From almost the moment Meghan Markle’s relationship with Prince Harry was made public, she has had to endure a near-ceaseless stream of barbs and slights from some quarters of her family.
Until recently the vitriol had been little more than an unseemly sideshow to the coming royal wedding.
But this week the fractured Markle family’s politics has threatened to overshadow the build-up to the wedding as Ms Markle’s father was drawn into the drama.
For days it has been uncertain whether Thomas Markle Snr would make the ceremony as rumours about his health and possible involvement in a paparazzi photo set-up circulated.
Today Ms Markle confirmed her father would not be attending, meaning he won’t be able to walk his daughter down the aisle.
Ms Markle had hoped he would share the honour with her mother and has previously publicly praised her “thoughtful, inspiring, hard-working daddy”.
In the background to this week’s events is Ms Markle’s older half-sister, Samantha, who admitted she was involved with Mr Markle’s paparazzi pictures.
Her involvement is just the latest twist in the acrimonious Markle family saga that has intensified as the wedding day draws nearer.
Ms Markle’s strained relationship with certain members of her family does not extend to her parents, both of whom she is very close to.
Meghan Markle was born on Aug 4, 1981 in California to Thomas Snr and Doria Ragland. The pair met in the 1970s while working together at a television studio in Los Angeles where Mr Markle was a lighting director and Ms Ragland a makeup artist.
When they married in 1979, Mr Markle already had two teenage children, Samantha, 17, and Thomas Jnr, 15, from his first marriage with Roslyn Loveless.
Soon after Ms Markle’s birth the family moved to a home in The Valley, LA, until Mr Markle and Ms Ragland divorced in 1987.
Ms Markle remained close to both her parents following the separation and her mother’s job as an air stewardess meant she frequently stayed with her father.
The youngster developed her love of acting by spending time on the sets of the Married With Children show her father worked on and Mr Markle actively nurtured and supported his daughter’s precocious acting talent.
In 1990 Mr Markle won $750,000 (£550,000) in the California state lottery and used his winnings to send Meghan to private school, while also giving money to his other two children.
Four years ago Ms Markle paid affectionate tribute to her father’s role in her success saying he put his “blood, sweat and tears” into helping her career.
Relationship with siblings
Ms Markle’s childhood relationship with her siblings has been the subject of conflicting reports from the family. In a 2017 interview with the Daily Mail Samantha Markle painted a picture of the pair being very close and her practically raising her baby step-sister.
Speaking of those years she said: “[Meghan] used to call me Daff Duck because I’d make Daffy Duck noises to get her to laugh.
“She called me that up until she was 12, then she would call me ‘Babe’. She’d ring me up and say: ‘How’s it going, Babe?’”
However Samantha’s mother, Roslyn, has challenged her daughter’s narrative of sisterly bliss – saying she was always jealous of her baby sibling.
“I am very serious when I say she has dogged on Meghan forever,” Roslyn told the Daily Mail. “She has never liked Meghan and she’s always been jealous of her.”
In adulthood Ms Markle has been the standout achiever of the family with an acting career that saw her star in hit legal series Suits.
Meghan Markle’s family tree
Meanwhile her brother Thomas is a window-fitter in Oregon, who was arrested earlier this year after being accused of holding a gun to his girlfriend’s head. The charges were later dropped.
Samantha is a retired actress and model who lives in Florida and is wheelchair-bound after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008.
One thing that is clear is that as Ms Markle has grown older and become more successful her relationship with her siblings has grown more distant.
She is reportedly estranged from Thomas Jnr and hasn’t spoken to her half-sister in nine years, with the pair’s last meeting at Samantha’s graduation in 2008.
A measure of how estranged the sisters have become was the fact that Samantha first learned of Ms Markle’s relationship with Prince Harry from a friend who had read it in a magazine.
Reaction to royal romance
The news of Ms Markle and Prince Harry’s relationship touched off a series of public interventions from Samantha where she has vacillated between attacking her sister and making conciliatory overtures.
Shortly after the royal relationship became public, she gave an interview to The Sun calling Ms Markle a “social climber” and questioning whether she was a suitable candidate to join the Royal family.
Later in 2017 she announced she was planning to write a tell-all book called the Diary of a Pushy Princess’ Sister.
On Twitter she later warned that Ms Markle “won’t like some of it” and then defended her decision to write it saying: “Whistleblowers are not negative they are just honest. I believe in calling it like it is.”
The announcement provoked an angry public response from her brother, Thomas Jnr, who told Samantha to “leave Meghan alone already”.
In an interview in the Daily Mail he added: ‘[Samantha] is just doing it because she’s got nothing better to do and it’s what she’s always done. Her whole life has just been about being a pain in the a–.”
By the time Prince Harry and Ms Markle’s engagement was announced in November, Samantha had executed a volte-face and suddenly started adopting a much warmer tone when talking about her sister.
