Harry has won over Meghan’s mum but what about her father

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

He is the man who, if the speculation proves true, should be preparing to take centre-stage at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. After all, as the father of the ‘bride’, it is Thomas Markle who would normally be expected to walk his daughter down the aisle, giving her away in the time-honoured fashion.

More than that, tradition dictates that it is his permission that Prince Harry should seek before proposing. What a curious turn of events that would be: the man fifth in line to the Throne seeking consent from a retired lighting director who lives in a sleepy corner of Mexico.

While Harry has been seen in relaxed conversation with his girlfriend’s mother Doria at the Invictus Games in Toronto, and has reportedly introduced Meghan to members of the Royal Family – including, it was claimed last week, the Queen – her father has remained firmly in the shadows. And that is just the way he likes it.

While 6ft 3in Thomas, known to all as Tom, remains devoted to Meghan – whom he lovingly calls Bean – he is determined to remain out of the spotlight that has shone on his daughter since her relationship with Harry became public a year ago.

The Mail on Sunday has spoken to family members and friends, many of whom remain in close contact with the 73-year-old, and the message was the same. As one family member explained it: ‘Tom adores his daughter but he wants the relationship with Harry to take its natural course and he has no interest in speaking publicly about the relationship.

‘He’s incredibly proud of Meghan and all that she’s achieved but he’s been horrified by some of the negative things that have been said by certain family members who haven’t had any contact with her in years, including his eldest son and daughter. Tom is a good man who wants a quiet life. He couldn’t be more proud of Meghan but he has no interest in the circus that comes with her dating a prince.’

Daddy's girl: Meghan, then 11, with her father and nephew Thomas

Daddy’s girl: Meghan, then 11, with her father and nephew Thomas

A bear of a man who weighs more than 17st, Tom was enjoying a quiet retirement in Mexico, close to the border with California, when his 36-year-old daughter started romancing one of the most famous men on Earth.

Though Meghan was just five when her parents separated, she and her father are understood to remain in close contact.

Indeed, he was one of the first people Meghan confided in when she began dating Harry, 33, months before the romance became public. ‘Tom knew before the world did,’ added a source. ‘But he never breathed a word. Fame and celebrity mean nothing to him. He’s seen Hollywood from the inside. His only concern is Meghan.’

Respected within his profession, he worked for many years as an award-winning cinematographer on American soaps such as General Hospital and Married… With Children. He also did the lighting for the 1984 LA Olympics and the 1986 Oscars, even winning an Emmy.

He maintains a rented £1,100-a-month flat in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, opposite Prospect Studios where he used to work night and day. His ground-floor apartment in a 13-unit plaster-clad building is far removed from the grandeur of Kensington Palace where his daughter may yet set up home.

Outside the block is a jumbled array of empty flower pots, plastic bags, a wooden coffee table and a rusting barbecue.

Allison Leber, 43, who lives in the block, said: ‘Tom will call sometimes so I know how he’s doing. He’s happy his daughter is with Prince Harry and he’s glad she’s found love. He never expected this. He was expecting a quiet retirement in Mexico.

‘Now he could be walking his daughter down the aisle at Westminster Abbey. He’s astonished at it but he’s happy as long as Meghan is happy.’ Another resident, Amalia Alva, 33, said: ‘He’s always been a great neighbour. He loves children. There are seven or eight young kids in this building and he’s like Santa Claus. He always brings gifts for the kids, especially at Christmas.

‘Tom always worked long hours at the studio. Now he lives mostly in Mexico. He says he has a very comfortable life there. There’s so much attention on his daughter, he’s happy to be away from the madness.’

Meghan with Harry and her mother Doria at last month's Invictus Games

Meghan with Harry and her mother Doria at last month’s Invictus Games

The precise reasons for his move out of the US are unclear though he is known to have faced financial struggles. Last year Tom declared bankruptcy, owing £22,740.

In publicly available court documents he listed his debts – mostly unpaid credit card bills – against an income of around £3,240 a month in pension and social security payments, with modest assets of around £380 in books, pictures and art, £300 in clothes, £75 in watches and glasses, £150 in computers, stereo equipment, videos and DVDs, and £1,895 in household goods.

He sub-lets his LA home to a family friend, known only as Maria. Like Tom, she maintains a stoic silence.

So what do we know about the man who may shortly have Harry as a son-in-law? He was born in 1944 in Newport, Pennsylvania – his father Gordon was a railwayman and his mother Doris served in a convenience store.

Tom’s first job was in a bowling alley before he used his physique to land a job hauling lights into the rafters at a theatre. At 20 he moved to Chicago where he took a job at a local TV station, WTTW.

He married first wife Rosalyn, mother of his two eldest children Tom Jr, 50, and Samantha, 52, (Meghan’s half-siblings) in 1964. At the time Tom was 20 and Rosalyn was 18.

