My night with Meghan's boozy brother... and the fiancee who beat HIM up: an extraordinary encounter with the couple whose New Year's Eve ended with a police visit
- David Jones spent an evening' with Meghan Markle's brother Tom and his fiancee
- Tom Markle proposed to Darlene Blount last year and invited him to the wedding
- She was arrested on New Year's Eve after Tom, 51, was left with a bloody mouth
The voice on the phone was that of a big, bluff Californian who usually speaks in a baritone drawl. But his excitement had raised it several octaves, making him sound like a love-struck teenager.
'Hey Davey, how's it going over in London?' he trilled. 'Just calling you to let you know there's gonna be another big wedding next year — so you'd better get your a*** over here!'
The call came, late last year, from Meghan Markle's half-brother, Tom, 51, a jobbing glass fitter in Grants Pass, a remote backwoods town in Oregon where the traditional lumber industry has been supplanted by cannabis farms and drug dispensaries since the state legalised marijuana.
In his typically brash way, he was informing me he had just proposed to his girlfriend, Darlene Blount, 37 — whom he began dating at roughly the same time Harry and Meghan met — and wanted me to be at the ceremony.
Meghan Markle's half-brother Tom, 51, proposed to his girlfriend Darlene (pictured together)
I had become friendly with the couple a few months earlier, when researching Miss Markle's chequered family background, and I'd spent an edgily entertaining evening with them in their favourite drinking haunt, a rowdy log-cabin called the Cedarwood Saloon, where hulking men in lumberjack shirts and baseball caps play video poker and pool, and down pints of Workers Ale.
Fast forward several months, and the nuptial plans of this volatile couple are in utter disarray.
On New Year's Eve, following the latest of many dangerously explosive, drink-fuelled fights, Miss Blount called police to the three-bedroom bungalow she shares with Tom and her seven-year-old son by a previous relationship, in a working class neighbourhood of Grants Pass.
Yet when the lawmen arrived, shortly before the chime of midnight bells, it was her they arrested. For they found Tom with a swollen and bleeding mouth, and he reportedly accused his girlfriend of 'pummelling' him in the face with her fists.
He later changed his tune, insisting — somewhat unconvincingly — that his wounds were caused when he jumped up from his chair abruptly during the row, and bumped himself. Subsequently, the District Attorney has not charged Miss Blount, after she was arrested for alleged assault.
Before being released, however, the putative sister-in-law of Prince Harry's fiancee spent two miserable nights languishing in a spartan cell in Josephine County Jail, where she was photographed, puffy-eyed and lank-haired for a grim mugshot displayed on the internet for all to see.
Permitted to communicate with her family only by computer video link (the cash-strapped jail does not have sufficient staff to supervise personal visits), she was issued with a flimsy blanket and stodgy prison rations.
Other prisoners arrested that same night included a young man accused of 'strangulation', plus an assortment of thieves, drug-users and drunk-drivers.
It was a degrading experience — and an astonishing contrast with the way Meghan and Harry celebrated the arrival of 2018.
Much has been written about Meghan's hillbilly family from 'the wrong side of the tracks'. But if ever a story epitomised the social gulf between the sophisticated, sassy royal bride-to-be and her country cousins, then it is this tale of contrasting New Year's Eves.
Records show Miss Blount — Inmate number 59672 — was booked into the jail just after 4am, West Coast time, on January 1.
As she was being fingerprinted and photographed, Meghan and Harry were probably taking it easy after seeing in the New Year in the multi-millionaires' playground of Monaco, where they partied 'like tycoons', according to one source.
Darlene (right) was arrested on New Year's Eve after they found Tom (left) with a swollen and bleeding mouth
They are believed to have been hosted on the two-day jaunt by Harry's friend Prince Albert of Monaco and his wife, Princess Charlene.
Back in Grants Pass, a town of 35,000 people whose marijuana 'dispensaries' have made it a magnet for drug-users, Tom and Darlene had spent the night downing pints and whisky chasers, serenaded by a local band in 'the Wood', as the raucous Cedarwood Saloon is known locally.
Tom and Meghan share the same father, Tom Markle Senior, a retired Hollywood lighting director of some renown, and her half-brother, who is 15 years older than her, speaks proudly and loyally of her.
He told me how he loved taking her for walks in the park when she was young, and enjoyed a close relationship with her until she moved to Canada to film TV series Suits seven years ago, since when they have not seen one another.
Now, the siblings live in parallel universes.
So when Tom expresses the hope — as he frequently does — that he and Darlene will be invited to the royal wedding in May (and that he might walk Meghan down the aisle, should his reclusive father feel unable to make the journey to Britain from his retirement home in Mexico), I think he is living in cloud-cuckoo-land.
This isn't to say Harry's future in-laws don't have their good points. As I found, they can be warm and engaging company — until the booze takes hold.
Then things invariably turn ugly, and their fights make Burton and Taylor look tame. Indeed, a better analogy would be to compare them with the drink-sodden couple squabbling in the 'drunk-tank' in the Christmas song Fairytale Of New York.
