Big sister: Samantha hasn’t seen Meghan in nearly a decade
There are many reasons why Samantha Markle will never forget the day she found out her half-sister was dating Prince Harry.
The news itself, a bombshell for any group of relatives, was all the more remarkable given the less-than-elevated circles in which the Markles, a working-class family from Los Angeles, moved.
But it was how the news was delivered that speaks volumes about the different worlds these two women inhabit. For the announcement came not from Meghan herself, or even from another family member, but from a friend who had read it in a magazine.
‘She said: “Are you sitting down? Did you know your sister is dating Prince Harry?” ’ recalls Samantha, who shares a father with Meghan. ‘My friend obviously thought I’d be shocked.’
With good reason. For while Samantha today is eager to paint a picture of affection and pride in the little sister, 16 years her junior, who has captured Prince Harry’s heart, in truth their relationship is far from close.
Indeed, so fractured are the Markle family bonds — amid claims of racial slurs and financial tension — that the sisters haven’t seen each other in almost ten years. It is a situation that Samantha, 52, a writer and mental health counsellor who lives in Florida, is trying desperately to address.
For while Samantha today is eager to paint a picture of affection and pride in the little sister, 16 years her junior, who has captured Prince Harry’s heart, in truth their relationship is far from close
She claims this is the little sister she helped to raise, the one who ‘could always light up a room’. By Samantha’s own account, she helped Meghan learn to walk and talk and insists the little girl adored her. The pair were once so close that she would walk around the house with Meghan on her hip.
‘She used to call me Daff Duck because I’d make Daffy Duck noises to get her to laugh,’ she says. ‘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?” ’
There have been no ‘Hi Babe’ phone calls from Meghan for some years now.
Samantha last saw her sister in 2008, when Samantha graduated from university and Meghan — by then a successful actress — flew in to share her big day. Will the next shared celebration be Meghan’s wedding day?
Samantha, twice divorced herself (Meghan divorced producer and actor Trevor Engelson in 2013) and who has limited mobility after having multiple sclerosis diagnosed in 2008, doubts she will make the guest list.
Left, Meghan Markle as a baby with her half sister Samantha, who was 16/17. Right shows Samantha’s graduation in 2008
‘I’m in a wheelchair. I don’t know that it’s that easy to travel. But if I were invited I would find a way, out of love and respect,’ she says. ‘I would never be disrespectful or make her feel that I wasn’t sharing her joy. I would be honoured to go — but that will come down to Meghan and her heart. It will be what it will be.’
But there is a substantial question mark over which members of the Markle clan — if any — might be welcome at any forthcoming royal wedding.
To call Meghan’s family background complex would be an understatement. And if the couple do tie the knot, the royal wedding organisers in charge of the seating plan will have their work cut out, given the history of fall-outs, feuds and simmering hostilities among the would-be in-laws.
While Samantha insists there has been no falling-out with Meghan — ‘I don’t like the word “estranged”,’ she says sharply —there are more than enough issues with other members of her family who are, she tells me, no strangers to court appearances, bankruptcy and years of racial bigotry.
Are the Markles, I ask her, a dysfunctional family?
(Left to right) Meghan at 11 years old with her nephew Thomas Dooley, her father Thomas Markle Sr, her nephew Tyler Dooley and then-sister-in-law Tracey Dooley, who was married to Meghan’s older brother Thomas
‘I don’t think we are more dysfunctional than any other family,’ she says. ‘Every family has their issues and challenges and you have to roll with them. With all due respect, the royals have had their own issues. They haven’t had perfect lives themselves.’
But where to start with the potential royal in-laws?
Samantha, the product of the ill-fated marriage between Thomas Markle, a Hollywood lighting technician, and his first wife Roslyn, burst into public consciousness last month when it emerged that not only did Meghan Markle have a half-sister, but one who planned to write a book about her entitled The Diary Of Princess Pushy’s Sister.
Samantha was immediately criticised for cashing in on her half-sister’s fame. Trying to deal with the backlash today, she says we have got it all wrong. That book title, she insists with breath-taking audacity, is ironic.
‘The title is a mockery of the media,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t me who called Meg “pushy”, it was the tabloid newspapers. She is not pushy. The book isn’t going to be negative — it’s a warm, witty, honouring book — unfortunately, the negative sing-song has gone round the world.’
Today, Samantha claims she defended Meghan from racist slurs within her own family
She says she wants the book to be about her and Meghan’s childhoods, but also about the ‘interracial evolution of the United States’.
There is little doubt Samantha is keen to promote the notion that she looks set to be the sister of ‘the first bi-racial princess in royal history’. A worthy claim to fame — were it not for the allegations that members of Meghan’s own family, including Samantha, subjected the young girl to appalling racial abuse.
Today, Samantha claims she defended Meghan from racist slurs within her own family. Older members of the Markle clan, she alleges, were opposed to the relationship between her father Thomas, who is white, and Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, who is black. And when baby Meghan was born, they were distinctly unimpressed.
‘There were a couple of family members from older generations who were not evolved and made pretty horrible comments when my sister was born,’ Samantha says. ‘There was certainly the use of the “N word”, which I hate.
‘You are talking about people who were raised in an environment where this kind of bigotry was the norm. But the rest of our house was colour-blind — her childhood was magical. We made it fun for her.’
So far, so enlightened. But what to make of Samantha’s mother Roslyn, who has made some explosive claims of her own?
