Thomas Markle is the father of the former Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. Their famously fractured relationship – he’s accused her of ghosting him – is about to be bared before millions of people when Meghan sits down for a much-anticipated interview with Oprah Winfrey.
Who is Thomas Markle? Meghan’s dad is a retired studio lighting director; his relationship with his daughter ruptured after he was caught posing for staged paparazzi photos in the lead-up to the Royal Wedding. He then bailed on the wedding altogether, ending up in the hospital with heart issues, and Prince Charles walked Meghan down the aisle.
Her relationship with Charles and the rest of the Royal Family has now also ruptured in spectacular fashion as Meghan and Harry stepped away from royal duties (and money) to forge a life for themselves in Los Angeles. They then took the extraordinary step of giving Winfrey an interview in which clips show they will air grievances against the Royal Family.
CBS purchased footage of Thomas Markle before the Oprah interview aired.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Thomas Markle, Who Is Divorced From Meghan’s Mom, Released a Letter From Meghan to the Media
Thomas Markle and Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, were divorced when Meghan Markle was only six. According to UK Express, Meghan’s parents married in 1979 but divorced in 1987.
TMZ reported that Markle had a heart attack because he was so upset during the build-up to the wedding.
After that report, TMZ posted another story stating that Thomas Markle had told the entertainment site that “he’s experiencing serious chest pains … this after his heart attack 6 days ago. He says the pains have been triggered by emotional upset. He specifically mentioned his oldest daughter, Samantha Grant, who has been shading Meghan in the weeks leading up to the wedding.”
Thomas told TMZ, “I’ve been popping Valium for the pain, especially when I hear about my oldest daughter.” According to TMZ, he said he hadn’t heard from Meghan and that his ex-wife Doria Ragland would be a good choice to accompany her down the aisle. By May 15, Markle was saying he wants to go to the wedding after all if his health permits, and he told TMZ that his daughter had texted him a loving message and tried to call him. However, later that same day he revealed he can’t go once and for good because he needs heart surgery.
The communications appear to have broken down after that point. One boiling point: Markle released excerpts of a private letter his daughter wrote him to the news media after he claimed anonymous friends of hers mischaracterized it to a magazine; it’s the subject of a lawsuit Meghan filed against British tabloids.
The letter read in part, “Your actions have broken my heart into a million pieces not simply because you have manufactured such unnecessary and unwarranted pain, but by making the choice to not tell the truth as you are puppeteered in this. Something I will never understand.”
Markle said in a witness statement obtained by Insider.com that the letter “was not an attempt at a reconciliation. It was a criticism of me. The letter didn’t say she loved me. It did not even ask how I was. It showed no concern about the fact I had suffered a heart attack and asked no questions about my health. It actually signaled the end of our relationship, not a reconciliation.”
Kensington Palace released a statement after reports about Markle’s heart attack. It read: “This is a deeply personal moment for Ms. Markle in the days before her wedding. She and Prince Harry ask again for understanding and respect to be extended to Mr. Markle in this difficult situation.”
Before it emerged that he may have helped stage paparazzi photos of himself looking at a photo of Harry and Meghan at an Internet cafe, lifting weights on the beach, and getting measured for a suit, Markle was going to walk his daughter down the aisle.
Prince Harry’s communications secretary had previously confirmed that Tom Markle will walk his daughter down the aisle. “Both of the bride’s parents will have important roles in the wedding. On the morning of the wedding, Ms. Ragland will travel with Ms. Markle by car to Windsor Castle. Mr. Markle will walk his daughter down the aisle of St George’s Chapel. Ms. Markle is delighted to have her parents by her side on this important and happy occasion,” a statement, released May 4, read.
Thomas Markle lives in Mexico.
Thomas Markle told TMZ “he meant no harm to Meghan or the Royal Family when he made a deal to allow a photo agency to take pics of him getting ready for the wedding. He says he had a reason and it was not principally about money.” He told the news site that photographers had taken unflattering photos of him, making him look badly in the past.
2. Meghan Once Called Thomas Markle, Who Worked on a Soap Opera, the ‘Most Hard-Working Father You Could Imagine
Thomas Markle once worked on soap opera. In the past, Meghan has written positively about both parents. Meghan wrote about her childhood in an essay in Elle Magazine. In it, she says that her parents met in the late Seventies when her father “was a lighting director for a soap opera and my mom was a temp at the studio. I like to think he was drawn to her sweet eyes and her Afro, plus their shared love of antiques. Whatever it was, they married and had me.”
They moved to a non-diverse area of LA, where Meghan laments that her mother would be mistaken for the nanny, according to Elle Magazine.
Meghan “spent time on film sets as a child because her father Thomas was a lighting director on the series Married with Children and General Hospital,” reports UK Express.