On that first meeting in the Cedarwood Saloon, Darlene matched Tom pint for pint during a session lasting hours.
My first impression was that he dominated her, not least because he is a 6ft 3in bear of a man, and she is petite — and sullen.
While he enjoyed regaling me with anecdotes about his family history and the young Meghan — how he took her to feed the ducks and protected her from his jealous sister (and Meghan's half-sister), Samantha, whom he despises — his girlfriend, who wore jeans, a chequered shirt and no make-up, remained silent for long periods.
Tom was photographed with his half-sister Meghan Markle when she was a baby in Los Angeles in 1982
However, when we met again, over a long, and — for them — largely liquid lunch, my opinion of Darlene changed. From her sharp observations and pithy asides, it was clear she was no push-over.
In fact, the hulking Tom Markle — who once worked for his father in Hollywood, and mingled with a racy showbiz set in Los Angeles — seemed reliant on the apparently unassuming Darlene.
So how did this troubled pair find one another? Before decamping to the wilds of Oregon, Tom had been through two failed marriages, one of which was fleeting, while the other lasted 11 years and produced two sons, Tyler and Thomas III, now in their late 20s and pursuing successful lives.
He had then embarked on another tempestuous relationship with a woman whose very name sends him into a rage. They lived in a hippy community in hills north of Los Angeles, but matters reached such a low ebb that he took off one day, with only the possessions he could carry in a couple of holdalls.
By then declared bankrupt, with debts of £71,868, he settled hundreds of miles north, in Grants Pass, where his ex-wife Tracy Dooley (herself a recovering alcoholic) and their two sons were living, hoping to renew ties with them. Having tried various manual jobs, he set up a glass fitting business.
The Blount family had inhabited those parts for many years. Miss Blount's parents, Clyde, 67, and Claudia, 60, live on a ramshackle farmstead. Her rough-hewn brother, Jason, 32, is a notorious character who was arrested for burgling a business premises and heroin possession last May.
Middle-class Americans have an unkind term for folk like these. Whether or not they live in mobile homes, they are 'trailer trash'.
Tom (pictured) and Meghan share the same father, Tom Markle Senior, a retired Hollywood lighting director
Tom Markle apparently met Miss Blount — who parted acrimoniously from the father of her young son, and obtained custody — at a boozy party in 2016. It was a far cry from Soho House, the chic London club where Meghan is reported to have had her first rendezvous with Harry.
Within a short time, Tom and Miss Blount were living together in the first of their rented cabins. Sources suggest she was seeking a secure home for her son, and he pledged to work hard to provide it. When he is sober, it seems that he does just that.
Perhaps Darlene was referring to Tom when she posted this message on her Facebook page last summer: 'The biggest lesson I've learned this year is that no one is really your friend until they've seen every dark shadow inside you, and stayed.'
Miss Blount certainly has her share of dark shadows. Made bankrupt in 2006 with a string of debts, from credit cards to medical bills, she has twice been sued by debt agencies.
From another Facebook post —'don't trip over bitches, walk over them' — it appears she also has a mean streak.
Given their addictive personalities, it seems reasonable to surmise that she and Tom Markle have become what experts call 'co-dependents', facilitating one another's abuse of alcohol.
This week, after her release, Darlene admitted she keeps bottles of bourbon in the garage. It was apparently because she began swigging from one of these, after returning home on New Year's Eve, that she and Tom began to argue aggressively.
Though she has never earned much money — recently working as a hotel receptionist — she also gambles on one-armed bandits. A couple of months ago, she told friends she had won $1,500 but this appears to have evaporated. Tom, for his part, has confessed to a drink problem. He first made the admission in January 2017, when he, too, was held in the county jail — for holding a gun to Darlene's head, according to the arresting officer, after yet another alcohol-induced spat.
Darlene went missing so he escaped facing charges for an offence that could have brought a five-year sentence. Perhaps, by claiming he had cut his mouth accidentally last Sunday, he was repaying Darlene the favour.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement in November 2017 (pictured at Kensington Palace)
This week, as Darlene returned home — complaining bitterly about prison conditions — Tom blamed their downward spiral on the publicity they have received by dint of Meghan's engagement to Harry.
'It hasn't been easy,' he said. 'Meghan's relationship with Harry has shone the spotlight on our family. It doesn't help when you have issues and your sister is engaged to royalty. It adds a whole new level of scrutiny.
'We have been under a lot of stress because of all the attention. At some point, you find yourself drinking too much to escape the pressure.'
Perhaps so, but, as with Darlene, one suspects his attraction to the bottle predates the royal romance.
He says they both now plan to attend alcohol and relationship counselling in a last-ditch attempt to end the fights. Beneath it all they love one another, he says, and they are determined to stick together.
I sincerely hope it works out well for them — and I'm invited to Oregon for their wedding — but I wouldn't wager a dime it will turn out that way.
And as for the prospect of Tom and Darlene getting an invitation to that other big wedding, I fear that, sadly, it is even more remote.
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