WINDSOR: Ending days of speculation, Meghan Markle said Thursday that her father will not be able to attend her wedding to Prince Harry due to health problems. The news came as British military personnel rehearsed for a gala procession through Windsor that will follow Saturday's ceremony, which will be televised live around the world.
"Sadly, my father will not be attending our wedding," Markle said in a statement. "I have always cared for my father and hope he can be given the space he needs to focus on his health."
Markle also thanked "everyone who has offered generous messages of support" and said she and Harry are looking forward to "sharing our special day with you on Saturday."
Kensington Palace has not revealed any details about Thomas Markle's health issues, but the celebrity website TMZ says the 73-year-old retired Hollywood cinematographer is hospitalized in California after undergoing a procedure to clear blocked coronary arteries. He reportedly told the website he was OK after three stents had been inserted, but needed to rest.
Thomas Markle had been scheduled to walk his daughter down the aisle when she weds her prince Saturday in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
No replacement for him as been officially named but it's possible that Doria Ragland, the bride's mother, could fill that role instead. The bride may also choose to walk down the aisle by herself.
Ragland has had a series of whirlwind visits with senior royals since her arrival from California.
She met Harry's brother, Prince William, and his wife Kate and their two oldest children, Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 3, at Windsor Castle on Thursday afternoon. Palace officials said Harry and Meghan Markle were also present, and that the meeting was followed by a rehearsal dinner.
Ragland also had tea with Harry's father, Prince Charles, and his wife Camilla the day before. She will meet Harry's grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, for tea Friday at Windsor Castle, the palace said.
Officials did not say if Prince Philip, the queen's husband, will be present at the tea. He is recovering from hip replacement surgery.
Harry and Markle, who have remained out of the public eye in recent days, were spotted being driven onto the grounds of Windsor Castle on Thursday afternoon.
On the streets of Windsor, military personnel rehearsed their procession through the town, watched by thousands of enthusiastic royal fans.
The wedding day festivities will include a 25-minute carriage ride outside the grounds of Windsor Castle by the newlyweds after the ceremony. More than 2,600 members of the public have been invited onto the castle grounds to watch the procession.
Thursday's practice session aimed to work out the precise timings of Saturday's procession. The British pride themselves on carrying off complex parades with aplomb, and it would not do for the couple to arrive at their wedding reception even a few minutes late.
"It's very important to have a dress rehearsal, for everyone involved. It gives the guys a sense of timings for the day, how fast they need to move, how slow they need to move. It also helps the horses themselves, showing them the environment," said Adam Blackmore-Heale, a member of the Household Cavalry.
A large military contingent is taking part in the procession, reflecting Harry's years of military service, including tours in Afghanistan.
The church service will be conducted by the Rev. David Conner, the dean of Windsor. He said Thursday that Harry and Markle are deeply committed to each other.
"They're very serious about their relationship and that's why I think they particularly want to see it grounded in a religious ceremony, in a Christian ceremony," he said.
Doubts about whether Markle's father would come to the wedding surfaced earlier in the week when TMZ reported he would not come because he was embarrassed by reports that he had staged photos showing him being measured for his wedding suit. That story also included a report that he had suffered a recent heart attack.
The drama surrounding Thomas Markle, and harsh comments about the bride made by estranged members of her extended family who were not invited to the wedding, have dominated British tabloid coverage of the royal wedding.
Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine on Thursday castigated Harry's Kensington Palace press operation for not doing more to prevent Markle's relatives from sniping at her.
"Could they not have taken at least a few steps to get them on-side?" she said.