She has described her father as the “most hardworking father you can imagine” and said, “My father was the lighting director on two television shows as I was growing up,” UK Express reports.
Comments that Prince Harry made about the Markles in the lead up to the royal wedding didn’t sit well with Meghan’s half sister.
Prince Harry said that the Royal Family was the family that Meghan had never had. Harry said of Meghan’s adaption to the Royal Family’s traditions, “She’s done an absolutely amazing job, she’s getting in there and it’s the family that I suppose she’s never had.” Meghan’s half-sister, Grant, then retorted on Twitter: “She has a large family. She always did. Our dad is amazing and completely self sacrificing. We made it so that she had two houses. How fun it was!”
3. Meghan Once Thanked Her Dad for ‘My Work Ethic’ & Called His Hugs ‘The Very Best in the Whole Wide World’
Meghan used to write positively about her father on social media before she met Prince Harry.
On a Father’s Day photo in 2016, Meghan wrote, “Happy Father’s Day, daddy. I’m still your buckaroo, and to this day your hugs are still the very best in the whole wide world. Thanks for my work ethic, my love of Busby Berkeley films & club sandwiches, for teaching me the importance of handwritten thank you notes, and for giving me that signature Markle nose. I love you xo – Bean.”
It’s said that Harry asked Meghan’s dad for her hand in marriage but had not yet met Thomas Markle in person.
According to Daily Mail, “Harry also asked Meghan’s parents Thomas Markle and Doria Ragland, who divorced when their daughter was six, for her hand in marriage before popping the question,” and Meghan’s parents said in a statement, “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.”
4. Meghan Wrote That Her Father Urged Her to ‘Check Your Own Box’ When It Came to Her Biracial Identity
Meghan’s father is white, and her mother, Doria Ragland is black. Meghan has written openly about her mixed race heritage. She penned a moving essay for Elle Magazine, which includes many anecdotes about her parents. The article discusses “creating her identity and finding her voice as a mixed race woman.”
She wrote that her father, Thomas Markle, had grown up in Pennsylvania and described how he insisted “If that happens again, you draw your own box” when a teacher tried to make her check black or white in an English class census exercise.
Markle recalled how her dad once customized two Barbie doll sets, so that she could have a mixed race doll family. “On Christmas morning, swathed in glitter-flecked wrapping paper, there I found my Heart Family: a black mom doll, a white dad doll, and a child in each colour. My dad had taken the sets apart and customised my family,” she wrote for Elle.
In the article, Meghan explains how people repeatedly inquire “where she is from,” when she knows what they are really after: “My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I’m half black and half white.”
She wrote, “Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating.” However, the essay is uplifting. She concludes, “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. To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.”
You can read the full Elle essay here.
5. Meghan’s Father Has Other Children
Thomas Markle Sr. has had financial issues over the years, and, in addition to Meghan and Samantha, he also has a son named Thomas Markle Jr. who has had his own issues and who penned a letter to Prince Harry urging him not to marry Meghan and disparaging her character. According to UK Daily Mail, both Meghan’s parents have filed for bankruptcy; her mother in 2002 “over a $52,750 credit card bill,” and Thomas more recently.
Samantha is Meghan’s half sister her father’s first marriage, and Samantha has accused Meghan of mistreating their father and calling her “narcissistic and selfish,” UK Daily Mail reports.
The half-sister, Samantha Grant, is the product of Thomas Markle’s first marriage to Roslyn Markle, and is considerably older than Meghan. Thomas Markle Jr. has alternated between defending and criticizing Meghan, according to UK Daily Mail. Grant’s mother, Rosyln, also defended Meghan and told The Daily Mail that Grant once referred to Meghan’s mother as the “maid” because she was black.
Most recently, in an interview with Bild, Thomas Markle Jr. said that Meghan had changed into a “bully.” He said he hadn’t seen her since 2011 and added, “I think it’s showing her true colours that none of the family recognises. She bullied people before and got her way, no matter what. She has changed as a person.”
Daily Mail reports that Thomas Markle Jr. was accused of a “drunken altercation with his girlfriend.”
Meghan’s relationship with her mom seems to lack the drama on her father’s side. In 2016, Meghan wrote a tribute to her mom on Instagram, complete with a photo of her mother in a graduation cap and gown. Her mother was the only family member on Meghan’s side to attend the royal wedding.
“Always proud of this beautiful woman,” she wrote on Mother’s Day. “This was when she graduated from USC with a masters in social work. Honoring my mom, Doria, and all the amazing mamas in our lives.”
Doria’s Facebook page says she works in social work at Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services in California. She says she went to Fairfax High School and lives in Los Angeles. She is friends on Facebook with “Meghan Markle Engelson,” which was Meghan’s married name (Meghan Markle is divorced from Trevor Engelson). On another mother’s day, Meghan referred to her mother on Instagram as her “hot mama.”