He’s been spotted at the sprawling Pabellón Rosarito shopping mall and at Peter Piper Pizza. Elsewhere along the coastal strip that spans Tijuana and Rosarito Beach, Thomas Markle has patronized a taco shop, purchased beer, and ordered a take-out sandwich at a local café.
These days, no detail of Markle’s life is too small for the paparazzi who come knocking on the door of his house overlooking the Pacific Ocean and follow his tracks to nearby businesses. Hard as he has tried, Markle cannot escape the limelight: His daughter, the former actress Meghan Markle, is preparing to marry into the British royal family on May 19.
The British press depict Prince Harry’s future father-in-law as a shy and reclusive man, and there’s a question of whether he will walk her down the aisle of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, or deliver a father-of-the bride speech.
He has not been giving interviews: “No comment, kids, thank you,” Markle told staff from the London tabloid the Sun, when they trailed him to a convenience store near his Baja California residence, and reported his purchase of three packs of cigarettes.
Markle’s life in Baja California is worlds away from Buckingham Palace, and the less formal lifestyle here seems better suited to the 73-year-old former soap opera lighting director. He makes his home in a quiet gated community overlooking the Pacific Ocean, one of a string of expatriate enclaves that line the toll road from Tijuana to Ensenada.
“He’s an extremely laid back man, with a very nice vibe,” said Estefanía Villareal, owner of a coffee shop in a small strip mall near his house. “He always tries to speak Spanish, he says ‘gracias, por favor,’ very basic things.”
At the taco shop next door, taquero Israel González could not place Markle’s name one afternoon last week, but his face lit up as he recognized his customer from a photograph.
Markle walks in with a smile, is friendly with staff, and always leaves a good tip, González said.
“He seems very nice, very unpretentious; it doesn’t matter to him if you’re rich or if you’re poor,” González said. “Just imagine, that one day he’ll be the father-in-law of the British prince, and he interacts with us.”
A former actress who starred in the television legal drama series “Suits,” Meghan Markle has spoken fondly about her father. A recent article in Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reports that in her now-deleted lifestyle blog, the Tig, she recalled how her father would find the time to take her to her Saturday ballet class, despite working 75 hours a week. He took her on trips to Big Bear Lake and helped with the lighting of her high school musical shows, the article said.
In a 2016 article in Elle UK, the actress wrote about her biracial identity: “half black, and half white”
“Growing up in a homogeneous community in Pennsylvania, the concept of marrying an African-American woman was not on the cards for my dad,” she wrote. “But he saw beyond what was put in front of him in that small-sized (and, perhaps, small-minded) town. … He wanted me to find my own truth.”
Thomas Markle worked as lighting director on the set of the soap opera “General Hospital” and the 1980s sitcom “Married With Children.” He was also a lighting consultant for another television sitcom, “The Facts of Life.”
He is long divorced from Meghan Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, a social worker and yoga instructor. But the two issued a joint statement following their daughter’s engagement in November. “Our daughter has always been a kind and loving person. To see her union with Harry, who shares the same qualities, is a source of great joy for us parents.”
Today, the 73-year-old Markle is one of thousands of U.S. retirees who live or vacation in Baja California, many of them in the enclaves that dot the coastline from Tijuana to Rosarito Beach. They say the area gives them an affordable and peaceful oceanfront lifestyle within easy reach of Southern California, allowing them to cross for doctor’s appointments and shopping excursions.
“We’ve had a lot of bad press, but I’d rather live here than Los Angeles or San Bernardino,” said Donna Wilson, a retired school teacher originally from Nebraska. “Living here is a lot more like the Midwest than Southern California. People wave when you walk by.”
For those eager for activity and connections, there are numerous ways to get involved. Members of the expat community support the Rosarito Beach Red Cross, and have formed a Friends of the Library chapter. They volunteer in local orphanages, take painting classes, go on wine tours, put on English-language plays, and are known to frequent certain bars and restaurants.
Gil Sperry, editor of the Baja Times and organizer of the annual Rosarito Beach Mariachi Festival, is one who tried to track down the father of the woman expected to be named Duchess of Sussex.
Last month, Sperry accompanied a German journalist trying to nab an interview.
Sperry said that when he knocked on Markle’s door, nobody answered. But immediately, a separate camera crew leaped out of a nearby car to capture any action. “We probably saw four or five people in the car trying to get an angle on this before the wedding,” Sperry said.
Although Thomas Markle may command headlines across the Atlantic, his daughter’s upcoming marriage has drawn only mild interest here. And with foreign media on the prowl, those who know him are feeling protective.
“He hasn’t been coming around because you guys are chasing after him, poor guy,” said Villareal, the coffee shop owner.
Dibble writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.