Editor’s Note: Jane Merrick is a British political journalist and former political editor of the Independent on Sunday newspaper. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
The abrupt withdrawal of a key player in a wedding less than a week away would pose a major problem for any couple. For a ceremony that will be watched by hundreds of millions of people worldwide, it is, presumably, a towering nightmare.
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry deserve sympathy for the turmoil they must be going through after it was revealed Markle’s father, Thomas, will not be there to walk her down the aisle at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor this Saturday.
The reason, initially, was reportedly due to Mr. Markle not wanting to cause the happy couple any embarrassment after it emerged he had agreed to pose for what appeared to be candid paparazzi photographs of him preparing for his daughter’s wedding.
It has since been reported that Mr. Markle will not be able to attend, as he will be undergoing heart surgery.
He has denied allegations that he accepted any money in return for the staged photos, which included being measured for his suit and reading online stories about his daughter. But it is a sad twist to what had, initially, appeared to be a charming story of a former Hollywood lighting director-turned-recluse who was about to be propelled into the glare of one of the biggest televised events of the decade.
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Whether or not he did accept money, it seems ill-advised of Mr. Markle to agree to a stunt that was so “stupid and hammy” – as he himself has reportedly described the pictures.
But that is exactly the point: who, if anyone, was advising him? Despite his career in Hollywood and TV, no one can prepare themselves for the intense scrutiny that comes with being suddenly connected to the British royal family – even if it is as a bit-part player.
At the intersection between the royal family, the media and the public there is an insatiable monster that is difficult to control – as experienced by Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, who was pursued by paparazzi nearly every day of her royal life.
Ms. Markle, whose background in acting has armed her with PR finesse, has nevertheless been given media support and advice from Kensington Palace since it was officially announced she and Prince Harry were an item last year. So why wasn’t some of this protection afforded to her father?
The turn of events seems particularly cruel for Mr. Markle.
It should be said that the bride-to-be, whom Kensington Palace said on Monday night was enduring a “deeply personal moment” regarding the story, is desperate for her father to give her away and is pleading with him to change his mind.
She is blameless in this episode. The burden of responsibility should be shared between not only the media and Mr. Markle himself, but Kensington Palace, who, given the institution’s long experience with handling the media, should have had a duty of care for Ms. Markle’s immediate family.
And there is a staggering double standard at the heart of this story: the treatment of Mr. Markle by the media compared to others who have found themselves thrust into the royal spotlight.
He is being portrayed, by some, as a cynical opportunist, trying to make money from his royal connection. He presumably thought that the best way to deal with the intense scrutiny, the hounding by paparazzi, was to try to keep that monster at arms-length by agreeing to pose for some photographs. After all, this was what Diana had to resort to as she tried to control that beast. This is often described as “courting” the media – yet a better description would be attempting to tame it, often in vain.
Given the apparent lack of protection from Kensington Palace, Mr. Markle’s decision to do a deal with a paparazzi agency, is, therefore, forgivable in the circumstances.
But why is he portrayed as a money-grabbing opportunist compared to, for example, the family of the Duchess of Cambridge? The Middletons have benefited from their connection to the monarchy. Pippa Middleton, a year after her starring role as bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding, wrote a book on how to celebrate.
Her parents have been accused of using their connections to drum up trade for their party supplies company, selling wedding-related gifts and accessories.
Sarah, the Duchess of York, has been somewhat more brazen in capitalizing on her royal connection in the more than two decades since divorcing Prince Andrew – including writing children’s books, numerous television appearances and, at one stage, a controversial diet plan. And in 2010, a tabloid newspaper made a secret video recording of her, in which she appeared to sell access to her former husband, the Duke of York.
But the tone of the criticism aimed at Mr. Markle – at least in Britain – has had a particularly vicious undertone.
The key difference between the Middletons and the Duchess of York on the one hand, and Mr. Markle on the other – apart from the latter’s relative lack of media savviness – is that the bride-to-be’s father is American.
What seems acceptable behavior from upper-middle-class Brits whose astuteness in playing up to their royal connections hides their vulgarity, is somehow deemed out of bounds for a shy, reclusive American with financial problems.
It is not that Mr. Markle is working class, but the public shaming of him over the paparazzi story reeks of classism and British snobbery. And because of that public shaming, a father might not get to walk his daughter down the aisle.