Duchess of Sussex called her father ‘Daddy’ in letter believing it would ‘pull at heartstrings’ if leaked, court hears

The Duchess of Sussex deliberately addressed her estranged father as "Daddy" in a handwritten letter, believing it would "pull at the heartstrings" in the event it was leaked, the Court of Appeal has heard.

The Duchess, writing in text messages to her then-Communications Secretary, said she had "obviously" written the letter "with the understanding that it could be leaked", being "meticulous" in her choice of words.

If Thomas Markle leaked it, she said, "at least the world will know the truth", adding they were words she could "never voice publicly" herself.

The Duchess’s texts were revealed in the Court of Appeal, as the Mail on Sunday argues the privacy, copyright and data protection case involving the letter from Meghan to her father should be sent to trial.

Jason Knauf, a former senior aide at Kensington Palace, has provided a witness statement to court, which the Mail on Sunday’s publisher argued proves the Duchess knew the letter was likely to be published.

In texts read out in court, the Duchess said: "Obviously everything I’ve drafted is with the understanding that it could be leaked, so I have been meticulous in my word choice. But please do let me know if anything stands out for you as a liability."

A second message reads: "Given I’ve only ever called him Daddy, it may make sense to open as such despite him being less than paternal. And in the unfortunate event that it leaked, it would pull at the heart strings."

The Duchess with her estranged father Thomas Markle


Saying the letter was written "in the spirit of facts without seeming orchestrated or litigious", she added it was "simply an appeal for peace and a reminder of what’s actually happened".

"Honestly Jason, I feel fantastic," the Duchess told her adviser. "Cathartic and real and honest and factual.

"If he [Thomas Markle] leaks it that’s on his conscience, but at least the world will know the truth. Words I could never voice publicly."

Of the thought she put into the letter, the Duchess said: "Trust me, toiled over every detail." 

Mr Knauf’s witness statement says the Duchess made one small amendment from him in her draft of the letter, after he suggested she make mention of her father’s health. 

Pages were numbered carefully 

The Duchess had wanted to write a letter rather than email or text so that it would not be forwarded or cut and pasted, he said, and numbered the pages carefully. 

"She also deliberately ended each page part way through a sentence so that no page could be falsely presented as the end of the letter," he said. 

"In the event that it was leaked she wanted the full narrative as set out in the letter to be understood and shared. She said she had ‘toiled over every detail which could be manipulated’."

He added: "The Duchess sent me by text photographs of the final, handwritten letter sent to her father, which was sent to her LA-based business manager who then forwarded it by FedEx to her father at his address in Mexico. 

"She wanted the letter and some of Mr Markle’s correspondence (including his reply to her letter which she also sent me) to be held on file by the communications team in case it became public. 

"She also said a copy had been given to her American attorney."

Question raised on Finding Freedom cooperation 

On the question of whether the Duke and Duchess of Sussex cooperated with the biography Finding Freedom, Mr Knauf said they had "authorised specific cooperation in writing" in December 2018. 

Emails show that Mr Knauf advised that putting the authors of the book, Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand, in touch with the Duchess’s friends was "not a good idea", telling them: "Being able to say hand on heart that we did not facilitate access will be important.” 

The Duke, in reply, said "I totally agree that we have to be able to say we didn’t have anything to do with it", but added: "Equally, you giving the right context and background to them would help get some truths out there."

A list of briefing points sent by the Duchess to Mr Knauf to discuss with the authors included information on her relationship with her half-siblings and father, and details of a row over her wedding tiara. 

The Duke wrote: “Also, are u planning on giving them a rough idea of what she’s been through over the last 2yrs? Media onslaught, cyber bullying on a different scale, puppeteering Thomas Markle etc etc etc. 

"Even if they choose not to use it, they should hear what it was like from someone who was in the thick of it. So if you aren’t planning on telling them, can I ?!”

Mr Knauf said he was not aware that the Duke and Duchess had ever met the authors directly to discuss the book.

Duchess’s 22-page witness statement 

In her own 22-page witness statement provided to the court ,the Duchess said she did not think the letter was "likely" to be leaked but "merely recognised that this was a possibility given the extraordinary level of media attention and unusual lens we were all under".

"The proposition that saying that I recognized that it was possible that my father would leak the letter (albeit unlikely) is the same as saying that I thought it likely that he would do so is, I would suggest, absurd," she said. 

