let’s get to the weird scandal.
Remember those enchanting photos of Thomas Markle that circulated recently?
In one image, the father of the bride is sitting inside a Starbucks and perusing a coffee table book, Images of Britain, in advance of his now aborted adventure. In another, he is standing in the sunshine, eyes closed, as a tape measure is twirled around his neck and he’s fitted for a new suit he no longer needs. In another, he’s at an Internet café, reading a news story about the grinning power couple.
At the time, these snaps were called adorable, sweet and beautiful.
Now we know they were fake, fake and fake.
The Mail obtained surveillance footage from the café that showed Markle arriving with Jeff Rayner, a paparazzo who makes a fortune stalking celebrities in their natural habitats. But this wasn’t a moment of candid camera, as the tabloids and readers were led to believe. It was a ruse. It was subterfuge.
Through on-the-ground reporting in Mexico, where the images were shot and Thomas Markle resides, the paper alleges the duo cooked up at least four phony shoots, including one in which he is hoisting dumbbells while walking along a desolate road suitable for a Mad Max sequel: “Mr. Markle is seen wearing identical clothes in different sets of pictures, suggesting different ‘scenarios’ were possibly staged on the same day.”
On Monday, amid the fallout, Meghan’s half-sister Samantha took the blame. As she wrote on Twitter: “The bad press over my father doing staged photos is my fault. The media was unfairly making him look bad so I suggested he do positive photos for his benefit and the benefit of the royal family. We had no idea he would be taken advantage of. It was not for money.”
Meanwhile, Meghan’s estranged brother, Thomas Jr., told the Mirror their 73-year-old father is “deeply embarrassed” and plans to apologize to the bride and groom.
“People are quick to judge but they have no idea how much scrutiny we live under,” said the son. “Ever since Meg’s relationship with Harry was made public two years ago we have lived our once normal lives under the spotlight every second.”
I think we can agree on this: staging photographs was a terrible idea. Thomas Markle would have caused his daughter less humiliation by sneaking a whoopee cushion into his first meeting with the Queen or, the night before the wedding, dousing Harry’s sleeping face with industrial-grade beard remover.
But even though these images now seem laughably bogus in retrospect — what father of a royal bride gets measured for a new suit by a tailor who does not look old enough to operate a moped at an outdoor street kiosk in Mexico that appears to specialize in Day of The Dead costumes? — I feel sorry for the Markle clan.
I can’t help it. I do. Their loved one is standing in the global spotlight and they are on the outside looking in. It’s as if they do not exist. They are unwanted characters in her fairytale, a chronic burden and source of shame. And if I were Prince Harry, I’d be troubled by Meghan’s relationships with the only family she once knew.
What a horrible thing it is to feel unwanted, which is clearly how Meghan’s brother and sister now feel. How tragic for a father to feel like such a pathetic embarrassment that he must fake charming photos. The fact he “plans” to apologize suggests he’s not really close with his daughter, or it would’ve happened already.
I know Meghan has a million things to worry about this week. But she should pause to think about the family she has cast aside. Part of this reflection is self-interest: Meghan has nothing to lose by taking the high road before she climbs into that carriage. By contrast, torching these relationships can bring no good in the long run.
If her sister has more unflattering stories to share, there’s no reason to believe she will stop sharing them after this weekend. If her brother has already written two open letters to Prince Harry — first, he encouraged him to call off the marriage, then he begged for a wedding invitation that did not come — who knows what he may write in the months and years ahead.
But what if all of this is not an act of hostility? What if it’s a cry for help? Maybe her estranged siblings are not the selfish monsters some believe. Maybe they’re just dazed by the whirlwind as the girl they remember morphs into a princess they will never know.
Maybe they just want to be part of her happiness.