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RICHARD KAY: The Royals' handling of the Thomas Markle debacle is turning into an existential crisis


Over the years August has been the cruellest of months for the royals, from the humiliation of the toe-sucking escapades of the Duchess of York to the embarrassment of the ‘squidgy tape’ which exposed the family to ridicule and confirmed the desperate state of Princess Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles.

But this weekend’s revelations from the Duchess of Sussex’s father in which he claimed he had been berated on the phone by Prince Harry while recovering in hospital from a heart attack, and had been told by his daughter that he would be unable to deliver a father-of-the-bride speech at their wedding, is fast turning into an existential crisis for the Queen’s family.

Even though it is impossible not to have some sympathy for Meghan who is finding adjustment to royal life hard enough, the tragedy of it all is that it is a crisis entirely of the Palace’s making.

I have spoken to past and serving royal aides who believe the response and handling of the whole Thomas Markle affair has been both ‘inept’ and ‘feeble’.

Thomas Markle (pictured near his home in Mexico) has revealed he hung up on Prince Harry 

There is even some fellow-feeling for Mr Markle who clearly feels ostracised by his daughter and son in law.

Yesterday one figure said it was ‘probably too late’ to get the retired TV lighting director back on side short of Meghan herself ‘turning up on her father’s doorstep – and even that might not work now.’

Quite how this situation has been allowed to unravel – and so publicly – is certain to dominate conversation at Balmoral where the Queen and other members of the Royal Family are gathering for their summer holiday.

Yesterday’s claims from Markle make disturbing reading. In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, he said he had hung up on Harry during a heated telephone call a few days before the May wedding.

Although he accepted that the prince was right to reprimand him over his collusion with the paparazzi in which he staged photographs of him being fitted for a morning suit, he described the timing of the call as ‘rude’.

While admitting he lied to Harry about it, he added: ‘There is a time and a place to say what he said but not when I’m lying in hospital after a heart attack.’

Perhaps more damaging was his revelation that Meghan told him there would be ‘no room’ for him to make a speech at their Windsor wedding. Yet room was found for speeches from Harry, Meghan herself, Prince Charles and Prince William along with contributions from two friends at a later reception.

For the royals this is dangerous and unfamiliar territory. Even when Diana was provoking detrimental headlines there was rarely the sense that the Palace had completely lost control as there is today.

Markle emerges as a bitter but proud man who feels angry at the way he has been portrayed – ‘I’m no weirdo schlubby dad living in a shack in Mexico,’ he exclaims at one point – but also burning with injustice at how he perceives he has been treated by his daughter and Harry.

Markle, 74, made headlines when he pulled out of the wedding a few days before he was due to walk Meghan down the aisle at St George’s Chapel citing his health problems. (By coincidence, a decision which came 24 hours after his scheming with the paparazzi had been exposed.)

Mr Markle, pictured with his daughter, said he had not spoken to the new Duchess in months 

Mr Markle, pictured with his daughter, said he had not spoken to the new Duchess in months 

At one stage he complains that while his ex-wife Doria, who did go to the wedding, had been treated with great dignity by officials, he had been afforded no such courtesies.

He claims, for example, that when the couple’s engagement was disclosed in March, two representatives from the British consulate in Los Angeles arrived at Doria’s home to present her with a copy of the official scroll bearing the Queen’s announcement.

‘No one came to my door in Mexico,’ he said. ‘I would have liked the engagement announcement too.’ Petulant, perhaps, but understandable.

He also complained that he had not received a formal wedding invitation – not so unusual because as the bride’s father he was due to be part of the ceremony and his name was printed in the order of service.

His explanation was more prosaic. ‘I would have loved to have had an invitation to put in a frame,’ he said sadly.

He claimed he even asked Meghan to invite all her half siblings and nieces and nephews – a suggestion she firmly rejected. And in the light of the constant attacks on her by wider members of the Markle clan over the past few months, it is a decision she may now regret.

All in all it is impossible to escape the conclusion that Kensington Palace and other courtiers responsible for the wedding arrangements blundered when it came to dealing with Mr Markle.

Yes, he was invited and Meghan had arranged fittings for a wedding coat and shoes. As I revealed last month, she told him just to get on a plane and everything would be arranged for him in London.

A Palace aide involved in the arrangements for Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton in 2011 certainly believes that the handling of Mr Markle has been ‘inept.’

The aide said: ‘The perception is that he was treated very much as an afterthought. No one went to visit him when the answer would have been to have someone fly out from London and explain to him how things were going to happen.

Mr Markle did not attend the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan in Windsor (the couple are pictured together at the christening of Prince Louis at St James's Palace last month)

Mr Markle did not attend the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan in Windsor (the couple are pictured together at the christening of Prince Louis at St James’s Palace last month)

‘Even after he started talking to the media it was not too late. When Kate’s uncle Gary found himself in the newspaper spotlight [Gary Goldsmith was the focus of lurid headlines about alleged drug taking] he was brought into the fold, not excluded.

‘He was told he would be invited to everything but that if he felt inclined to speak out and give interviews, we asked that he let us know in advance so that we would be prepared. No one seems to have thought of that this time.’

At one stage, after Markle gave his interview to TV presenter Piers Morgan in June, it was suggested that a leading public relations figure might act as a go-between. I understand, however, that when senior aides learned that the PR man was a former journalist, the plan was dropped.

‘Prince Harry does not trust the media and he would never have supported that idea,’ says a source. ‘Frankly they should have been prepared to try anything by that stage.

‘The trouble stemmed from well before the wedding when there must have been an opportunity for Harry and Meghan to pay a private visit to her father. This was long before he started giving interviews.’

The aide adds: ‘I also think the Palace should have invited the whole Markle family; they wouldn’t all have come and it would made them feel included and less likely to make the negative comments they have been making.’

Another aide with years of experience at the heart of the Royal Family says: ‘It’s too late now for equerries or go-betweens to get to Mr Markle, it’s up to Meghan. She clearly loves him enough to have wanted him at her wedding so she needs to go and spend time with him.

‘Clearly there is an issue of trust – will he blab about everything to the next microphone put under his nose? But he didn’t talk to the media for a long time earlier on.

‘I would be encouraging her to say to him, “Daddy, you are part of the family, come and meet everyone and we will put something in place for you”.’

For now this latest Markle debacle is nothing short of a disaster for both Harry and Meghan – and for the royals. If, as Markle says, this was his ‘last interview’ then maybe this is just the opportunity for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to take him at his word and get on that plane.

If they don’t, I fear this domestic tragedy will unspool even further. 



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