Rosalyn, a stay-at-home mother, said the marriage fell apart mostly due to the long hours Tom put in at work. ‘Our lives didn’t gel,’ she said about their 1972 divorce. ‘Tom moved to California and worked really hard to build a successful career as a TV lighting director. He went through tough times, sometimes working washing dishes to pay the rent and he bordered on homelessness at times, but he worked really hard.’

Fiercely loyal, Tom is said to have been ‘deeply wounded’ by cutting comments made by his older daughter when Meghan’s romance with Harry became public.

Samantha, who lives in Florida, claimed Meghan was ‘self-obsessed’ and did not help their father with his bankruptcy, saying: ‘The Royals would be appalled by what she’s done to her own family.’ Samantha now has plans to cash in with a tell-all book, The Diary of Princess Pushy’s Sister.

Harry plants a kiss on Meghan's cheek as the watch the Invictus Games closing ceremony

Harry plants a kiss on Meghan’s cheek as the watch the Invictus Games closing ceremony

Other members of the family are appalled, with Rosalyn saying: ‘Samantha has been estranged from her family for some time. Everything she said about Meghan is a lie. When you are not a happy person you want to drag everyone down with you.’

Meanwhile Tom’s only son, Thomas Jnr, 50 – who has a long history of drug and alcohol issues – was arrested earlier this year for allegedly brandishing a gun at his girlfriend in a drunken rage. The charges were later dropped. He has recently been trying to build bridges with his father. In the early days of Meghan’s romance with Harry, Thomas Jnr erroneously claimed their father had flown to meet the prince but a source said: ‘That’s rubbish. Tom senior hasn’t met Harry. When the two older kids started talking to the press, Tom was appalled. He’s never expected any financial help from Meghan. All he’s ever wanted is her happiness.

‘The negative publicity was very hurtful to him. Tom isn’t close to his older kids. He dotes on Meghan.’

Tom met Meghan’s mother Doria, a stunning make-up artist 12 years his junior, in LA in 1979 and married her in his hometown in Pennsylvania later that year.

Family members said the racially-mixed marriage raised eyebrows: ‘Tom was very much in love with Doria but they experienced racism.’ In 1981 their only child Rachel Meghan Markle was born. She inherited her father’s quirky, turned-up nose and relentless work ethic.

She was raised in middle-class Woodland Hills, where Tom was acutely aware of making her feel comfortable with her mixed-race heritage. One Christmas he bought two Barbie doll sets – one black and one white – presenting Meghan with a customised set which had a black mother, white father and a child in each colour.

He was equally diligent in his professional life.

‘He was a very good lighting director, dedicated to his work. It’s a tough job with long hours,’ said a former colleague.

‘He’d spend the day preparing lights for up to 23 scenes and when filming finished he’d spend much of the night setting up for the next day.

‘The schedule was three days on and three days off. We were highly paid, getting $50 an hour – a fortune back in the 1970s.’

Tom invested his money in his daughter. Meghan attended the private Little Red Schoolhouse in Hollywood, which Elizabeth Taylor attended, followed by Immaculate Heart, an £11,500-a-year Catholic school.

‘Tom was determined to give Meghan the best education possible,’ a family member said. ‘She grew up confident, funny. When Tom wasn’t working he was with Meghan. When you see them together it’s clear she adores him and he adores her.’

Thomas Jnr said recently: ‘She was a princess long before she met Harry. She was Daddy’s princess.’

Meghan’s love of acting – she found fame on legal drama Suits – was sparked by her father taking her into the studio. ‘She’d spend hours watching the actors,’ a colleague recalled. ‘She grew up in Hollywood. Meghan’s dad never shielded her from the bad stuff. She knew how tough it would be to make a career as an actress.

‘Tom instilled his work ethic in her. Meghan is someone who has always worked her tail off, just like her dad.’

Meghan has made no secret of her deep love for her father. Last Father’s Day, she posted a picture of herself as a baby laying on his chest with the message: ‘Happy Father’s Day, daddy. I’m still your buckaroo and to this day your hugs are still the very best in the whole wide world. Thanks for my work ethic, my love of Busby Berkeley films & club sandwiches, for teaching me the importance of handwritten thank you notes and for giving me that signature Markle nose. I love you so, Bean.’

Surely, then, ‘Bean’ will want her father there by her side for a Royal wedding, should that day come. A family member said while Tom would undoubtedly want to walk his daughter down the aisle, being in the spotlight will be tough for him.

‘He’s always been the guy behind the cameras and that’s where he’s comfortable,’ the source said. ‘He never wanted fame. He loves Meghan but doesn’t love the attention this relationship has brought.

‘But Tom loves Meghan more than anything and will support her on this journey, wherever it might lead. All he has ever wanted is for her to be happy.’

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