- Meghan Markle’s father, Thomas Markle, will not go to the royal wedding, it was confirmed on Thursday.
- It follows a paparazzi scandal in which he was exposed cooperating in tabloid photoshoots.
- The incident is another episode in the fierce battle between the royals and the press.
- At its lowest ebb, the media pursued Princess Diana literally to her death, and there have been scandals since.
- Though legacy media is weaker than it used to be, this proves that it is still capable of stopping the royals from controlling their own narrative.
Meghan Markle’s father will officially have no role in the royal wedding, after a week of unedifying flip-flopping and health scares.
In a firm statement on Thursday morning, Markle said that her father Thomas needed “space” and would steer clear of the wedding for health reasons.
But, more tellingly, the dramatic change followed a paparazzi scandal which embarrassed the royals and harked back to the darkest days in their modern history.
The statement confirms that Markle will no longer fly to London, meet the Queen, and walk his daughter down the aisle in what would have been the wedding’s central moment.
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) May 12, 2018
The debacle is a scalp for the press, who have long been foes of the royal family, and a reminder that the media still wields power over the royals despite several decades of setbacks.
The photo scandal has managed to drive a wedge between Markle’s extended family and the Royal household. In the process it has deprived Meghan and Prince Harry – not to mention the meticulous royal media machine – of a fairytale moment at the centre of the wedding.
Markle Sr.’s absence will now inevitably hang over the ceremony at Windsor Castle, and besmirch the otherwise exceptionally cheery, inclusive image of the event the royals have worked so hard to foster.
It is also an insight into the pitched war that powerful publications wage with the royals, as well as each other, in pursuit of the next big story.
That conflict reached its most bitter, brutal, and tragic low in 1997, when Princess Diana died in a car crash while trying to flee photographers who were chasing her through Paris.
It edged on in the UK media through the 2000s, when the royals were targeted by phone hackers, who illegally listened to voicemail messages of those close to the royals to source scoops, especially about Harry and his brother William, who were then still growing up.
In September 2012, long-lens photographs of a topless Kate Middleton were published in the European media. No British publication touched them, but, because of the rise of the internet, anybody with five minutes to research the images was capable of seeing them.
The magazine behind the pictures was later prosecuted and fined more than $100,000 – but the damage was done.
Royal press officers, private secretaries and other staff have tried to draw boundaries to give breathing space to members of the royal family, but it can never work completely.
The sheer level of interest in the royal cast of characters means that vast amounts of money are available for those with access to secret information, or even just pictures of them going about their daily lives.
As an example, a home video of Kate Middleton starring in a musical while at grade school made tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of days for the journalists who managed to find it and sell it on to the media.
Staged photos like the ones starring Markle senior, showing vignettes like him getting measured for a suit, working out ahead of the big day, or boning up on royal history, would similarly attract large fees.
Markle told TMZ he only began cooperating with the paparazzi in an attempt to change his image after they had stalked him, and published photos of him buying beer and looking unkempt. But cooperating in this way clearly crossed a line.
Competition between publications drives up the prices, and also compels them to try to ruin each other’s stories. The article which undid Markle senior this weekend was published by The Mail on Sunday.
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) May 12, 2018
Ironically, its sister publication, MailOnline, had touted some of the original photos as its exclusive material.
Media watchers have noted a tendency for The Mail on Sunday to go to unusual lengths to contradict, expose, or otherwise chip away at the credibility of stories published by its own stablemates – a phenomenon which may have manifested again here.
Though the royal establishment has done their best to keep the press at bay by issuing repeated, public warnings to media pursuing Markle or her family, it clearly wasn’t enough. (Even in the latest scandal, they still pushed for reporters to go easy on Markle Sr, before ultimately announcing that he won’t attend.)
Markle Sr. claims that he didn’t take the photographs for the money. Whatever it was that persuaded him to cooperate, it soured the happy-families narrative of the wedding, and proved that the royals cannot control their own story.
Though many of the trends which trouble legacy publications – falling circulations, competition online, declining trust in the media – are doubtless taking their toll, this incident proves that their power to influence events is by no means extinguished.