Prince Harry, who has never even met his father-in-law, with Meghan in Auckland in October 2018
For almost a week, Harry and Meghan have been dominating headlines in every corner of the world.
Their astonishing decision to stand down from their duties and to leave Britain has thrust the brightest of spotlights on the Royal Family in general and the 93-year-old Queen in particular.
But with details of their future so uncertain, and so many unanswered questions, comes a dramatic new development — and one which goes to the very heart of the battle to salvage the couple’s reputation.
Pages of a defence document submitted to the High Court reveal the inside story of how the relationship between the Duchess of Sussex and her elderly father Thomas Markle has been shattered and how loyalty and family trust have all but disappeared.
They provide an account of the deep undercurrent of resentment and harshness not just of Meghan towards her own family, but also of Prince Harry, who has never even met his father-in-law. These are extraordinary times for the royals, but this new twist threatens even to overshadow the developments of the past six days.
Ignored calls, acid accusations, the ghosting of her father and smouldering silences — all are mentioned in the court papers.
The background is the bitter fallout between father and daughter in the run-up to the royal wedding in May 2018. Mr Markle and the Duchess have not spoken since before the ceremony at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.
Pages of a defence document submitted to the High Court reveal the inside story of how the relationship between the Duchess of Sussex and her elderly father Thomas Markle has been shattered and how loyalty and family trust have all but disappeared (pictured: a young Meghan with her father Thomas Markle)
But now Mr Markle has handed over previously unseen messages and letters from him which set out his attempts to mend the relationship with his daughter after heart surgery forced him to miss the wedding.
His only contact from her has been in a handwritten letter sent to him in August 2018, three months after the ceremony, in which she accused him of ‘lying’ and inflicting ‘pain’ on her and her new husband.
That letter is at the heart of a court case in which the Duchess of Sussex has accused the Mail on Sunday of breaching both her privacy and her copyright after it published extracts.
The newspaper, which is the sister paper of the Daily Mail, was given the letter by Thomas Markle after five close friends of the Duchess gave anonymous interviews to a U.S. celebrity magazine attacking him and which he said were false and had left him ‘devastated’.
The new details are contained in the defence document, lodged with the court by the Mail on Sunday, which paints a vivid and disturbing picture of the deterioration and breakdown of the relationship between Meghan and her father, a retired Hollywood lighting director.
For the Royal Family, this is another unwelcome move which looks certain to lead to the extraordinary spectacle of Thomas Markle giving evidence in the Queen’s court against Her Majesty’s granddaughter-in-law.
These are uncharted waters for the royals, who have for generations avoided courtroom dramas. No wonder informed sources say other family members, while sympathetic to Harry and Meghan’s predicament, are ‘queasy’ about the developments.
They were surprised when the Duke and Duchess decided to move the case from the usual royal lawyers to another more aggressive firm. It not only raised eyebrows at the time, but also suggested the couple were set on their path.
Not since the Old Bailey case against Princess Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell, which collapsed so dramatically 17 years ago and in which there was a real threat that members of the Royal Family would be forced to give evidence, has a royal been so close to a legal showdown as Meghan is now.
In 44 pages, the Mail on Sunday sets out its case and the background to Thomas Markle’s absence from his daughter’s wedding. He reveals how he fully intended to travel to Britain for the nuptials, giving the date of his departure for London from his home in Mexico as May 16, 2018.
He and his daughter exchanged messages which included details about a wedding suit and new shoes.
But on May 3 he was admitted to hospital with chest pains. After discharging himself, he remained confident he would still travel.
Then came the fiasco over staged paparazzi photographs.
Embarrassed, he told his daughter he would not now come and the chest pains also returned.
On May 16 — the day he was meant to be flying — he underwent an emergency heart procedure. Afterwards, he texted his daughter to say that he was OK — and received a response, he believes, from Harry, but signed from ‘H and M’.
According to the court documents, it admonished him for talking to the Press and for causing hurt to his daughter. In a curt reply, Mr Markle texted: ‘I’m sorry my heart attack is . . . any inconvenience for you.’
Thomas Markle claimed that all his further calls were either ignored or that his daughter had changed her phone number. Last year, I revealed how Harry had suddenly changed his numbers.
The tragedy of this family breakdown has haunted the royals ever since. To some, Mr Markle seemed an unpredictable, possibly vulnerable, figure. To others, he was a victim who had been ruthlessly driven out of Meghan’s life because she was now a royal duchess.
To compound the difficulties, in February last year People magazine published a story in which it claimed to ‘put the record straight’ over the Duchess’s relationship with her father and criticism of her style as a royal.
Meghan Markle arrives with her mother Doria Ragland at Cliveden House hotel in the village of Taplow near Windsor, on the eve of her wedding to Britain’s Prince Harry
It was based on interviews with five friends — at least one of whom was thought to be one of the Duchess’s co-stars in Suits, the TV legal drama in which she starred for six years.
The article painted Meghan in a glowing light, while insisting the negative stories about her were lies, and, crucially, referred to the private letter she had sent him the previous August.
The magazine also claimed that Mr Markle’s response to the letter had been to ask for a ‘photo-op’ with his daughter. The court papers say this was false.
In fact, Mr Markle suggested a photo only to take the media heat off the three of them by suggesting a harmonious relationship.
There is one other twist. The Mail on Sunday documents reveal how Meghan ’caused or permitted’ one of her close circle, the Canadian Jessica Mulroney, to put pressure on Gina Nelthorpe-Cowne — a former business associate of the Duchess — to change an interview she had given to ensure a more favourable impression was conveyed. It is a sign of the sophistication of Meghan’s circle where media management is concerned.
The next step could well be the High Court in London and the unbelievable prospect of the wife of the Queen’s grandson battling with her own father over truth and lies, like an unedifying scene from a soap opera.
No wonder within the Royal Family they are holding their breath over where this troubled couple will end up.