So why IS Meghan's dad determined to hide from the world? How Thomas Markle, 73, has changed his phone number and concealed his address to avoid being traced
- Since Meghan's relationship with Harry was revealed father has gone unseen
- The 73-year-old retired TV lighting director has changed his phone numbers
- And even the Prince has not come face to face with his future father-in-law?
Vanishing without trace can’t be easy in this all-seeing, information-driven age — particularly for a pivotal figure in the romance that has captured the world’s imagination.
While we are becoming familiar with Meghan’s yoga-teacher mother, Doria Ragland, 61, who has already been photographed with the couple and is regularly seen strolling around her affluent Los Angeles neighbourhood, Mr Markle (whose 6ft 3in, 20st frame must make it difficult to melt into the background) has gone to inordinate lengths to avoid being traced.
Though more than a year has passed since Meghan Markle’s relationship with Prince Harry was revealed, there has been neither sight nor sound of her father, Thomas(pictured together when Meghan was a child)
The 73-year-old retired TV lighting director has changed his phone numbers, avoided using social media, concealed his address even from members of his family, and urged the handful of trusted friends who know where he is living not to betray his whereabouts.
Indeed, when Harry and Meghan gave their candid first TV interview this week, to mark their engagement, perhaps their most surprising admission was that the Prince has not come face to face with his future father-in-law.
‘He’s talked to my dad a few times; hasn’t been able to meet him just yet,’ said Meghan, a touch awkwardly, without explaining why her fiancé has yet to hop across the Atlantic to become acquainted with the father she adores and who has had such a major influence on her life.
The mystery deepened when it was revealed that Harry had asked Mrs Ragland for her daughter’s hand in person, but requested her father’s permission over the phone.
It gives rise to a number of intriguing questions. Where is the elusive Mr Markle? Why has this enigmatic man concealed his whereabouts so determinedly? After all, placed in his position, many fathers would be singing their joy from the rooftops.
More pertinently, can we expect Mr Markle, a once gregarious Hollywood partygoer who now shies away from social occasions (and has an aversion to wearing a collar and tie) to emerge from the shadows and walk Meghan down the aisle at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, next spring?
If we believe a ‘world exclusive’ story published in a racy Australian magazine, he has removed himself to Sayulita, a remote surfers’ paradise, midway down Mexico’s Pacific Coast.
Quoting a local businessman who claimed to have seen him in the resort a few days earlier, looking older and thinner than he appears in photographs, its reporter even claimed to have located the complex where he rents an apartment.
When Harry and Meghan gave their candid first TV interview this week, to mark their engagement, perhaps their most surprising admission was that the Prince has not come face to face with his future father-in-law. Pictured: The couple in Nottingham on Friday
Given that Meghan once waxed lyrical about this hippie outpost in her now-closed blog (‘Ah sweet Sayulita, with your beautiful beaches, relaxed surfer vibe, and boho-chic sensibility. You are Mexico meets Malibu.’), it seemed convincing.
However, according to Mr Markle’s 78-year-old brother, Michael, it isn’t true. Confirming my own research, he told the Mail that Meghan’s father is 1,400 miles north, in Rosarito Beach, the seaside town to which he decamped after retiring several years ago.
Meghan’s uncle Michael said he imagined Thomas had moved to Mexico ‘because the cost of living is better down there’. He was sure he still lived in Rosarito because he saw him only a few weeks ago, when Thomas drove hundreds of miles up the Pacific coast to visit him in Oregon.
Giving his first interview, Michael, a retired U.S. diplomat, said he last spoke to his brother shortly before the engagement was announced. ‘I think he’s very pleased with the way things are going,’ he said. ‘Who wouldn’t be? It has ensured the Markle name will go down in history. That’s for sure, isn’t it?’
Asked why Meghan’s father was going to such lengths to avoid being found, he gave a reply that will doubtless please the suits at the Palace: ‘Tom is trying to comply with the royal directive to keep a low profile, so that’s where he’s coming from. He doesn’t want to upset the Royal Family.’