The Duchess said the text exchange showed she went to "considerable lengths to ensure that the letter only went to my father", and chose to write rather than email or text fearing Mr Markle’s communications had been compromised. 

While members of the Royal Family suggested she fly out to see her father in person, she disclosed, she believed it would be impossible to reach him privately without risking bringing "yet more embarrassment" on her in-laws. 

Saying "senior members of the family and their advisers expressed their concern over the public attacks" on the Royal Family from Mr Markle in interview, wanting them "stopped", the Duchess added: "I was especially sensitive to this as I had very recently married into the family and was eager to please them." 

In August 2018, she said, she had spoken with two senior members of the Royal Family who agreed she would write a letter. 

The Duchess also disclosed other text messages from Mr Knauf in which he praised her "strong and clear letter – with just the right amount of emotion".  

Detailing the extent of any involvement of her communications team in Finding Freedom, the Duchess said Mr Knauf had told her about the book in summer 2018 and mentioned the authors would like to meet with her, "which we both agreed would be inappropriate and therefore I would decline". 

"Given my experience with the UK media at that point, which I had come to distrust, I did not wish to meet with any authors in connection with any book being written about me, and nor did I," she said. 

Referencing her own emails in August 2018, she noted she had raised concerns about one of the authors, Mr Scobie, who had tweeted something she said was "factually untrue". 

"I made it clear that, although we, at Kensington Palace, were being asked to cooperate with this biography, I would be uncomfortable doing so ‘if this person is considered an authority and is tweeting the below’," she said. 

On the briefing note for Mr Knauf’s meeting with the authors, she said: "Nothing I shared with Mr Knauf was special nor exclusive for these authors, nor did I think he would relay it directly as stated; what he relayed was entirely at his discretion."

How did we get here?

The Mail On Sunday’s publisher began a Court of Appeal challenge on Tuesday in its ongoing legal battle with the Duchess of Sussex over a "personal and private" letter to her estranged father.

Meghan, 40, sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), also the publisher of MailOnline, over a series of articles which reproduced parts of a "personal and private" letter to Mr Markle, 77, in August 2018.

She claimed the five articles, published in print and online in February 2019, misused her private information, infringed her copyright and breached the Data Protection Act.

Meghan won her case earlier this year, after Lord Justice Warby ruled that ANL’s publication of Meghan’s letter to her father was "manifestly excessive and hence unlawful".

Giving a ruling in February, the judge said: "It was, in short, a personal and private letter.

"The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behaviour, as she saw it, and the resulting rift between them.

"These are inherently private and personal matters."

The judge said "the only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the letter", contained in an article in People magazine, published days before ANL’s five articles, which featured an interview with five friends of Meghan.

But Lord Justice Warby added: "The inescapable conclusion is that, save to the very limited extent I have identified, the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose.

"For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all.

"Taken as a whole, the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful."

In March, the publisher was ordered to print a statement on the front page of the Mail On Sunday and a notice on page three of the paper stating it "infringed her copyright" by publishing parts of the letter to Mr Markle.

But the front-page statement about Meghan’s victory has not been published yet as it is on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.

In a further ruling on copyright issues in May, the judge said ANL must "use its best endeavours" to locate any copies of the draft of Meghan’s letter to Mr Markle and provide them to the publisher’s lawyers, who will destroy them "at the end of the action, so long as the claimant ultimately succeeds".

The judge concluded he could make the rulings without the need for a full trial of the issues involved.

The publisher’s appeal is being heard by Sir Geoffrey Vos, Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Bean over three days, and the judges are expected to give their ruling at a later date.

The hearing started at 10.30am on Tuesday and will continue until Thursday.

At a previous hearing, Meghan’s legal team said Knauf had told them he did not write or help draft the letter.

If his submission is allowed, the duchess could also offer new evidence, they said on Tuesday.

The case, which is due to last up to three days with judgment expected at a later date, is the latest in the former television actress’s long-running battle with Associated.

As well as the privacy claim, Meghan successfully sued for breach of copyright and data protection infringement.

The letter to her 77-year-old father was written a few months after her wedding to Prince Harry. 

In it, Meghan asked her father to stop talking to tabloid newspapers and making false claims about her in interviews.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have waged a high-profile war against the media, blaming intrusion for their decision to quit royal life last year and move to the United States.

But they have since attracted criticism for launching themselves into the public eye with a series of lucrative deals with firms including Spotify, Netflix and Apple TV+.

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