Markle's half-sister blames press for dad's heart attack; won't say if he'll miss wedding

Maria Puente
Meghan Markle in London on April 18, 2017.

Meghan Markle's half-sister says the press' constant hounding of their father has endangered his health less than a week before the royal wedding.

On Tuesday, Samantha Markle told Good Morning Britain that Thomas Markle, who recently suffered a heart attack from the "unbelievable" stress brought on by media attention, called her "panicking on the freeway because he was in a dangerous situation being followed by seven or eight cars."

In a likely allusion to Princess Diana's fatal car crash, she added, "There have been examples in history of how dangerous that can be."

Asked whether he would attend the wedding or whether Meghan still wanted him to attend, she pivoted, saying, "He was really having heart pains and suffered a heart attack. It was an unbelievable amount of stress."

TMZ reported that Markle did have a heart attack last week but was still planning on walking his daughter down the aisle at St. George's Chapel until British tabloid Mail on Sunday published a story saying Markle, a 73-year-old retired lighting director, had staged photos with the paparazzi of himself preparing for the wedding.

TMZ reported Markle's regret and embarrassment over the photos had led him to cancel his plans to be at the wedding. 

Late Monday, Kensington Palace issued a statement that neither confirmed nor denied whether Thomas Markle would be at his daughter's wedding, only six days away.

"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." 

Meanwhile, Thomas Markle's elder daughter (and Meghan's estranged half-sister) Samantha Markle, claimed that the photo shoot with her dad was her idea. She denied the motive was to make money, as the Mail implied.

Instead, she said the Markle family, most of whom are not invited to the wedding, wanted to show Markle in a better light than other paparazzi photos of him in the last few months, where he was seen looking casual and a bit disheveled.

“I have to say I am entirely the culprit,” Samantha Markle said during an appearance on British talk show Loose Women on Monday. “The media can take very unflattering photographs of people on their casual days and blow it way out of proportion.

"I said, you know, the world has no idea you’re getting in shape, doing healthy things. They don’t photograph you buying vegetables and PH water. They photograph you in as unflattering ways as they can,” Samantha Markle said.

Kensington Palace declined to clarify any of this other than its statement seeking "understanding" for Thomas Markle. Only 10 days ago, the palace confidently announced that Markle would be arriving this week to meet Harry's family, including grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, and would carry out the traditional dad role at the wedding.

What happened? 

The Mail on Sunday obtained pictures and video surveillance footage showing Markle arriving at an internet cafe in Baja California with a photographer named Jeff Rayner weeks ago. Soon, the pair are seen preparing to photograph Markle while he is sitting at a computer looking at a news story about his daughter and Prince Harry.

More: All the details we know about Harry and Meghan's wedding so far

Read all about it:  Publishers rush to put out books about royal wedding

Other supposedly "candid" pictures showed Markle reading a book about Britain and being "fitted" for his wedding outfit by a man with a tape measure. In fact, the Mail reported, the "tailor" was an assistant at a party goods shop recruited for the job because the rent-a-tux store the photographer planned to use was closed.

The tabloid said its investigation found the pictures and video are part of a series of pictures Rayner took of Markle, sold for a total of about $140,000 and published in newspapers, magazines and on websites around the world in recent weeks.

At the same time, Kensington Palace had issued warnings to the media that Markle was being "harassed" by paparazzi, and pleaded with publishers to respect his privacy. 

The Markle family, and especially Thomas Markle, 73, have been the object of fascination by the British tabloids and the international paparazzi since Meghan Markle emerged as Prince Harry's new girlfriend at the end of the summer of 2016. 

Journalists from around the world have sought to interview him and his two other children, Thomas Markle Jr. and Samantha Markle, both of whom have been repeatedly quoted by British and American tabloids saying critical things about their half-sister. So far, her father had resisted interviews. (Neither sibling has been invited to the wedding and neither is very happy about that.)

The guest list:  Who’s invited and coming? Who are the A-listers?

Then the Mail on Sunday's story landed, raising questions about whether Thomas Markle tried to make money off his daughter's nuptials, or just exercised poor judgment about the consequences of his actions should they be discovered. 

Since the engagement was announced in November 2017, occasional paparazzi shots appeared showing Markle in public in Rosarito Beach, the Mexican town where he lives just south of the U.S. border in San Diego. For instance, one set of photos showed him with a female friend and her daughter in a cafe.   

A former TV lighting director and photography director for such shows as Married With Children and General Hospital, Markle has had money problems in recent years. He declared bankruptcy in 2016.

Like approximately a million other Americans, he retired to Mexico, where he has been living in the resort town of Rosarito Beach. The town is located in the Mexican state of Baja California, about 13 miles south of Tijuana and the U.S. border. 

Royal wedding timeline:  What's happening when?

More:  Will there be any American traditions? Any African-American traditions?