As far as I can tell from a Google search, the best that can be said about the town of Rosarito on the Pacific Coast of Mexico is that it looks like a south-of-the-border Gold Coast, and for years it was a haven for American retirees looking to live out their sunset years in close proximity to cheap beer.
That all changed in 2016 when Rosarito won a place in the most exciting new royal storyline since Diana, Princess of Wales learnt how to use a fax machine.
The daughter of one of the town’s residents, an actress from a cable dramedy, had caught the eye of a prince, and faster than headline writers could start finding synonyms for “fairytale”, the press had descended on the Baja Peninsula to chase down the town’s new star resident.
It was, in hindsight, a brief, giddy interlude in the relationship between Meghan Markle, Suits star and owner of a painfully unoriginal blog, and one Prince Harry, Mayfair nightclub habituée turned dedicated royal trooper and official good ‘un.
The dream was over even before their wedding cake crumbs had been cleaned up, with the newlyweds soon estranged from both their various relatives.
And it’s at this point I’m bringing out the “double standard” bullhorn to do a spot of excitable yelling and arm-waving.
Here we have two remarkably similar situations – relations who have peevishly gone public with family grievances, appearing in paid outings to lay bare their hurts and thus utterly breaching their loved one’s privacy, only to then illogically demand a rapprochement with said relatives.
This is what happened in the case of Thomas versus lip-quivering daughter Meghan, and this is what happened in the case of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, their empire of hurt feelings and the royal family.
But in only one of these instances is there an expectation that the wronged party should get over all their family members’ disloyalty; only one of these parties is expected to forgive and forget, her refusal to do so used as a cudgel to repeatedly criticise her.
Meanwhile, in the other instance, their stiff-backed unwillingness to admit even a smidgen of wrongdoing is read as them being stoic and strong, as them refusing to capitulate to emotional blackmail.
Guess which is which.
This week was Thomas Markle’s 79th birthday, a moment marked not by some touching gluten-free muffin basket winging its way from Montecito south but by the Daily Mail’s Richard Kay using it as an opportunity to take a swipe at the Sussexes.
“Five birthdays have come and gone for Thomas Markle since he last spoke to his daughter,” Kay writes, like a man secretly hoping for a call from Mills & Boon.
“Of all the broken relationships that have marked Meghan and Prince Harry’s life since their split from the Royal Family, the cruellest, surely, is how they discarded the duchess’s father.
“Not only has he never met his son-in-law, but he has also been robbed of his role as grandfather to Archie and Lilibet.”
This is just the latest instance of some of those in the British media especially who seem remarkably ready to buy Thomas’ innocent naive retiree routine – that he was some unsophisticated goober who, back in 2016, was trapped in the maw of the world’s press and a man who only staged paparazzi photos for cash in some misguided attempt to wrest back control.
Also in the Daily Mail, Jan Moir has previously described him as having the “the air of a rumpled old bear with a thorn in its paw; someone who deep down is puzzled and hurt”.
“It’s a mystery why media-loathing Harry didn’t do more to protect his father-in-law, instead of leaving him to cope,” Moir wrote.
“Thomas Markle has made some mistakes, but even now it is hard to see what he did that was so unforgivable his daughter has cut him out of her life so completely.”
Then there is the Mail’s Dan Wootton, currently facing his own issues, who has repeatedly castigated the duchess over her attitude towards Daddy Dearest.
Thomas, Wootton has written, “lives in hope that one day his daughter will end the estrangement before his death, which he openly predicts will come in the next three years.”
(When Markle appeared on Australian 60 Minutes earlier this year, Wootton tweeted, “So glad Thomas Markle is getting his voice back”, like he was some sort of falsely imprisoned Iranian women’s rights activist, not a retiree who probably has half the world’s breakfast TV shows’ numbers stored in his phone and his own YouTube channel).
You get the gist here.
Rumpled Thomas is, if you subscribe to Moir, Wootton and Kay’s thinking, more sinned against than sinning. (With apologies to King Lear fans).
Meghan, this argument goes, should stop “robbing” her “discarded” father of spending precious time with his grandchildren and her intransigence on the matter only confirms her emotional cruelty and cold bloodedness.
(For the record, I could not disagree more vehemently with the above).
The closest I can find to Thomas apologising is him saying in 2021, “I’d like to say sorry for what I’ve done but this was two years ago. I’ve tried to make up for it,” while also issuing the threat, “if I don’t hear from them in 30 days, I’ll do another [interview] … When they decide to talk to me, I’ll stop talking to the press”.
I’d argue that isn’t exactly a real apology for his willingness to turn his daughter’s marriage into a money-spinner, added to which, for years now he has done more TV interviews than Fergie with a new line of juicers to sell. A few noteworthy comments – describing Harry as “whipped” and an “idiot”.
What a charmer.
Which is to say that ol’ Markle is about as blameless here as Prince Philip was willing to try kundalini yoga of a weekend.
And yet throughout all of this, le grand debacle d’Thomas has been held up as a failing of Meghan’s rather than a mess that involved an adult man making sulky, bitter and misogynistic comments about family members. The fault for the ongoing schism between father and daughter is her fault, supposedly, if you spend much time reading certain writers.
And yet where is the same attitude when it comes to King Charles, William and Kate? Are we regularly treated to impassioned pieces demanding that they forgive the Sussexes for having taken their family drama and turned it into a Netflix hit?
Do they often face leading columnists and writers penning lengthy pieces detailing how their refusal to overlook Harry and Meghan’s large-scale breaching of their privacy makes them look like huge meanies?
Of course not.
Meghan and Harry not excusing Thomas and welcoming him with open arms is just held up as proof of how selfish and unfeeling they are – and yet when the royal family does exactly the same thing, it is presented as being morally superior and virtuous and oh-so-strong.
Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.