Decision raises questions over future of monarchy


On Tuesday, a day after the Queen’s emotional statement on her grandson’s future, royal life continued as normal.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex held a lunch at Bagshot Park. The Duchess of Cornwall conferred honorary degrees at King’s College in Aberdeen – one of which went to her sister-in-law, the Princess Royal.

The Duke of Gloucester chaired a panel of judges for the British Expertise International Awards, and the Duke of Cambridge conferred royal honours to Alex Duguid and Sir Andrew Strauss.

MORE: Meghan’s absence from summit explained

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Only none of these worthy royal labours registered a jot of interest in the media landscape consumed with the Sussex psychodrama. That’s because regardless of whether “Megxit” is being followed by cheerleaders for the couple, those outraged at their behaviour or just a good old sense of schadenfreude, the “war of the Windsors” has undoubtedly captured public imagination.

In doing so, it has exposed the difficult reality many are well aware of; that few in the royal family can match the sheer star power of the couple and ability to attract an audience.

Even the Queen acknowledged her sadness at their decision to “create a new life” in her emotional statement issued on Monday evening following a 90-minute family summit at Sandringham.

“Although we would have preferred them to remain full-time working members of the royal family, we respect and understand their wish to live a more independent life as a family while remaining a valued part of my family,” she said.

The Sun’s royal photographer Arthur Edwards, who has been photographing Prince Harry for 35 years, said the Sandringham summit would have helped to “calm things down” for a family that has been in “crisis” mode lately.

“I imagine there was a few tears in that room because Harry was there with the people he loved – his father, his brother and of course, the Queen,” he told news.com.au.

“It’s a difficult decision for him, but I think he wants to please his wife. I think she wants to obviously be in surroundings she’s more comfortable with.

“She had a great life in Canada and she has probably got a good life here, but it’s a different life. Frogmore Cottage is a lovely, beautiful cottage, but it’s stuck in the middle of a huge park, no shops nearby, no friends nearby.

“My own personal view is that it’s sad. I think he’s a great member of the royal family, and as far the readers of our paper, The Sun, are concerned, he’s probably …. the most loved member of the royal family, and I still think by many of the readers he still is.”

Details of how the couple’s hybrid public-private roles will work remain to be seen with royal watchers divided on how they will play out.

Some say it could provide a valuable working model for royals to fund their own lifestyles and provide a blueprint for others such as Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, while others fear the impact of monetising the royal brand.

MORE: Hidden message in Queen’s statement

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to honouring their patronages – Prince Harry has 14 while Meghan has four – as well as the Queen and Commonwealth. However, their decision to reduce the number of royal commitments will no doubt deprive some organisations of the royal oxygen the couple provide.

Consider the glowing coverage the couple generated while on tour in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands back in 2018. Pictures of a newly pregnant Meghan barefoot on Bondi Beach for “fluoro Friday” were beamed around the world.

Or the world’s media decamping to Nyanga townshipoutside of Cape Town, a place with South Africa’s highest murder rate, to watch Meghan and Harry dance and meet members of human rights initiative Justice Desk on the first day of their southern Africa tour. Or Meghan’s “Smart Set” collection with Smart Works designed to help unemployed women get back into the workplace that sold out within hours.

Mr Edwards said despite the couple’s step back, the royal family’s brand remains “strong” and should not suffer from their absence.

“Harry’s going but he’s not going completely. He’s going to obviously still be part of the family. He won’t be cut off from it,” he said, adding that the Prince will not ditch his beloved charities.

“We’ve got still a very healthy Queen. We’ve got a Prince of Wales who is probably the most prepared monarch-in-waiting we’ve ever had in the history of the monarchy.

“Following that we’ve got William and Catherine. They’ve stepped up to the plate like you can’t believe in the last two years. And of course there’s Catherine and William’s children, so it’s pretty safe and it’s pretty strong.”

Intelligent Protection International Limited CEO Alex Bomberg, a former royal aide who now runs a close protection company, also doubts there will be damage to brand royal.

