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Prince Charles to walk Markle down aisle after dad drops out
[WINDSOR, United Kingdom] Meghan Markle will begin her walk down the aisle on her own when she marries Prince Harry before being joined by his father Prince Charles, officials said on Friday after a last-minute upset when her own dad pulled out.
The US actress confirmed with sadness on Thursday that Thomas Markle would not be escorting her as planned, after he underwent a heart operation and became mired in a row over staged press photos.
Despite speculation that Ms Markle's mother Doria Ragland could step in, the palace said the bride had asked her future father-in-law to perform the role in Saturday's ceremony at Windsor Castle.
"The Prince of Wales is pleased to be able to welcome Ms Markle to the royal family in this way," a spokesman for Kensington Palace added.
It later emerged that Ms Markle will begin walking down the aisle at St George's Chapel on her own, followed by six bridesmaids and four pageboys, before being joined by Charles, the heir to the throne.
The bride and groom were spotted arriving at Windsor Castle on Friday afternoon to join her mother for tea with Queen Elizabeth II.
It was Ms Ragland's first meeting with the monarch, but she had met Charles and his wife Camilla after flying in earlier this week from Los Angeles.
In the weeks running up to the wedding, organisers appear to have been caught off guard by the chaos surrounding the family of the bride-to-be.
Thomas Markle complained about being hounded by the paparazzi at his home in Mexico before he staged his own photos. It was apparently in a bid to control his own image, but it backfired badly and left him exposed.
Two of his children - Meghan's half-siblings, who have not been invited - have also caused a stir by repeatedly speaking out about her in the media, and not always in the most flattering terms.
"Kensington Palace has missed a trick with the whole family," royal biographer Penny Junor told AFP, saying it might have been prudent to invite them.
"They are very ordinary people, the Markles, leading very ordinary lives - and totally ill-prepared for what has hit them."
Despite the pre-ceremony fiasco, Ms Meghan was smiling as she arrived for Thursday's dress rehearsal involving military marches and a dry-run of the carriage procession after the wedding that will whisk the couple around Windsor to greet the crowds.
In east London, the Violet Bakery was on Friday applying finishing touches to the wedding cake, an "ethereal" lemon and elderflower creation.
Ingredients for the cake, which will be assembled at Windsor on Saturday, include 200 Amalfi lemons, 500 eggs and 10 bottles of elderflower cordial.
Details about Ms Markle's wedding dress remain a closely-guarded secret, and will not be revealed until the bride arrives for the service.
She and her mother will spend Friday night together at the Cliveden House Hotel, set amid an expansive country estate 30 minutes drive from Windsor Castle, while Harry will stay with his brother Prince William - his best man - at the nearby Coworth Park hotel.
Security forces have transformed the picturesque town of Windsor into an impregnable fortress.
Every nook and cranny has been scoured and every imaginable security measure deployed to guarantee the safety of the royal couple and the tens of thousands of spectators set to flood the streets.
Guests include Queen Elizabeth and her 96-year-old husband Prince Philip, who will attend despite recently undergoing hip surgery, as well as celebrities including Markle's former co-stars in the hit US television series "Suits".
Diehard royalists have already started camping out in the town to secure the best viewing spots along the carriage route, with dozens expected to sleep on the streets overnight.
"I came here on Wednesday with all my friends," Sam Perez, 50, from New York, told AFP outside the castle gates where he had set up camp.
"We're going to party tonight," he added.
"The people from the town, they're really, really good, they bring coffee, cookies, hot tea. That's nice."
Despite the rocky build-up, at least Britain's unpredictable weather looks set to behave, with a forecast for clear skies and mild temperatures.
"We brought chairs, tarpaulins in case it will rain, we brought activities, word search books, sudoku, and for at night we have emergency blankets to try to keep us warm," said one happy camper, 49-year-old Peggy Desmond.
"And of course my white gloves to wear for the wedding and I've got a tiara."