Meghan Markle has reportedly pleaded with her father to reconsider walking her down the aisle after he apparently pulled out of Saturday's wedding because of the faked photographs row.
Friends said the bride-to-be was distraught after troubled Thomas Markle, 73, said he wanted to save her further embarrassment, following reports that he colluded with a paparazzi photographer to stage a series of pictures in the run-up to the wedding, reports the Daily Mail.
A friend of Miss Markle, 36, and her fiancé, Prince Harry, told the Mail that she was standing by her father and pleaded for understanding, saying he was "not in a good place".
The friend said: "This is not what she wants. She obviously wants her dad there. And the idea of contemplating him not being there now is not something that she wants to have to do.
"She and Prince Harry are begging for people to give him some space. They have been saying this for weeks, while trying to offer him support and help. He is clearly feeling under immense pressure. The concern for him is real and genuine.
"He is a proud man who wants to be a father and not be taken care of, but it's quite difficult. Everyone needs to pause and think what this is doing to them and, more importantly, to him. It is a really worrying, scary situation. The couple have been doing everything they can to help him."
Harry, 33, is said to be blaming himself.
The friend said: "He is devastated. He feels like this is another thing in the wake of him... the problems he causes. He feels that anyone who gets associated with his life – this is the price they have to pay.
"He wants to protect her and this is really difficult for him to swallow."
The couple issued an unprecedented official statement through Kensington Palace last night in the wake of the crisis.
A spokesman said: "This is a deeply personal moment for Ms Markle in the days before her wedding. She and Prince Harry ask again for understanding and respect to be extended to Mr Markle in this difficult situation."
Last night US gossip website TMZ claimed to have spoken "on the record" to Miss Markle's father, who confirmed he had worked with the freelance photographer to set up images of him being measured for his wedding suit and searching online for articles about his daughter.
He said he did it to "rehabilitate" his image but had been left looking "stupid and hammy" – and would not be travelling to the UK to give her away in order to spare her further embarrassment.
Kensington Palace was clearly broadsided by the claims as aides had insisted on Sunday that Mr Markle would be by his daughter's side at Windsor Castle this weekend. TMZ further claimed that Mr Markle – a former award-winning Hollywood lighting director who lives a reclusive life in Mexico and has yet to meet his future son-in-law – confirmed he had been offered money by US-based freelance photographer Jeff Rayner.
But he insisted the "deal" was not "principally" about money. Instead, he wanted to "rehabilitate" his image after pictures had been published of him looking overweight and dishevelled.
The website wrote: "He says since his daughter started dating Prince Harry he's been offered anywhere between $50,000 and $100,000 for interviews and he's turned all of them down. Thomas says the paparazzi agency approached him, offered him money – though nowhere near the reported $100,000 – and he figured there was no harm in it and it would help recast his image. He admits the pics look 'stupid and hammy'. He says he was just going along with the paparazzi agency, which he now deeply regrets."
The website continued: "Meghan's father will not be walking her down the aisle on Saturday... he isn't going to the wedding at all because of the fallout over selling photos of himself."
Mr Markle also told the website that he had suffered a heart attack six days ago but checked himself out of the hospital so he could attend the wedding.
There was no independent confirmation that Mr Markle had been ill, however.
Indeed, six days ago from yesterday he was seen leaving his home in the beachside community of Rosarito, Mexico, and driving to San Diego, just over the US border. According to reports, he stopped for a few hours' sleep and then carried onto LA where he was photographed putting a pot of flowers on the doorstep of his ex-wife, Doria Ragland – Miss Markle's mother.
To add to the confusion, Mr Markle's daughter, Meghan's estranged half-sister Samantha, yesterday claimed that she was 'the culprit' behind the humiliating photograph debacle.
In a bizarre intervention, Samantha said she had advised her father to co-operate with the photographer to show himself – and, strangely, the Royal Family – in a 'positive' light. She also insisted his motive hadn't been money.
One source told the Mail last night that Mr Markle was 'very unwell', adding: 'He is under significant stress.
"There is genuine concern about his safety. His health and safety are paramount [to Meghan]. He is under a huge amount of pressure."
If Miss Markle's father is not at the wedding, it is believed Miss Ragland will walk her down the aisle.