Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding this weekend was in turmoil today following reports her father may not attend after a paparazzi scandal, rocking the royal family's meticulous planning for the landmark occasion.
Kensington Palace pleaded in a statement for "understanding and respect" during a "difficult situation" as US media reported Thomas Markle had suffered a heart attack brought on by the fallout from allegedly staging paparazzi photos of himself.According to celebrity news website TMZ, he had decided against travelling from his home in Mexico to accompany his daughter down the aisle at Windsor Castle due to his health -- and to spare her further embarrassment.
Kensington Palace did not confirm whether Markle senior had pulled out of Saturday's wedding at St George's Chapel in the castle's grounds, but issued the statement hinting all was not well.
"This is a deeply personal moment for Ms Markle in the days before her wedding," it said.
"She and Prince Harry ask again for understanding and respect to be extended to Mr Markle in this difficult situation."
The palace could not be reached for further comment.
Thomas Markle told TMZ he had agreed to pose for a paparazzi photo shoot in a bid to rehabilitate his image, rather than for money, but that he now regretted the move.
The images -- in which he was being measured for a suit and admiring a photo of the future royal couple on his computer -- sold for $100,000 (83,000 euros/£74,000) according to British tabloid the Daily Mirror.
TMZ said he had suffered a heart attack last week due to stress and that he was continuing to suffer from chest pains.
Markle senior said he had not heard from his daughter since the revelations broke, and that her mother -- his ex-wife Doria Ragland -- would be a good choice to walk her down the aisle in his place, according to the website.
Meanwhile, Meghan Markle's half-sister Samantha Grant, who has criticised the bride-to-be's relationship with her father's side of the family, reportedly tweeted that she proposed he pose in the "positive photos" to combat his "bad" portrayal in the press.
Speaking to the Good Morning Britain TV show on Tuesday, she said the episode had taken a toll on his health.
"I don't know as of today what his plans are, but there's a very real concern," she said.
Markle's gaffe-prone American family has been sending royal courtiers into something of a spin by airing its dirty laundry in public.
Kensington Palace had been at pains to project a sense of serenity around preparations for the big day, regularly announcing minor planning details -- from the type of carriage the couple will ride to who will bake their wedding cake.
But they have been clouded by Thomas Markle's relatives, who have not been invited to Saturday's nuptials following unwelcome stories of bust-ups, heavy drinking -- and even an arrest.
Thomas Markle Junior, Meghan Markle's half-brother, accused the couple of shunning them in an April open letter.
The US actress grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills and remains close with her parents, who divorced three decades ago.
She had been due to be walked up the aisle by her 73-year-old father, an Emmy-winning Hollywood lighting director of Dutch-Irish descent who retired to Mexico.
In her late teens, Meghan Markle reportedly said she and her father were not "on the best of terms" but more recently has publicly expressed her love for him.
He had been due to arrive in Britain this week to meet Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, alongside the bride-to-be's mother Doria Ragland, a 61-year-old yoga instructor and clinical therapist.
They were also to have met Harry's father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne.
'Not so awful'
Ragland, who has reportedly already arrived in Britain, is expected to be at her daughter's side ahead of the wedding, travelling with her by car to the wedding.
On Tuesday, Americans in Windsor ahead of the nuptials were sympathetic to their compatriot.
"It's disappointing for her," said Jean Rice, 48, from Orlando.
"But things happen. I hope they're happy."
Karen Yaney, 64, from Chicago, said she hoped Markle's father would attend.
"Staging those photos, that didn't seem so awful. I imagine she's on the phone with him trying to persuade him to come," she added.