Growing up in the royal family might sound lovely and grand — imagine Everest-like cream teas appearing like clockwork; being able to borrow Romanov jewels to play dress ups — but the reality is much more grim.
Summer holidays are religiously spent in rural Scotland (long, bracing walks in all weathers, insect bites, kilts, insect bites under your quilt and having to endure the Highland Games), hugs are closely rationed and if you ever get squiffy after enthusiastically chugging champagne cocktails at Annabel’s you’ll find yourself humiliatingly splashed across the front page of The Sun.
Then there is the money stuff.
See, while the house of Windsor might have an untold fortune squirrelled away and the Sovereign might in charge of the Crown Estate (current value of holdings: $25 billion) but when it comes to rustling up the cash to pay for an easyJet flight or to stand a round at a Fulham pub, things can get much trickier and much more inequitable.
Because the monarchy might be many things but no one has ever said it was fair, with only a small handful given access to millions of pounds in income.
Which is why, as we get ready to mark the one-year anniversary of Megxit officially coming into effect tomorrow, it’s worth asking the question: When they made their decision to step down, did Prince Harry and Meghan see the financial writing on the wall?
Because, after 14 months of febrile coverage of their spectacular, historic exit, what has largely been overlooked in all the flurry is how badly their bank balance could have suffered in the future if they had stayed.
Let’s rewind, shall we?
Let’s go back to those innocent days when the notion of a member of the Queen’s family appearing on TV screens beside Oprah and “speaking their truth” was nothing but a gin and Dubonnet-infused fever dream. Back then, the Sussexes enjoyed something of a gilded existence, receiving somewhere around $5 million from Harry’s father Prince Charles.
However, there was a sword of Damocles hanging over all that lovely money.
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Since 1337, the eldest surviving son of the monarchy has also been the owner of a vast parcel of land and investments called the Duchy of Cornwall. Under the current prince’s stewardship, that holding has grown considerably and is currently worth $1.9 billion.
(Whoever is in possession of the estate can only receive the profits and they can’t sell bits off, which goes some way to explaining why Charles had to borrow millions of pounds from his mother for his divorce settlement from Diana, Princess of Wales.)
It is out of the $39 million in profit the Duchy rakes in annually that the 72-year-old regal apprentice has supported his kids, forking out just over $10 million combined to pay for Prince William and Harry’s families, according to the most recent publicly available accounts.
When Harry and Meghan harrumphed off into the sunset in March last year, they seem to have thought that such fatherly largesse was a given. Not so.
As Harry told Oprah, after the duo quit palace life, “my family literally cut me off financially, and I had to afford security for us. [They cut me off] In the first quarter of 2020.”
At which point, he told the TV show titan, a clever clogs mate suggested they consider earning a crust via streaming services and the result was an estimated $180 million in commercial deals.
But let’s just pause here and take a look at the intriguing question of, if Harry and Meghan had stayed put inside the royal family, did they face having their multimillion-dollar earnings slashed dramatically in the years to come?
So long as Charles is the heir to the throne, the Duchy’s moolah is his to do what he wants with but that will change the second the Queen passes away and he ascends. William will thus become the heir and will therefore be given total control of the billion-dollar Cornwall holding.
(It’s a role his father has already been preparing him for some time, and only earlier this month, William took part in a video call with the Duchy’s finance committee.)
At that point it would have been entirely up to William whether the Duchy continued to pay his younger brother and his family millions of pounds each year. That is, the elder prince, with whom Harry has famously fallen out in recent years, would totally control the purse strings and it would be up to him to decide just how much money the Sussexes would have to live on.
Charles, by now King in this scenario, could opt to continue funding the Sussexes via the Duchy of Lancaster, the $973 million estate he will assume control of when he is crowned.
However, precedent here would hardly have warmed the cockles of Harry and Meghan’s bank manager’s heart. Prince Andrew, the spare to Charles’ heir, currently receives a reported $450,000 from the Duchy of Lancaster, a comparative pittance next to the Sussexes’ Duchy of Cornwall allowance.
In leaving the UK and their royal lives behind, Harry and Meghan have also, coincidentally, escaped this fate.
Now, having inked an estimated $180 million worth of deals since trading Windsor’s grey skies for the sunny climes of California, they are on track to not only become some of the richest members of the Queen’s family but the richest members who actually earned the dosh themselves. (Well, thanks to their ambition, work ethic and royal connections anyway …)
It’s funny how things turn out: William will never control Harry and Meghan’s fortunes and nor will they ever have to spend a summer holiday ignoring midge-bites in Scotland. A win-win, really.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years of experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.