LONDON/WINDSOR, BRITAIN (NYTIMES, REUTERS) - After weeks of media speculation, Meghan Markle confirmed Thursday (May 17) that her father would not be walking her down the aisle Saturday at her wedding to Prince Harry.
Markle, an American actress, released a statement that suggested her father, Thomas Markle, was having health issues.
“I have always cared for my father and hope he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health,” said Markle, who was reportedly estranged from her father after her parents’ divorce. The two had since reconciled, and Thomas Markle was planning to attend his daughter’s wedding.
But he was quickly ensnared in a paparazzi scandal when the Mail on Sunday reported that he had collaborated with a photographer on pictures showing him preparing for the big day, including some of him browsing through a book of photographs of British landmarks.
The celebrity website TMZ reported Monday that Markle decided not to attend the wedding because he did not want to embarrass the royal family or his daughter.
According to the report, Thomas Markle, a 73-year-old former Hollywood lighting director, had planned until the scandal to travel from his home in Mexico to Britain for the ceremony at Windsor Castle despite his heart troubles.
Harry’s first meeting with Thomas Markle was to have taken place this week.
Kensington Palace issued a statement at the time asking for “understanding and respect.” It has not referred to any specific health condition.
Meghan Markle’s statement Thursday immediately spurred public discussion about who would walk her down the aisle instead.
Guesses on Twitter included her mother, Doria Ragland, a yoga instructor and social worker; and Prince Charles, her future father-in-law.
"It must be heartbreaking for them, because her father can't come because he is in poor health," said 46-year-old Maria Scott, who had travelled from Newcastle to camp out in Windsor to get a glimpse of the couple on Saturday.
"It must be really upsetting but I'm sure her mum will do a fine job," Ms Scott told Reuters.
Prince Harry, grandson of Queen Elizabeth and sixth in line to the throne, and Ms Markle, a star in US TV drama Suits, will tie the knot at Windsor Castle, home to the British royal family for nearly 1,000 years.
On Windsor's streets, hundreds of tourists and journalists mingled with dedicated royals fans - some draped with UK flags and holding photographs of Prince Harry and Ms Markle - while armed police patrolled.
Some fans are sleeping out on the street until the wedding, seeking to secure the best positions to see the couple.
"I want them to come through those gates. I want them to look at me, wave and smile," Ms Donna Werner, who flew 4,828km from New Fairfield, Connecticut, to be in Windsor told Reuters.
"That will make it all worthwhile. It really will," said Ms Werner, 66, camped outside the Castle, dressed head-to-toe in a mix of British and US flag-themed attire, including a shirt that read, "Prince Harry, I'm still available. Last chance!"
Windsor, which is dominated by the royal castle, was decorated with swathes of red, white and blue "Union Jack"flags.
Stalls sold Harry and Meghan scarves for 15 pounds (S$27.23) and commemorative caps for 10 pounds.
More than 100,000 people are expected to descend on the town on Saturday. They will have to clear airport-style security before being allowed near the main venue, said Superintendent Jim Weems, the police's tactical commander for the day.
Britain is on its second-highest threat level of severe, meaning an attack by militants is considered highly likely.
Last year, 36 people died in four attacks. Despite the tight security, Supt Weems said there was no particular threat against the wedding.
"There's no intelligence to support that this event is going to be particularly targeted," he told Reuters.
Prince Harry, 33, a former army officer and one-time royal wild child, met his bride-to-be on a blind date in July 2016 after being set up through a mutual friend.
Beyond the pomp of a royal wedding which enthrals millions, the union marries the Hollywood glamour of Ms Markle with one of the royal family's most popular members.
As a divorcee, with a white father and an African-American mother, Ms Markle's background has provided a source of huge interest and comment, not all positive.
The bride-to-be's parents are divorced and while Prince Harry has been pictured with her mother, Ms Doria Ragland, 61, there had been speculation about the relationship with Mr Thomas Markle, a former lighting director for TV soaps and sitcoms.
Thousands of journalists are descending on Windsor, and Mr Thomas Markle told TMZ earlier this week that the media attention had taken its toll.
He said he had been offered up to US$100,000 (S$134,010) for interviews and been ambushed by paparazzi, whose snaps had shown him buying beer and looking dishevelled.
TMZ said he had agreed to the staged pictures, which showed him looking at images of the couple on a computer and being sized up for a suit, because he hoped they would improve his image.
In response to the initial reports on Monday, Kensington Palace said it was "a deeply personal moment for Ms Markle", asking for respect and understanding for her father.