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

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may be just days away, but it seems even Royal nuptials suffer last-minute setbacks.

On Monday, just days before big day, Ms Markle's father Thomas Markle Snr told American website TMZthat he no longer plans to fly from Mexico to the UK for the ceremony. The news came two days after it emerged he had allegedly collaborated with the paparazzi on a series of staged photographs.

Since then, Mr Markle has made a series of u-turns on whether or not he would attend this weekend's ceremony, finally suggesting his ill-health means he cannot make the journey to England. 

But what do we know about the reclusive father-of-the-bride, 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.

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.”

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

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

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