Speaking to the Mail earlier this year, Roslyn alleged that far from being proud of her ‘bi-racial family’ (Pictured is Roslyn Markle with Meghan’s niece Noelle Rasmussen)
Speaking to the Mail earlier this year, Roslyn alleged that far from being proud of her ‘bi-racial family’, Samantha used to tell friends her stepmother ‘was the maid because she is black’.
Roslyn, 71, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has since disowned Samantha, saying of her daughter: ‘She trashes Meghan, she trashes me, her dad, her brothers. She has just been trashing everybody in her life forever.’
Samantha’s brother, called Thomas like his father, has also entered the fray, branding Samantha an attention-seeker who should ‘leave Meghan alone’.
Samantha denies all this. ‘She is not a nice person,’ she says of her mother, who split from her father when Samantha was 12. ‘I was so unhappy with her. She resented me because I looked like my dad.’
When her father met Meghan’s mother Doria, now a yoga teacher but at the time a make-up artist at ABC television, Samantha says she was delighted.
‘She was a really stylish woman, very intelligent and lovely. She made me feel included and I could talk to her about anything.’
The pair married in 1979 and the family settled in middle-class Woodland Hills, Santa Monica. She says she was happy to see her dad marry Doria. ‘They made each other laugh. They were always going off on adventures.’
She recalls Meghan being a joyous and easy baby. ‘She was always laughing. Babies’ laughs are always magical, but she could light up a room. She was never really cranky or colicky’
What about when she discovered Doria was pregnant, though? Most teenage girls would find this tricky. She insists not — possibly a little too fervently.
‘I remember seeing the ultrasound images when they came home from getting the scan. It was definitely fun. And when Meg arrived, she was incredibly beautiful, like a little rosebud, delicate and so pretty.’
So Samantha wasn’t jealous, as Roslyn has claimed?
‘I hear this muck — no! I mean, I wasn’t a child any more, so there wasn’t that sibling rivalry thing. I was definitely the big sis, more of an aunt figure, actually.’
She recalls Meghan being a joyous and easy baby. ‘She was always laughing. Babies’ laughs are always magical, but she could light up a room. She was never really cranky or colicky.’
She was a determined and meticulous child, Samantha says, always anxious to surround herself with nice things, even as a toddler.
‘I wouldn’t say pernickety, but she started to develop a taste for the finer things in life — nice shoes, music boxes, her dolls. She loved dressing up her Barbie dolls.
Samantha’s public utterances on the subject of Meghan haven’t exactly been supportive of late
‘She was really neat, too. Most kids just throw things on the floor, but she would organise her things meticulously. She liked pretty things on her body, too. She had a beautiful sense of style.’
There was one thing Meghan didn’t like, though: her hair.
‘It was thicker, more coarse than she liked. She used to tell me it bothered her. She wanted hair like the other girls. She struggled a lot with that. But Meghan never had to look like the other girls — she was always so pretty.
‘I was looking forward to the day when she would get a sense of self and rise above all that.’
So, when will we get to read Samantha’s ‘warm and honouring’ account of growing up with Meghan? She is vague. ‘I have to leave that to the publishers.’ Who are they? ‘I can’t talk about that.’
A pity, some might think, to be sworn to silence over such details, given what Samantha has felt able to talk about in recent weeks. For her public utterances on the subject of Meghan haven’t exactly been supportive of late.
She has called her sister a ‘social climber’, questioned her charity work and her responsibilities to her family and been less than respectful about her expected future brother-in-law, pointing out that Meghan, whose first husband had reddish hair, ‘had a soft spot for gingers’.
It was 2008 when Samantha, had MS diagnosed. ‘My world turned upside down,’ she says
This last reported remark is one she disputes. ‘I never said that,’ she insists. ‘I may have said that our father has auburn hair, so perhaps that is her type, but I was not disrespectful.’
It is impossible not to feel some desperate back-pedalling is going on. ‘I feel awful,’ she says. ‘I’m sure I made some comments that could have been put in a different way.’
Those comments included some Samantha made about a lack of financial and emotional support from Meghan when her family were going through tough times.
It was 2008 when Samantha, by then a mother of two and with a patchy career that had included acting, writing and a stint in the U.S. Air Force, had MS diagnosed. ‘My world turned upside down,’ she says.
Where was Meghan at this time? Although she had yet to land the role in the TV drama Suits that would make her famous, her acting career had taken off and she was dating film producer Trevor Engelson, whom she went on to marry in 2011.
‘I was dealing with disability; she was travelling the world,’ Samantha says. ‘I wasn’t going to bring her down with my hardships.’
Unable to work, Samantha admits she suffered financially, as did their father Tom.
Both were declared bankrupt and Samantha challenged Meghan on her lack of financial support.
‘We did have a conversation once. I felt she should help my dad when he was having a hard time. But maybe he wouldn’t have wanted her help.
‘People have said: “You are being stupid. She could call you and be more supportive”, but I can’t demand or presume to know what she could squeeze in.
‘But I was honest about my feelings. I felt that we had drifted apart. In retrospect, when I search my heart, maybe she just got very busy.
‘These things happen in families. And when you are in a high-profile family, these situations are brought into big, dramatic focus.’
She sighs. ‘I would have loved more of a sisterly relationship.’
Princess Pushy’s Sister sure has a funny way of showing it.