It’s been said that behind every great man is a great woman. In Prince Harry’s case, it’s three wealthy and media-savvy women.
On Saturday, Buckingham Palace announced a deal had been reached for Harry and Meghan Markle to relinquish their official duties as members of the British royal family. They will no longer be able to use “His/Her Royal Highness” and will repay the state the costs of renovating their U.K. base, Frogmore Cottage. But they’re now free to pursue their own business opportunities overseas.
In a statement, Queen Elizabeth said she was proud of how quickly Meghan had become one of the family, adding: “Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.”
Last week, the couple announced they “work to become financially independent” and live between U.K. and North America. Free from the ribbon-cutting duties of royal life, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are on the brink of becoming a global-media, royal hybrid power couple. Their Instagram FB, +0.17% account has 10.6 million followers, adding 400,000 in one week.
Netflix would give the Sussexes a platform of 158 million paid subscribers and be a coup for the streaming service.
Harry receives an income from his father Prince Charles. Harry, who is already worth several million dollars, owes his fortune to three famous women: his mother, the late Princess Diana, who became a global superstar; his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, and his wife, Meghan Markle, an American-born self-made former actress.
Markle flew back to Canada last week amid reports she was driven out by, among other things, press coverage regarded as both overtly and covertly racist. Highlighting 20 headlines, Buzzfeed pointed to the different standards used to report on Kate Middleton — wife of Prince William, second in line to the British throne — and Markle, from child-rearing to eating avocado.
Harry stayed behind for a summit on Monday with Charles, and Queen Elizabeth, who directed the offices of her son and two grandsons to reach a deal within days. “These are complex matters for my family to resolve, and there is some more work to be done, but I have asked for final decisions to be reached in the coming days,” she said in a statement on Monday.
Multiple newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in the U.K., have reported that the queen was “disappointed” with the surprise announcement, and had asked the Sussexes to hold off on issuing a statement. When The Sun newspaper published a front-page story that the couple was contemplating a move to Canada, the Sussexes pushed the button on their statement.
Questions now linger over whether they will qualify for armed security if they live in Canada, a member of the British Commonwealth, or the U.S. Markle previously lived in Toronto, where she still has a home, and Los Angeles. Their HRH titles would certainly have burnished their personal brands and commercial appeal, but they will remain the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Harry is friends with former U.S. president Barack Obama, and will consider adopting the Obamas’ post-White House career model, some royal observers say. Barack and Michelle Obama reportedly signed an eight-figure deal with Netflix NFLX, +0.31% to produce high-brow historical, biographical and social-justice programming with their company, Higher Ground Productions.
Netflix would give the Sussexes a platform of 158 million paid subscribers and be a coup for the streaming service, which won critical praise for, “The Crown,” chronicling the life of Queen Elizabeth. (Netflix did not respond to request for comment.) Harry has already participated in a documentary on mental health with Oprah Winfrey, a friend of the couple, for Apple TV AAPL, +1.11%.
The media mogul responded to reports that she had helped the Sussexes navigate and negotiate their #Megxit — as the royal scandal has been described in the U.K. press, a riff on #Brexit, the U.K.’s protracted exit from the European Union. “Meg and Harry do not need my help figuring out what is best for them,” Oprah said in a statement, according to The New York Post.
Ashley Pearson, an American-born writer based in London who has been a royal commentator for two decades, said their powerful political and media connections will serve them well. She sees them leveraging their circle of boldfaced names: “Their kind of lifestyle costs a fortune. However, one of the reasons they broke off from the royals is, in part, because they want to build their own brand.”
‘One of the reasons they broke off from the royals is, in part, because they want to build their own brand.’
Pearson believes Markle is the driving force to break free from the House of Windsor, suggesting that — despite the privileges of royal life — the negative press coverage was too much to bear. “She had no idea how un-glamorous it really is to be a royal and, when she found out she would be a civil servant in a tiara she was, like, ‘No way.’” The couple’s sleek, new website is similar in tone to Obama.org. It’s not clear, however, if they will keep it.
The Sussexes have already cut their teeth in broadcast media. In 2017, Harry interviewed Barack Obama when he was the guest editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today program and, last year, ITV in the U.K. broadcast “Harry & Meghan: An African Journey,” which aired in the U.S. on ABC DIS, -0.54% Another route: The Obamas reportedly inked a book deal for more than $65 million.
While the couple’s break for the border releases them from the drab ribbon-cutting, handshaking daily duties of royal life in the U.K., and should better shield themselves from the jaundiced coverage they have received at the hands of the British tabloids, their bid for financial independence is somewhat more complicated and will not require them to take up full-time jobs.
For a start, they will keep their U.K. base, Frogmore Cottage, their historic Grade II-listed house in Windsor, which was renovated for 2.4 British pounds ($3 million) by the British taxpayer. They have already built a strong royal/celebrity personal brand, breaking the traditional mold of the royal family. Their 2018 wedding was an unusual mixture of Hollywood and English aristocracy.
Achieving financial independence is a status that Markle, 38, can more legitimately claim to have achieved on her own. She has a reported net worth of $6.5 million (5 million British pounds) from her work on the USA Network legal drama “Suits.” Like many former television and film stars, Markle will likely also receive residuals from her seven seasons on that show.
