Meghan's uncle reveals how the strong women in his family - including her hippy bride mother with flowers in her hair - nurtured strong no-nonsense values in Harry's future wife
It could not be further removed from the grandeur of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.?
While Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are planning their wedding – expected to attract a global TV audience of one billion – The Mail on Sunday can today reveal the extraordinary New Age nuptials of Meghan's parents Tom and Doria.
The pair married on December 23, 1979 at the wacky Self-Realisation Fellowship Temple on gaudy Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.?
The faux-Indian temple adorned with gold orb-topped turrets, stone elephants and plastic Buddhas is a stone's throw from where Hugh Grant was infamously caught with prostitute Divine Brown.
Meghan Markle's parents Tom and Doria (pictured) married on December 23, 1979 at the wacky Self-Realisation Fellowship Temple on gaudy Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles
'A fresh new day… and it is ours,' read the opening line of their wedding invitation, with the promise of 'happy beginnings when we, Doria Loyce Ragland and Thomas Wayne Markle unite our love as one'.?
'It was a lovely wedding but not conventional at all,' said Meghan's uncle Joseph Johnson, 68, last night as he opened up Meghan's family photo album for the first time.
'Doria was very young, just 23, but looked much younger. She had tiny white flowers in her hair.?
'We were happy that she was happy. It's almost unbelievable to think our Meghan, our Flower, is about to marry into the Royal Family.'
While much has been written about Tom, 73, a retired award-winning Hollywood lighting director, and Doria, 61, a yoga instructor who Meghan calls 'her inspiration', very little has been known about the maternal side of the family who, Joseph says, 'truly' raised Prince Harry's future bride.
Both Doria and her mother Jeanette got divorced while their children were young, and while Meghan's father Tom remained in her life, his 'crazy' work hours meant the burden of raising her fell to the women in the family.
The faux-Indian temple adorned with gold orb-topped turrets, stone elephants and plastic Buddhas where they got married (pictured) is a stone's throw from where Hugh Grant was infamously caught with prostitute Divine Brown
'Meghan was raised by her mother and grandmother, two beautiful, strong black women who instilled in her a sense of self-belief.
'These days a lot of women flaunt their sexuality. Meghan is an exception to that rule. She's not someone who uses their looks to get ahead.
'She is beautiful on the outside but she was raised to believe it's what's on the inside that counts.'
Today, The Mail on Sunday can reveal Meghan's maternal grandmother was Jeanette Ragland, who was raised in poverty in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of a hotel bellhop and a mother who made her living as a lift operator ('she pressed the buttons') at a 'fancy whites-only hotel'.
It was Jeanette and Doria who helped the future Suits actress 'believe she could be anything and achieve anything', her uncle claims.
And we can reveal that the family suffered 'appalling' racism – once being hounded out of a Texan town at night in the middle of a snowstorm – a painful history which, her uncle says 'helped shape Meghan into the strong, powerful, independent woman' she is today.?
'It was a lovely wedding but not conventional at all,' said Meghan's uncle Joseph Johnson (pictured), 68, last night as he opened up Meghan's family photo album for the first time. He is pictured with his wife of 37 years Pamela?
Joseph, a softly spoken retired sign painter, met me at a modest hotel near the bungalow he shares with his wife of 37 years Pamela, a social worker.
The couple have three adult sons. He calls himself 'a simple man' and says he feels 'awkward' his family has been thrust into the limelight: 'We're just regular folks.'
They live in Fresno, California, a four-hour drive but a world away from the bright lights of Hollywood where Meghan was raised in middle class comfort in the suburb of Woodland Hills in a home Tom, an Emmy-award winning lighting director, bought shortly before Meghan was born in 1981.?
After Tom and Doria divorced when Meghan was six, they remained amicable but it was a 'backbone' of strong matriarchs which, Joseph says, turned Meghan into the woman she is today.
'Culturally our family did not have male figures around,' Joseph says.?
'The women were the ones left to raise the children. And Meghan was lucky my sister and mother were tough, fair, funny and smart.'
Future royal Meghan Markle is pictured with her mother Doria Ragland?
Doria's grandmother Netty (Meghan's great-grandmother) was married three times.
She worked as a lift operator at the fancy St Regis in Cleveland, a whites-only hotel where she fell in love with James Arnold, a bellboy, who abandoned her soon after the birth of their daughter.
Jeanette, born at the start of the Great Depression in 1929, married Joseph's father, Joseph Snr, when she was in her early 20s.?
Joseph Jnr was born in 1949 and his sister Saundra arrived three years later.
Jeanette struggled to support her two children as a single mother: 'My father was a professional roller skater who toured the country.?
He left and went off to start another family. We moved 20 times in a few years. We were never starving but we were poor.'
When Joseph was six his mother, a Catholic, met charismatic antiques dealer Alvin Ragland, a former Baptist minister.?
The pair immediately fell in love and moved into a basement flat in a three-storey building in Cleveland.
