Meghan Markle has confirmed her father will not be attending her wedding to Prince Harry, saying she hopes he can be given the “space he needs to focus on his health”.
After days of speculation about whether or not Thomas Markle would walk her down the aisle, the American star spoke of her sadness as she revealed it had been decided he will miss her big day.
Mr Markle is still in Mexico where he is recovering from heart surgery on Wednesday to implant three stents.
The reclusive former TV lighting director was caught up in controversy after being caught staging photographs with the paparazzi.
Ms Markle – who was pictured arriving in Windsor with the Prince on Thursday afternoon – is now expected to be escorted down the aisle by her mother Doria on Saturday, a member of the Royal family or walk alone.
In a personal statement issued through Kensington Palace on Thursday, the bride-to-be said: “Sadly, my father will not be attending our wedding. I have always cared for my father and hope he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health.
“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, who has been described by those close to her as “devastated” over the events of this week, has been in contact with her father, who has told her he cannot travel after taking medical advice.
Mr Markle has previously told TMZ, the celebrity gossip website, that he has been undergoing heart surgery.
On Sunday, it emerged he had colluded with the paparazzi to stage a series of photographs, saying that he was not motivated by money.
His daughter Samantha Grant, Ms Markle’s estranged half-sister, has claimed responsibility for the episode, saying she had hoped to boost her father’s reputation with flattering images.
Video: Meghan Markle’s half-sister on their father’s health
Prince Harry and Ms Markle are understood to have been in regular contact with Mr Markle since the beginning of their relationship in 2016, providing practical advice and media support.
Their efforts have this week appeared to unravel as Mr Markle, Ms Grant and her brother Thomas Markle Jr issued a stream of statements and interviews.
Mr Markle was supposed to be walking his daughter down the aisle, and had planned to meet with the Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this week.
Ms Ragland, who is being looked after by staff at Kensington Palace, flew into London’s Heathrow Airport on Wednesday.
She was met at the airport by Prince Harry’s assistant private secretary Amy Pickerill, with her luggage – including a dress-sized bag from Burberry – taken through Heathrow’s VIP Windsor suite.
Ms Markle’s friends including Jessica Mulroney, a Canadian stylist, have also landed in the UK, for what Royal watchers will now hope are trouble-free final preparations for the wedding on Saturday.
Who will now walk Meghan down the aisle?
Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, is the most likely contender to walk her down the aisle after her father pulled out.
According to American gossip website TMZ, Thomas Markle has given his ex-wife his blessing to perform the duty.
Ms Ragland is no stranger to being at her daughter’s side and has accompanied her on the red carpet and stood with her at the Invictus Games in Toronto last year.
Ladbrokes odds: 1/3
If Ms Ragland is not able to walk her daughter down the aisle, another option is the father of the groom, Prince Charles.
The Prince of Wales has expressed his excitement about the wedding, telling reporters in Nice last week: “It’s absolutely marvellous. It’s going to be a very special day for everybody.”
Ladbrokes odds: 3/1
The Duke of Cambridge
Prince William may be on hand to walk his brother’s bride down the aisle.
He would likely be a good source of support for Meghan Markle, as the two have conducted Royal engagements together and appear to get along well.
The Duke of Cambridge has also been through the pressure of a very public royal wedding, so would perhaps be able to calm any jangled nerves.
Ladbrokes odds: 5/1
An admittedly long shot, but if the couple do not pick a family member, a friend of Prince Harry might be a good bet.
Guy Pelly has been a friend of the Prince and his brother since they were children and is connected to the matchmaker who set the Royal couple up on their first date.
He is friends with Violet Von Westenholz, who the Telegraph revealed as the Cupid who brought the pair together. Mr Pelly and Ms Westenholz have for years been photographed together at parties.
Ladbrokes odds: 10/1
Thousands gather in Windsor to watch rehearsal
Meanwhile, a dress rehearsal for the big day took place in Windsor on Thursday, with thousands of people turning out to get a flavour of how Saturday will unfold.
The roads around the town were closed as wellwishers basked beneath blue skies and beaming sunshine – weather expected to stay around for the weekend.
Video: Military take part in dress rehearsal in Windsor
Some 250 members of the armed forces are expected to take part in Saturday’s festivities, lining the streets as the newly-wed Harry and Meghan head on a 25-minute carriage ride through the town.
Press from around the world, tourists, locals and royal super fans watched from behind barriers as members of the military parade around Windsor.
Royal wedding countdown in pictures as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s preparations begin
There was a heavy police presence with armed officers stationed around town and other officers on top of buildings looking over the crowds from a height.
After months of planning, Thursday’s dry-run gave organisers a chance to put some finishing touches to the global event.
Royal wedding PREMIUM GRID
Six hundred guests will gather in Windsor Castle’s 15th century chapel on Saturday to watch the Prince marry Ms Markle, the former Suits star.
The pair got engaged after a whirlwind 16-month romance after meeting on a blind date.