WASHINGTON -- You can have your royal wedding, your princess bride, your pomp and your circumstance. For a real love story, I’m going with Thomas Markle.
As in the father of Meghan Markle, former actress and now bride of Prince Harry.
Last week, in anticipation of Saturday’s royal wedding, tabloid history surpassed itself while “fake news” was displaced by a fake paparazzo. Throughout drips of gossip and shifting tales of family drama, royal watchers were mesmerized by the story of Thomas Markle’s failed photo ruse, his on-again-off-again plans to walk his daughter down the aisle, his heart surgery and, ultimately, his cancelled trip to London.
While some criticized him for allegedly trying to profit from his daughter’s rather good fortune, I saw only a man who wanted to make his daughter proud. His was the story that touched the heart of this father’s daughter.
It is entirely possible that I’m projecting my own experience and love for my own father, who on Friday would have turned 94. But even reconciling that understanding -- and despite never having met Mr. Markle -- another narrative is at least as likely as the unflattering one extant.
What happened: Markle’s other daughter, Samantha Markle, has said that she dreamed up the idea for her dad to commission staged photographs as a way to counter real paparazzi photos that recently had displayed him as a disheveled bohemian eating and drinking. If ever there were a caricature of the least likely father of a girl about to become Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter-in-law, one would be hard pressed to find one.
Then again, Americans are suckers for a pauper-to-prince story. Now we have an actress-to-princess story to rival that of Grace Kelly’s 1956 marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco. As the world turns, so do we -- away from class and racial distinctions, if sometimes in theory more than practice, and diversity has become our middle name.
We did, after all, elect an African-American, twice, to lead the country -- a baby step, perhaps, in the longitudinal scheme of things but nonetheless historical and noteworthy. Someday a woman or other minority will assume the office. Every few years, we reset precedent with our presidents, it seems. The current White House occupant -- thrice-married and you know the rest -- certainly is a new take on “presidential.”
The real paparazzi photos that Thomas Markle had no doubt hoped to eclipse with his own staged versions showed him at less than his Sunday best. In various shots, he was shown buying beer and cigarettes, sipping red wine at a bar, picking up takeout. British outlets probably paid handsomely for the unflattering snapshots, no doubt because they conveyed that the new Duchess of Sussex doesn’t exactly hail from aristocracy.
Two thoughts come to mind: One, though we tune in for epic dramas where kings and queens still reign, we don’t cotton to royals or aristocracy here in the U.S. One could say we made that point rather bloodily clear a few centuries ago. And, two, who hasn’t shuffled out to a corner store wearing jeans and an untucked shirt to grab a six-pack and some cigs? (Piffle, I say, if you say you haven’t.) Surely, the adventurous Prince Harry, who has ditched his royal pretensions a time or two in the past, wouldn’t deny such an errand.
So, Thomas Markle (or Samantha) conspired with a photographer who pretended he was a paparazzo and shot dear ol’ dad in various staged vignettes -- working out to get in shape for the big event, getting fitted for his wedding suit, flipping through a book about English houses and customs, and looking at a photo of his daughter and Prince Harry on a public computer screen.
In retrospect, a paparazzo would have needed the aid of supernatural intercessionaries to capture so many “spontaneous” events. But in my fairy tale, Markle wasn’t trying to profit via his soon-to-be-royal daughter. He was reinventing himself as the better man his Meghan made him want to be. By creating images over which he did have some control, perhaps he was projecting how he sees himself. To me, they were valentines to his daughter -- and heartbreakingly dear.
So, cheers to you, Mr. Markle. Here’s hoping your heart mends soon and that you live happily ever after.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.