WINDSOR: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding this weekend was on Tuesday overshadowed by reports her father may not attend the ceremony following a paparazzi scandal, rocking the royal family's meticulous planning for the landmark occasion.
Kensington Palace, the official residence of the couple, pleaded in a statement for "understanding and respect" during a "difficult situation" as US media reported Thomas Markle had suffered a heart attack after fallout from allegedly staging paparazzi photos of himself.
According to celebrity news website TMZ, he 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 the wedding, but issued a 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."
'Positive photos' -
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.
It said he had suffered a heart attack last week due to stress following the episode 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 and his ex-wife, Doria Ragland, would be a good choice to walk her down the aisle in his place, according to TMZ.
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 it was her suggestion that Thomas Markle pose in the photoshoot.
She said the "positive photos" were intended to combat his "bad" portrayal in the press, and reiterated it was not done for money.
The images, showing him 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.
A source close to Thomas Markle, cited by TMZ, said he was convinced to pose for the shots after being hounded by the paparazzi. He is now said to feel "like a total fool" who has been "scammed".
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 overshadowed by Markle's relatives on her father's side, who have been barred from Saturday's nuptials following unwelcome stories of bust-ups, heavy drinking -- and even an arrest.
Thomas Markle Junior, half-brother of the bride-to-be, has accused the couple of shunning her father's family, writing in an April 26 open letter that "it's not too late" for Harry to call off the wedding.
The US actress, who grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, 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 is enjoying retired life in Mexico.
She once said years ago that she and her father were not "on the best of terms" but more recently has publicly expressed her love for him in a 2016 Instagram message declaring, "Your hugs are still the very best in the whole wide world."
He had been due to arrive in Britain this week to "spend time" with 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, ahead of the ceremony at St George's Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle.
Ragland, who has reportedly already arrived in Britain, is expected to be at her daughter's side during the build-up to the wedding, travelling with her by car to Windsor Castle for the wedding.