The news of Thomas Markle’s suspected stroke broke in a way only a story can for the Markle clan. Alongside a conveniently captured video clip from his Chula Vista, California hospital stretcher (credited to a well-known paparazzi photo agency, of course) and exclusive details on gossip site TMZ, the rollout of Meghan’s 72-year-old father’s latest health crisis felt like May 2018 all over again.
And just like that fateful summer, British media outlets didn’t take long to turn their attention to how the Duchess of Sussex should be reacting. “Visit your sick father!” wrote one British paper. “It’s elder abuse,” her half-sister Samantha told another UK media outlet. “No white roses for your dad?,” a tabloid snarked, alongside a report on her visit to the site of the Texas school massacre two days later.
Thomas Markle’s hospitalisation quickly became another sorry chapter in the sideshow saga of the Markle family, a tragic circus that has followed Meghan in (and out) of the House of Windsor like gum on a glass slipper.
During its earlier years, I covered my fair share of that family drama. In Finding Freedom, my co-author and I spent considerable time researching and reporting on the various characters involved in the breakdown of Meghan and Thomas’ relationship (and the toxic behaviour that led up to it).
And it also shared heartwarming anecdotes about the father who would lovingly cheer his “Flower” on in high school drama productions and do anything to help Meghan as she took her first steps to achieve her dreams of becoming an actor.
Two years on and the book's accurate portrayal feels a world away from the twisted tales now being shared by publicity-hungry Markle offspring and their progenitor. Thomas recently dedicated the first upload on his YouTube channel to a dissection of Finding Freedom (“full of her lies,” he alleged).
By now you’ll be more than familiar with the well-trodden story about Mr Markle getting caught colluding with a paparazzi photographer (now the co-host of said YouTube channel) and how he pulled out of the royal wedding due to alleged heart problems. The staged photos, and the flurry of media interviews that followed, were a poor decision but, despite reports to the contrary, are not the reason why Meghan sticks to her decision to cease communication with her father.
Many tabloid reports these days conveniently forget that this is a man who, after providing a private letter from his daughter to the Mail on Sunday, later joined forces with the tabloid and a Kensington Palace aide to try and bring down the duchess in her court case about the illegal publication of it. He is also a man who, after Meghan admitted to having suicidal thoughts after relentless media attacks, told a journalist: “Her lies are so obvious that I don't know why she makes them or why she says them”.
Watch: Samantha Markle gives us an update on the health of her father, Thomas Markle
In recent months, Thomas has gone as far as praising the work of single-purpose-hate accounts about his daughter, even making plans to visit an online conspiracy theorist who has repeatedly claimed that the duchess didn’t give birth to her own children and was “born intersex”. More recently, he teamed up with a British cable news channel with plans to attend the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations and attempt a reconciliation with Meghan.
Seeing clips of a quietly-spoken, elderly man who simply wants to meet his grandchildren, it’s easy to sympathise with his plight if one doesn't know the full story. But given his multiple TV appearances dismissing the Sussexes’ claims that a royal family member expressed concerns about the colour of Archie’s skin, how much could he actually care for his grandson? And it was only a week ago he called the timing of granddaughter Lilibet’s first birthday (which takes place on the third day of jubilee celebrations), “trashy”.
Breaking away from a toxic parent is one of the most difficult decisions a child can make. But when that family member has a history of creating stress, anxiety and pain through abusive behaviour and manipulative tactics, ending the relationship is often the only way to break the cycle. It’s a subject we heard the duchess emotionally open up about during her interview with Oprah last year.
When Thomas responded to Meghan’s hand-written plea in late 2018 to stop airing their private business to the press, the solution he replied with was to stage a media-friendly photo call to show the world they have moved on. It was a suggestion that led Meghan to reluctantly acknowledge she was approaching the end of the road with her father. “I’m devastated,” I'm told she confessed to Prince Harry and her then communications secretary. “The media corrupted him. . . He’s so far gone.”
From that moment forward, it has been a dignified, but by no means easy, wall of silence with her father. The few occasions where reconciliation could have been remotely possible were destroyed by more damaging media interviews.
For Thomas—who within 24 hours of being released from the hospital continued his tabloid chats—he plans to continue speaking out until he gets the attention from his daughter that he feels he deserves. But that’s where he’s wrong. After tireless and failed attempts to repair their relationship, Meghan doesn’t owe him a damn thing.