We’ll explore Thomas Markle’s life in Mexican purdah shortly. To place his importance to Meghan in context, however, it is worth recalling the unbreakable bond they formed in her childhood.
To place his importance to Meghan in context, however, it is worth recalling the unbreakable bond they formed in her childhood
A bond Meghan movingly described in this Father’s Day tribute, from her shut-down blog: ‘I think of so many moments with my dad. Our club sandwich and fruit smoothie tradition post my tap & ballet class — classes, which by the way, he religiously took me to on Saturday mornings after working 75+ hours a week as a lighting director.
‘The fishing trips along the Kern River and Big Bear Lake to catch catfish or trout and cook it up for dinner, and the commitment he made to lighting my high school musicals so that they felt as grand as a Broadway Show.
‘The blood, sweat and tears this man (who came from so little in a small town in Pennsylvania, where Christmas stockings were filled with oranges, and dinners were potatoes and spam) invested in my future so that I could grow up and have so much.
‘He helped me turn my bathroom into a darkroom when I was 12 because I wanted to be a photographer … he put gas in my car when I went from audition to audition trying to make it as an actress. He is the person who believed in this grand dream of mine well before I could even see it as a possibility.
‘He taught me to write thank you notes, to always arrive early, to drink Arnold Palmers (a non-alcoholic cocktail of lemonade and iced tea popular in the U.S.), to find my light when I’m on camera . . . and beyond. And that, right there, is my point: my dad taught me to find my light.’
So Mr Markle was clearly a wonderful father to Meghan, or ‘Bean’ as he affectionately called her (another pet-name he used was ‘Buckaroo’, a Californian-Spanish word for cowboy).
Yet according to his first wife, Roslyn — who was married to him for seven years before he met Mrs Ragland in the early Seventies — he wasn’t nearly so attentive to their children, Samantha, now 53, and Thomas Junior, 51.
In those days, his career, and hectic showbiz social life, came first, she told me, adding: ‘He wasn’t a family person.’ When Meghan was born, in 1981, he was ‘a changed man’, as Thomas Junior puts it. He would hold his baby daughter up to the mirror so she could see herself in his arms, and took tens of thousands of pictures of her. He has stashed this archive, which must now be worth millions, in a Los Angeles storage unit.
Though Meghan frequently alludes to her happy childhood, their closeness made her half-sister Samantha intensely jealous and created domestic friction, says Meghan’s half-brother Thomas Junior.
Mr Markle’s devotion to his beautiful, gifted daughter didn’t waver after he and Mrs Ragland were divorced in 1987. He obtained shared custody, and would look after her while her mother worked, taking her to film studios and paying for her expensive education.
Meghan also credits her father for instilling a fierce work ethic in her, and for helping her to overcome early difficulties caused by her biracial ethnicity
Meghan also credits her father for instilling a fierce work ethic in her, and for helping her to overcome early difficulties caused by her biracial ethnicity and learn to embrace her background. (She also strongly resembles him and has inherited his distinctively upturned ‘Markle nose’.)
According to friends from those days, however, he was prone to bouts of melancholy, and when Meghan went away to university, in Illinois, he missed her so badly that his dark moods worsened. He filled the void by throwing himself into his work, for which he won acclaim and a string of awards. Mr Markle must have been delighted when — after a brief spell as an intern at the U.S. embassy in Argentina — Meghan returned to LA to begin an acting career; then, in her early 20s, settled down with Trevor Engelson, a hotshot producer who would become her first husband.
But the marriage was short-lived, and in 2011 her starring role in the soap series Suits forced her to spend much of her time in Toronto. She saw her father as often as possible, but LA is five hours away by plane, and a demanding filming schedule — not to mention a social whirl with a new circle of high-powered Canadian friends — limited their time together.
Meghan’s new life in Toronto began in the same year that she lost her much-loved paternal grandmother, Doris, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. For many months before she died, in a nursing home, she and her father would visit her together every weekend.