'Alvin didn't know how to be a father,' Joseph says sadly.?
Meghan's mother Doria Ragland was born in September 1956 and, within months, Alvin uprooted the young family and drove across country to LA.?
They were so poor they did not have their own car. Instead, says Joseph, they drove one belonging to someone else: 'Back then people would pay to have someone drive their car from the East to the West Coast.'
It was a grand adventure which came to a grinding halt amid shocking bigotry in Texas.
'We arrived in a small town in the middle of the night in a blizzard. We were cold and hungry but no one would give us a room.?
'We wanted food and shelter but we were turned away because of the colour of our skin.?
'It was the first time I'd experienced racism. I was young but I remember one guy pointing off into the snow saying, 'The highway is that way. Get going. You are not welcome here.'
Though Joseph and Saundra are technically the half-siblings of Doria, they consider themselves 'united, equally loved'.
Meghan's mother Doria is pictured in her 1972 school yearbook from Fairfax High in LA?
Doria's father Alvin divorced Jeanette shortly after they arrived in LA. He later worked as an antiques dealer running a store called 'Twas New and worked Sundays at a stall at a flea market.
'We were raised together. There was an age difference with Doria, she was the youngest, but, like Meghan, she's whip-smart and always wanted more out of life,' says Joseph.
Alvin would later die of a head injury after tripping over his dog's leash.?
While Joseph and his sister went to a school in a predominantly black area of LA, Doria went to Fairfax High, a mostly white, Jewish school which, under US laws of desegregation, began bussing in black pupils from the poorer parts of city in the early 1970s.?
Doria prided herself on her hair – 'a big beautiful Afro'.
After school she worked as a travel agent ('she did that to get reduced-price trips') and as a clothing designer, making her own creations for her company A Change of A Dress.
She also ran an import business for a while, bringing in incense from the Far East.
She then worked as a trainee make-up artist on TV show General Hospital, which brought her into the orbit of Tom Markle, a man 12 years her senior.
He was a divorcee with two children but the couple fell in love and married within six months of meeting in 1979.
'None of the family knew anything about Tom until we got the wedding invitations,' says Joseph.
'The fact that he was white didn't matter. We would have accepted pink, black, brown or red as long as Doria loved him. All that mattered to us was he treated her well.'
The wedding was a wacky affair. At 6ft 3in, bearded and balding Tom, then aged 35 and dressed in a grey jacket and red shirt, towered above his 5ft 2in bride.
Meghan embarked on her first royal visit with fiance Prince Harry (pictured) in Nottingham?
'She wore a simple white dress. My son was the ring-bearer,' Joseph recalls.
Guests walked through a faux-Moorish entrance to the temple. Presiding over the nuptials was 'Brother Bhaktananda' in glowing orange robes.
Born Michael Krull in Pennsylvania, he was ordained a Buddhist priest and took the Sanskrit name Bhaktananda, meaning 'bliss through devotion.'?
The Self-Realisation Fellowship, founded by Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda, preaches 'spirituality and self-knowledge through meditation and Kriya yoga'.
Joseph says his sister 'was fascinated by alternative religions and yoga', an interest Joseph claims she passed on to Meghan although she will now be baptised into the Church of England before marrying Harry next May.
'Meghan is someone open to all cultures and religions,' he says.
When Meghan was born, Joseph says his sister was 'instantly smitten'. 'I saw her look at that baby and it was total love and devotion.?
That same love and devotion exists to this day.' Doria never remarried or had any other children after splitting from Tom.?
Jeanette helped raise Meghan when Doria returned to work after the birth, first as a yoga teacher and then as a social worker.?
A smiling Meghan and Harry are pictured at an event for World AIDs Day in Nottingham on Friday
Doria later went to university as a mature student and obtained a degree in social work.
'Meghan was raised by Doria and my grandmother,' Joseph says. 'We would spend weekends, holidays together. She's always been magical.?
'She was raised in love, never beaten. When I moved to Fresno and Meghan became a teenager we spent less time together.?
'I saw how Doria was raising Meghan and it helped me with my own boys.
'Our mother was a disciplinarian and she spanked us. Doria never spanked Meghan.'
He recalls Meghan as a friendly, inquisitive child who loved cats and 'radiated happiness'. 'Her mum called her Flower and that was the family name for her.'
The last time Joseph spent any time with Meghan was when Jeanette was dying in 2000: 'She lived with us. Meghan and her mum would come up at weekends to give us a break.?
'Meghan would talk to her, hold her hand, do whatever she could for her grandmother. She was very loving. When I look at Meghan now I see my mother very clearly, and my sister,' he adds.
He last spoke to Doria a year ago when she called after the news of Meghan's romance with Harry broke: 'She was just real proud.'
Of his niece making a 'fairy tale' match he says: 'She was raised to believe in herself and she is someone who has grown up moving between two cultures.
'She was raised in our loving family. She was loved by her black family and her white family and learned that love crosses all boundaries.'?
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