As Meghan Markle’s gown undergoes final adjustments for her wedding to Prince Harry, her gaffe-prone American family has been sending royal courtiers into a spin by airing its dirty laundry in public.
The bride-to-be remains close with her divorced parents Tom Markle and Doria Ragland but other relatives have been barred from the May 19 nuptials amid unwelcome stories of bust-ups, heavy drinking – and even an arrest.
Markle, who grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, was earlier meant to be walked down the aisle by Tom, 73, an Emmy-winning Hollywood lighting director of Dutch-Irish descent who is enjoying retired life in Mexico.
Around the turn of the century, the future Duchess of Sussex was filmed as an aspiring teen actress by childhood friend Ninaki Priddy discussing her relationship with her father as they drove across LA.
“We aren’t going to go there,” she says on the video – posted to YouTube last year – as they near Tom’s Los Angeles home, before adding: “We aren’t on the best of terms.”
There has been a detente in the intervening years, however, with Markle publicly expressing her love for her father in an Instagram message in 2016, declaring, “Your hugs are still the very best in the whole wide world.”
Markle’s introduction to Hollywood came thanks to her father, who would bring her daily to the set of ABC’s General Hospital and Fox sitcom Married... with Children.
“There I was, behind the scenes of a glossy soap opera and a TV sitcom, surrounded by famous actors and their glam teams, multi-million dollar budgets, and crew lunches that always included filet mignon,” Meghan wrote on her now-defunct blog, The Tig.
Tom reportedly put Markle through Hollywood’s most exclusive schools and the private Northwestern University in Illinois after winning US$750,000 in the state lottery in 1990.
He met Harry in Toronto in mid-2016 and took to the prince immediately, describing him on a video obtained by British tabloid The Sun as “a gentleman”.
Markle’s mother, a 61-year-old African American yoga instructor and clinical therapist, met Tom while working as an assistant makeup artist at General Hospital.
The Ohio native has been through her own financial woes, according to the Daily Mail, which reported that she filed for bankruptcy in 2002 with assets of just US$10,400 and credit card debts of US$58,000.
“While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that,” Markle wrote in a 2015 essay for Elle magazine about being biracial.
She and Prince Harry revealed in an interview with BBC they’d spent much time with Ragland ahead of their engagement. “Her mum’s amazing!” enthused Harry.
There was speculation that Markle’s father would be left off the guest list after the American star barred estranged half-siblings Tom Jr and Samantha, Tom Snr’s children from a previous marriage.
Tom Jr, 51, who lives in Oregon, was arrested in January on suspicion of holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head while drunk, although the charges were dropped and the couple got engaged.
The twice-divorced father-of-two says he and Markle haven’t been close since she moved from LA to Toronto in 2011 to start work on legal drama Suits.
Relations are unlikely to have improved since Tom Jr sent Prince Harry a letter to call off the “fake fairytale wedding”, arguing that his half-sister was “obviously not the right woman” for the royal.
“As more time passes to your royal wedding, it became very clear that this is the biggest mistake in royal wedding history,” he said in the April 26 missive, which he shared with In Touch magazine.
He professed to be bored with Markle – “like a below C average Hollywood actress” – playing the part of princess and accused her of draining their father’s money until he went bankrupt in 2016.
Samantha, 53 – who lives in Florida and recently changed her surname from Grant to Markle – is said to have angered the Markle clan with the announcement that she was planning a tell-all book called The Diary Of Princess Pushy’s Sister.
Other members of the extended family include Tom Jr’s sons, Tyler, 27, and Thomas Markle III, who has berated his “crazy” father and aunt for their public feuding.
There is another half-nephew and an uncle, Tom Snr’s older brother Frederick, who runs a Florida chapel that reportedly has little or no congregation. – AFP