Her move to Canada also coincided with her father’s retirement. So, with little to detain him in Los Angeles, he sub-let his shabby apartment opposite a film studio, arranged for his mail to be delivered to a PO Box address, and went down Mexico way.
Rosarito Beach is home to a good many retired American ex-pats, and they move there for a variety of reasons.
Spacious beach-front houses can be rented for ￡800 a month; food and drink are remarkably cheap and the weather is balmy all the year round.
However, a sizeable number of Americans disappear to this sprawling city, half an hour from the U.S. border, to escape debts, criminal charges or other problems. Since official record-keeping is lax, many don’t register for a residency card and live there anonymously. With its glorious beaches, glitzy bars, restaurants and casinos, it might seem like Shangri-La — but behind the main strip there is a dangerous underbelly.
For the past decade, Rosarito Beach has been gripped by a bloody war between rival drug gangs which frequently spills over into supposedly peaceful residential areas. Last year it had one of Mexico’s highest murder rates, with 80 victims in a population of only 60,000.
It means people tend not to pry into the business of others; which perfectly suits Meghan’s solitary father. ‘You can hide in Rosarito, definitely — especially if you want to escape attention!’ laughed one resident, Manuel Mendez, 60. ‘Mexicans don’t pay attention to the British Royal Family, so even if they knew who Thomas was, they wouldn’t bother him.’
When Mr Markle first moved there, his son told me, he lived in a complex beside the landmark Rosarito Beach Hotel, which was once favoured by Hollywood stars such as Rita Hayworth, but has seen better days.
However, Thomas Junior says, his father guarded his privacy fiercely even before Meghan met Prince Harry, and when Thomas Snr discovered that a neighbour had also worked in the LA film industry he quickly moved to a clifftop a few miles down the coast. By the time I went there a few months ago, it was empty and derelict. For reasons unknown, Mr Markle had again done a flit.
Father and son are believed to be estranged, at least partly because Thomas Senior disapproves of Thomas Junior talking about Meghan to the Press.
I am also told Mr Markle is not in contact with his daughter Samantha — who is writing a tell-all book called Diary Of Princess Pushy’s Sister — although she was at pains to suggest otherwise in a TV interview this week.
Before this fractured family came to prominence, however, Thomas Junior says he visited his father in Mexico, and gave me a glimpse of his lifestyle. His dad, he says, often sleeps until the afternoon, spends his days reading, watching TV news and old films, playing slot machines or ambling around. His son says he has gained weight by his junk-food diet.
He doesn’t swim, fish, sail or surf like many on that coast: his only hobbies are photography and travel. He has a fascination with Asian culture, he says, and has visited Thailand and Vietnam.
Though Meghan’s father declared himself bankrupt in California last year, with credit card debts of ￡24,181 and savings of just ￡160, and has been the subject of four legal claims in the past 20 years for unpaid tax bills, his son says he has a good-sized pension and is by no means on his uppers. Yet the overall impression is of a sometimes baleful and lonely man.
‘It has been hard for him,’ Thomas Junior told me. ‘Dad is not taking to his retirement well. He has not only lost his work. He has lost his status and whole social circle. That takes a big adjustment. (But) my dad is the strong, silent type. There is no way in the world he’d talk about it.’
According to Michael, one of three Markle brothers (the other, Frederick, 75, is a bishop, in Florida) Thomas Senior suffers some ‘minor’ ailments, but nothing more than one might expect for a man of his age. Certainly nothing so serious that it might keep him from giving Meghan away in front of a TV audience next year that could run into billions.
During their recent conversations, Michael said Thomas had left no doubt that he would escort Meghan down the aisle.
Thomas Junior is also sure his father wouldn’t miss the big day, saying he will be ‘the proudest man in church’. Mr Markle’s first wife, Rosalyn concurs. ‘He’ll be there in the chapel with a tear running down his cheek,’ she assured me.
As we await our first glimpse of the elusive Mr Markle (and Prince Harry does likewise), this is heartening news indeed.?
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