Thomas Markle has laid into Prince Harry in an explosive new interview (Image: 60minuetsAustralia/Twitter)

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He was (once) a shy, retired lighting director from Pennsylvania, while his counterpart is the future King of England.

But Thomas Markle says he has one thing in common with Prince Charles – both fathers have been "ghosted" by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle since they married in 2018.

In a bombshell interview this week, the 78-year-old tore into US TV host Oprah Winfrey, claiming she "took advantage" of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, but saved particular criticism for Prince Harry, saying he was "stupid" and "contradicts himself so much".

The astonishing rant on Australia's 60 Minutes is just the latest barb in the American's long-running feud with the royal couple, despite having never actually met his son-in-law in the flesh.

Infamously absent from the Royal Wedding after suffering a heart attack triggered by "emotional stress", Thomas was urged by the Duke not to speak to the press – a request that appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

Going on to call Harry "rude" and accusing him of failing to protect his daughter, the pair's relationship has appeared strained from the start. Here is how it went so sadly wrong.

'Never raise your hand against my daughter'

Just days after Harry and Meghan announced their engagement, details emerged that Thomas Markle was living a solitary existence on the coast of Mexico.

Little was known about the former actress' father, but his son, Thomas Jr, revealed he was already "hating" the attention sparked by his daughter's upcoming marriage.

"Dad never liked the limelight but since the news came out about Meghan and Harry he's become a total recluse," Thomas Jr told the Daily Mail.

"I haven't seen him in years. He hates the attention Meghan's romance has brought on to him. He loves her but hates the idea of being in the spotlight."

Thomas was initially spooked by the media attention following Harry and Meghan's engagement
(Image: PA)

During the couple's engagement interview, hints of Thomas's estrangement from Meghan were clear as they admitted Harry was yet to meet his future father-in-law.

Speaking later on Good Morning Britain, however, Thomas said the Duke had asked his permission before proposing – and that he gave it with a stern warning.

Describing the moment, Thomas said he told Harry: "You are a gentleman, promise me you will never raise your hand against my daughter and of course I will grant you my permission."

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Regrets over staged paparazzi photos

Controversy swarmed around Thomas in the build up to the wedding as he was caught staging photos for the press.

The pensioner was pictured being measured up for a wedding suit and reading online articles about Meghan before her nuptials.

Meghan with her dad Thomas

Footage appeared to show him orchestrating the images with professional photographer Jeff Rayner, 44.

They were then sold to newspapers and magazines around the world for up to $100,000, with Thomas getting a 30 per cent cut.

Jessica Anaya, 34, who managed the internet cafe where the pictures were taken, told the Mail on Sunday : "The man and the photographer came in together. It was in the morning.

"They didn’t stay long, probably about 10 minutes and they left together. I thought it was strange that they were taking pictures in here. It’s an unusual place to take pictures.

"[Thomas] had never come here before and I didn’t know who he was. He had a photographer with him. He came in and paid to use the computer, while the other person was taking pictures of him from behind."

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In his latest interview, Thomas expressed his regret over the photos – despite admitting last year he was still making money off them.

"I'd like to say again. I'm sorry for what I've done," he said. "This was two years ago. But I've tried to make it up to [Meghan]."

Hung up on 'rude' Harry in hospital

Astonishing texts sent by Harry on the eve of the Royal Wedding lay bare his attempts to salvage the situation – as Thomas's courting of the press appeared to be affecting his health.

The messages, revealed in court documents filed during Meghan's High Court legal battle with the publisher of the Mail on Sunday, show the Duke pleading with his then fiancee's father not to speak to the media.

Thomas also criticised Oprah Winfrey for 'taking advantage' of the royal couple in his latest interview
(Image: 60minuetsAustralia/Twitter)

One text reads: “Tom, Harry again! Really need to speak to u. U do not need to apologize, we understand the circumstances but ‘going public’ will only make the situation worse.

"If u love Meg and want to make it right please call me as there are two other options which don’t involve u having to speak to the media, who incidentally created this whole situation.

"So please call me so I can explain. Meg and I are not angry, we just need to speak to u. Thanks.”

He added: “Oh any speaking to the press WILL backfire, trust me Tom. Only we can help u, as we have been trying from day 1.”

However, it is alleged that rather than reply to the messages, Thomas instead issued a statement to TMZ revealing he had suffered a heart attack – with Meghan only hearing the news via the report.

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He eventually announced he would miss the wedding due to his health, later claiming he hung up on Harry after the Duke phoned him while in hospital to reiterate his disappointment about talking to the press.

According to Thomas, Harry said: "If you had listened to me this would never have happened'.

Thomas said he thought the timing of the call was "rude". In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, he said he told Harry: "Maybe it would be better for you guys if I was dead… then you could pretend to be sad," before hanging up on him.

Looking back, however, he admitted in the same interview that his son-in-law was "absolutely right" to criticise him.

'Would have been there' for Meghan during struggles

Thomas suggested that after the wedding he would step back from the limelight – though he has continued to speak of his disappointment at being distanced from his daughter.

Appearing on Good Morning Britain after the Sussexes' extraordinary interview with Oprah Winfrey, he said it was the first time he had heard Meghan speak in "about four years".

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He then expressed his sadness that he was unable to help when she was struggling with her mental health – a period which influenced the couple's decision to quit royal duties and move to America.

“I’ve been pushed around and knocked down for one thing I did,” he told the ITV show. “I love my daughter, If I had known she was having psychological problems I would have been there for her.

“It really did upset me, like I said it would have been easy for her to reach out to me or the rest of her family who she claims she doesn’t know.

“The other thing is I would think she could turn to her husband.”

Despite protestations by host Susanna Reid, who gave examples of Meghan insisting Harry had been by her side, he replied that the Prince had “obviously not supported her that well”.

'Ghosted like Charles'

Thomas's frequent high-profile interviews appear to fly in the face of Harry's wishes – and his latest outburst suggests reconciliation is far from the agenda.

In the discussion with Channel 9's Tom Steinfort, he was asked if he felt sorry for his son-in-law, who discussed suffering from mental health issues in his recent Apple TV documentary series, The Me You Can't See.

Thomas answered: “Yes, but he contradicts himself so much."

He also criticised claims the Duke previously made about going to the Royal Family for help as Meghan suffered from feeling suicidal.

Thomas added: "He said my daughter was thinking of suicide and he went to the royals and they didn’t help him.

"Well, you don’t go to the royals. You pick up the phone and call a doctor. It’s like saying I wanted to leave the house but nobody opened the door for me. It’s stupid."

Thanking Prince Charles for walking Meghan down the aisle in his absence, Thomas suggested the royal would know how he felt, with Harry openly speaking of feeling distanced from his own father.

“I think we would get on quite well [if we went for a drink together] and I think it’s unfortunate what’s happened to him as well. He seems like a likeable guy and I appreciate the fact that he walked my daughter down the aisle. I could certainly not have asked for a better replacement, although I would have liked to do it myself," Thomas said.

"I see them both ghosting their families completely and now they are alone in a huge house where they can probably accommodate 20 people in but it’s just the four of them. I don't think they are going to have relatives over for a barbecue next week or next month. I don't know why.”