Harry, 35, on the other hand, inherited a sizable fortune after the death of his mother. He inherited approximately 7 million British pounds ($9.2 million) from his mother’s estate, the BBC estimated. His father’s side of the family is far richer — worth more than $88 billion, according to Forbes — including investments, properties, castles and land.
‘Harry & Meghan: An African Journey’ aired in the U.S. on ABC and was sold to several networks around the world.
To be fair, Harry also reportedly earned an annual salary of $45,000 when he served as an officer in the Army Air Corps and approximately $52,000 a year while working as a helicopter pilot for the Army Air Corps, according to separate estimates by Forbes and Fortune magazines based on publicly available figures for salaries in the U.K. army.
Harry also has had a military career on the front lines. “Prince Harry served in the Army for ten years, rising to the rank of Captain and undertaking two tours of Afghanistan,” according to Buckingham Palace. “He continues to work in support of his fellow servicemen, promoting support for wounded men and women as they adapt to life post-injury.”
The Sussexes rely on Prince Charles — first in line to the British throne — for approximately 95% of their income. Prince Charles earns $23 million a year from the Duchy of Cornwall, a private estate with more than $1.3 billion in assets. The Duchy’s financial accounts reveal a total income for fiscal 2017 of 37.2 million British pounds ($48.7 million), up 2.5% on the previous year.
Pearson said Markle struggled to adapt to royal protocol. The Sussexes will no longer be part of the “royal rota,” giving media access to royal appearances. “Much like Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, and as Markle previously did with TIG, their personal brand could be worth billions and they know it.” (Forbes recently named reality TV star Kylie Jenner, 22, the youngest self-made billionaire ever.)
Choosing Toronto or Vancouver as their overseas residence may make more financial sense than, say, L.A. or New York. In Canada, they are close enough to the U.S. without becoming embroiled in complex web of American tax law. Canada, for instance, does not impose a capital gains tax for homes that increase in value.
Markle lived there while filming “Suits,” and the couple spent the holidays in Canada, reportedly at a waterfront mansion on Vancouver Island. As Canada is part of the U.K. Commonwealth, it may be required to pay for security for the couple and their son, Archie. (Of possible interest for other couples moving there: Canadian divorce law generally splits all new marital wealth equally.)
Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997, had reportedly long said she dreamed of starting anew overseas.
There appears to push back from Harry’s circle to the avalanche of press in the U.K. criticizing the couple’s decision. Writing in “The Sunday Times,” Tom Bradby, a friend of Harry’s who directed a documentary about the couple in Africa last year, said Buckingham Palace “claimed” to be blindsided by the couple’s announcement, but Bradby threw doubt on the palace line. (Buckingham Palace did not respond to a request for comment from MarketWatch.)
Bradby wrote that Harry was asked by senior members of the royal family to write a plan to move away and accommodate a slimmed-down monarchy. “He was reluctant, on the grounds that such documents normally leak,” Bradby wrote in a 1,600-word essay, “Escape from the poisonous palace.” “He was persuaded and did as he was asked.”
“The document, or its details, was shortly afterwards leaked to The Sun,” Bradby added. He said the Sussexes had long faced unpleasantness from the family, saying some members were “jealous and, at times, unfriendly,” although excluded Queen Elizabeth and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh from that assessment. “The fallout began at the time of the wedding in 2018.”
Speaking to Bradby for his documentary last year, she thanked him for asking how she was, and said not many people had asked if she were OK. In his essay Sunday, Bradby wrote that some members of the family (with the exception of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh) were jealous and, at times, unfriendly: “Really damaging things were said and done. The atmosphere soured hard and early.”
Harry’s late mother, Princess Diana — who died at 36 in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being pursued by photographers — had long battled the relentless, prying eyes of the British red tops, which dissected her every move in the years following her 1981 marriage to Prince Charles, and 1996 divorce. She had reportedly long dreamed of starting a new life in the U.S.
In a widely circulated article, Ellie Hall, a Buzzfeed reporter, compared “Kate’s morning sickness cure? Prince William gifted with an avocado for pregnant Duchess” with “Meghan Markle’s beloved avocado linked to human rights abuse and drought, millennial shame,” in the Express. The contrasting headlines appeared in the same papers and, sometimes, with the same bylines.
Two more appearing in the Daily Mail went thus, Hall reported. “Kate and Wills Inc: Duke and Duchess secretly set up companies to protect their brand — just like the Beckhams” and, “A right royal cash in! How Prince Harry and Meghan Markle trademarked over 100 items from hoodies to socks SIX MONTHS before split with monarchy — with new empire worth up to £400m.”
Markle acknowledged that she had a difficult time adapting to life with the often critical media attention in the U.K. “I’ve really tried to adopt this British sensibility of a stiff upper lip. I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, I think that what that does internally is probably really damaging,” she said. “The biggest thing that I know is that I never thought this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair.”
The Queen acknowledged the difficulties in her statement Saturday: “I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life,” her statement read, adding, “It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life.”
(This story was originally published on Jan. 8 and was updated on Jan. 18.)