Royal wedding countdown in pictures as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s preparations begin
When asked if she had a message for the newly-engaged couple, she said,: “I just want to say I love you, I’m incredibly happy for you. Cheers and to a wonderful life.”.
She also backtracked on the tone of her book, saying it was not going to be a tell-all and that the title had been misinterpreted. Rather than a slight on her sister she had meant it as a mockery of her tabloid portrayal.
The public rapprochement did not last long. In December Samantha took umbrage at Prince Harry’s comments while guest editing the Today programme that the Royal family was “the family, I suppose, that [Meghan] never had”.
Samantha retorted on Twitter: “Actually she [Meghan] has a large family who were always there with her and for her.”
In January Samantha again publicly excoriated her sister on Twitter for wearing a £56,000 designer dress in her engagement photo, saying she should have spent the money on their father, who was living in Mexico and had recently been declared bankrupt.
Hitherto, the drama in the Markle family had been confined to Samantha’s running aspersions against Ms Markle in the tabloids and television shows.
Then last month April the situation escalated when it became apparent that none of the extended Markle family were making the wedding guest list.
This disgorged another tirade from Samantha, who demanded the family receive invites “out of respect and humanitarianism”.
She then turned on Prince Harry telling him to ‘man up’ and attacked his charity work saying that “’shout outs about humanitarianism don’t work when you are allowing Meg to ignore the Markles”.
The lack of invites also provoked an extraordinary broadside from Thomas Jnr, who had thus far been a defender of Meghan.
He penned a handwritten letter to Prince Harry, published by US site InTouch, in which he described the wedding as the “biggest mistake in royal history.”
He also launched an acrimonious barrage on his half-sister saying “Meghan’s attempt to act the part of a princess like a below C average Hollywood actress is getting old”.
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Thomas Jnr has since recanted the comments he made and described the letter as a “moment of madness”.
In a second letter he said:“Meg, I know that I’m not perfect, nor is anyone else in our family, as I’m sure you have read by now.”
The Dooleys arrive
For the moment it appears that Thomas Markle Jnr and Samantha will be remaining in the US for the wedding. But earlier this week Thomas Jnr’s ex-wife Tracy Dooley and their two sons Thomas and Tyler touched down at Heathrow to be here for the wedding despite also not having invitations.
The trio told their social media followers they would be taking part in the US TV network’s coverage of the event.
Ms Dooley has previously complained publicly about her lack of an invitation, saying that Ms Markle had babysat her children, but has also previously said she has not seen the actress for two decades.
When not working on their burgeoning careers as royal media pundits, the family is focused on their legal cannabis business in Oregon.
Tyler, 25, is a cannabis farmer and reportedly keen to develop a new cannabis strain called ‘Markle’s Sparkle’ to honour his cousin’s nuptials. Tracy is also involved, selling advertising space to marijuana dispensaries.
So far the Dooleys have struck an amicable tone, with Tracy posting on Facebook on Monday: “Just glad to have landed safely and hoping for Tom senior to be well, healthy and happy.
“I wish the same for Meghan, Prince Harry, my children, friends, family and those who need our prayers and love. Peace, love and good works.”
An absent father
Despite the escalating outbursts in recent weeks, the sniping from the within Markle family had been an insignificant, if tawdry, distraction to the royal wedding build-up.
That was until Monday when reports broke that Mr Markle has suffered a heart attack that put his participation in the ceremony in jeopardy.
Then it later emerged that paparazzi photographs taken of Mr Markle near his home in Mexico last month had been set-up.
The photographs showed him being measured for a suit, browsing a news article about his daughter’s wedding at an internet cafe, exercising with weights and reading a book called ‘Images of Britain’.
DRAFT Thomas Markle timeline
Samantha Markle later claimed responsibility for the pre-arranged photo-op, tweeting that she suggested he posed for “positive photos” as the media was “unfairly making him look bad”.
“We had no idea he would be taken advantage of. It was not for money,” she wrote.
Mr Markle pulled out of the wedding on 15 May following the embarrassing paparazzi disclosures before a chaotic day of confusion which saw him apparently vacillating over whether he would attend, telling TMZ he did not want to “embarrass the Royal family or his daughter”.
Earlier the 73-year-old had discharged himself from hospital following a heart attack with the intention to travel across the Atlantic, however Ms Markle has now confirmed her father will not be attending the wedding.
“Sadly, my father will not be attending our wedding,” Ms Markle said in a statement released by Kensington Palace.
“I have always cared for my father and hope he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health,” she said.
“I would like to thank everyone who has offered generous messages of support.
“Please know how much Harry and I look forward to sharing our special day with you on Saturday.”
Ms Markle is now expected to be escorted down the aisle either by her mother Doria, a member of the Royal family or walk alone.