It was the middle of the night as Thomas Markle drove his trusty 20-year-old silver Volvo towards the US-Mexico border.
The 74-year-old retired Hollywood lighting director was listening to his favourite show, Red Eye Radio, on KABC Talk Radio when the conversation was suddenly interrupted just before 1am with a newsflash: ‘Congratulations are in order for America’s favourite Royals.
'Kensington Palace confirmed that Duchess Meghan and Prince Harry are expecting their first child in the spring.’
For Mr Markle, the Duchess of Sussex’s estranged father, the news was ‘overwhelming and joyful’.
In his first interview since the pregnancy was announced, Mr Markle, speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, said: ‘I was sitting in line waiting to cross the border when I heard the baby announcement on the car radio.
‘The first thing I thought about was holding Meghan in my arms as a newborn 37 years ago.
‘I thought, “My baby is having a baby.” It was a very proud moment.
‘I was filled with love, joy and happiness for both my beautiful daughter and my son-in-law. A new baby is a blessing and I look forward to seeing a little Meghan or a little Harry.’
He recalled how, in the early hours of August 4, 1981, his daughter was born in Canoga Park hospital in the suburbs of Los Angeles.
‘It was in the middle of the night when Meghan was born by caesarean section. Doria [Meghan’s mother] was sleeping [anaesthetised] and so I was the first person in the world to hold Meghan.
‘When they handed her to me and I held her in my arms for the first time it was love at first sight. She was the most beautiful baby.
‘Meghan winked at me and I fell in love and have never stopped loving her from that day forward.’
When Kensington Palace made the happy announcement on Monday – shortly after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex landed in Sydney for a 16-day Royal tour of Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji – a spokesman said: ‘The Queen, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted for the couple.
‘Ms Doria Ragland is very happy about the lovely news and she looks forward to welcoming her first grandchild.’
It was not known at that stage if Mr Markle had been told. He has denied stories claiming that Doria revealed the news to him before the official announcement.
She is understood to be planning to move to Britain to help care for the baby.
Mr Markle refuses to say anything negative about his daughter and Prince Harry, and said he was only speaking out publicly in the hope it would alleviate some of the intense media scrutiny that continues around him.
He says: ‘I have seven cars outside my house with reporters and photographers in them – it’s a gross invasion of my privacy.’
It may strike some as unnecessarily cruel and unkind that Meghan’s mother was included in the official statement while her father was left to find out along with the rest of the world, given the controversy that has surrounded Mr Markle .
He became estranged from Meghan days before the Royal Wedding in May after hanging up on Prince Harry – the prince had called to chastise him for co-operating with paparazzi pictures which showed, among other things, Mr Markle being ‘fitted’ for a wedding suit.
Then he was unable to walk his daughter down the aisle at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, after suffering two heart attacks. In an interview with this newspaper – one of only three he has given – Mr Markle apologised for his lack of judgment in co-operating with the paparazzi.
It was, he said, a misguided attempt to improve his image after being hounded as he went about his daily business.
Mr Markle is yet to meet his son-in-law.
But he said: ‘I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. Me not getting a call is most likely a misunderstanding about my two back-to-back heart attacks and me missing the wedding.
‘There has been so much misinformation and lies that perhaps made them mistrust me.’
But he congratulated the couple and said his daughter would be a wonderful mother.
‘I wasn’t surprised by the baby announcement. Meghan loves children and she and Harry have been talking about wanting a family from the start. I’m delighted for them both.
‘She’s always been wonderful with children and most of her friends have families so she’s used to being around kids. She will make a fantastic mother.’
Mr Markle added he was ‘full of pride’ for the way his daughter was handling her first overseas tour, saying: ‘She’s doing so well winning the hearts and minds of everyone in Australia.’
After the news of Meghan’s pregnancy, Mr Markle is clearly revelling in his happy memories of the little girl he affectionately called ‘Meggie’ and ‘Bean’.
He says some of his happiest times with Meghan as a baby were the ‘quiet’ moments they spent together.
Mr Markle was 37 when Meghan was born and was already a highly successful Emmy award-winning Hollywood lighting director, working on the top-rated TV soap General Hospital.
He and Doria, who is 12 years his junior, raised their daughter in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills.
With a heavy work schedule, Mr Markle relished his time with Meghan. He said: ‘My greatest joy was coming home from work, picking her up and just walking back and forth with her in the kitchen.
Holding her in my arms. She would listen to the hum of the refrigerator and it would lull her to sleep.
‘My other favourite memory is of walking outside with her in the garden and I would point up at the moon and say, “That’s Meggie’s moon.” I did that for so long that eventually she was able to look up, point and say, “Meggie’s moon.” ’
Although Mr Markle split with Ms Ragland when Meghan was three, he remained closely involved in his daughter’s upbringing.
‘I would see her all the time. I had her every weekend. We lived close and Meghan went between the two homes very happily.’
Meghan lived full-time with her father from the age of 12 until she was 18.
He said: ‘I would take her to school every morning because it was on my way to work at the studio. If I could, I would pick her up in the afternoon or I’d send a limo or one of the crew to pick her up and bring her to the set.’
Suits actress Meghan, 37, has spoken in the past about how her father instilled in her a love of acting and showbusiness.
In one touching Father’s Day post on Instagram, which was taken down after she met Prince Harry, she posted a picture of herself as a baby laying on her father’s chest and wrote: ‘To this day your hugs are still the very best in the whole wide world.
'Thanks for my work ethic, my love of Busby Berkeley films & club sandwiches, for teaching me the importance of handwritten thank you notes, and for giving me that signature Markle nose. I love you xo – Bean.’
Mr Markle, who retired to Mexico six years ago, said: ‘I love my daughter and always will. She will be a great mum. I wish her and Harry nothing but the best.’
Mr Markle neither asked for nor received any payment for this interview.