“I think we need to understand what leaving the royal family is. They’re not changing. They’re still going to be royals even if Harry denounced his titles tomorrow. He’s still going to be Prince Harry. He’s still going to have a lot of pulling power in relation to media and attention. It’s not going to go away,” he said.

Mr Bomberg said while the decision to go public before consulting the Queen was an “odd move”, Prince Harry would not shy away from “continuing his mother’s work”.

“There’s a lot of speculation about how they’ll become Hollywood royals. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

“I would imagine the charities that he’s involved with they will stay involved with. I can’t see him not doing that, and certainly the military charities I can’t see Harry ever giving that up – he’s too passionate about it. The Invictus Games for example … he’s given a lot of purpose to a lot of people.”

SPOTLIGHT ON ROYAL FINANCES

The couple’s desire for “financial independence” has raised the tricky prospect of how they might balance commercial deals with their royal work, which is typically funded by the public purse.

The Sussexes claim the Sovereign Grant – an £82.4 million ($A155 million) stream paid from the Government to the royal family – makes up just 5 per cent of the costs of running their office.

The other 95 per cent is funded by the Duchy of Cornwall, a lucrative portfolio of investments held by Prince Charles as the monarch-in-waiting, who has funded his two sons to the tune of £5 million ($A9.4 million) in the last year. The entire portfolio brought in £21.6 million ($A40.6 million) in 2019.

Journalist David McClure, who has investigated the opaque financial world on “planet Windsor”, believes the couple are worth a combined £18 million ($A33 million) due to Prince Harry’s family money and Meghan’s television background.

The couple state on their website they “do not receive any tax privileges”. However, they have benefited from tax advantages such as the lack of inheritance tax or corporation tax paid on money from the Duchy of Cornwall.

They also benefit from around £600,000 ($A1.1 million) worth of security each year that is currently funded by the UK taxpayer. That number could soar if they moved abroad.

Already, the Sussexes have been tipped to command tens of millions for an Obama-style book deal that could be in the offing. Working as executive producers on television shows or documentaries, as Prince Harry has already done with Oprah Winfrey, or netting six figures on the public speaking circuit could also be in their sights. The couple have also taken out a global trademark for their Sussex Royal brand covering a range of merchandise from social care services to pyjamas.

Mr Edwards said he could foresee a way to make earning money work “as long as it’s not tacky”.

“Meghan obviously misses her career. To be honest, most people had never heard of her before she met Harry … but now if she was offered a film part she could command her own fee because we’d all go and see the movie, every one of us. She’s now mega box office and she knows that. She’s probably been inundated with offers already,” he said, citing the news she will work with Disney to provide voiceover for a conservation film

“You can sort of frown on that if you like but I don’t. I think there’s no reason why she shouldn’t do that. I’m sure she can do it in an acceptable way for everybody.”

PUBLIC APPROVAL SINKS

A recently commissioned YouGov poll shows public attitudes towards Meghan and Harry have hardened throughout the Sussex saga. Prince Harry remains the second most popular royal after the Queen but his support has dropped from 71 per cent favourable in October last year to just 55 per cent now.

Meghan’s support has also dropped from 55 per cent approval to 49 per cent. Part of the outrage appeared to be due to the decision not to give the Queen advance warning of their initial decision to step back, 57 per cent saying the monarch was not treated fairly. Two thirds of those surveyed had sympathy with the Queen, while just one third had sympathy with Meghan and Harry.

The public overwhelmingly agreed the couple should not receive any more public money, with 81 per cent believing this should be the case. Sixty-seven per cent said they should not receive an income from the Duchy of Cornwall and 66 per cent think the Government should no longer fund their security.

More than half (56 per cent) think they should no longer be allowed to live at Frogmore Cottage, while 46 per cent say they should be stripped of their royal titles. But the public are also on their side regarding the press, with 44 per cent of Brits saying the media treatment is overly critical compared with 23 per cent who believe it fair, according to a survey in August last year.

Republican groups have also welcomed the move, with the Australian Republican Movement applauding the idea they could “earn their own keep”, according to chair Peter FitzSimons.

“Most grandmothers would be happy to see their grandkids move out and stop asking for money, but the monarchy certainly does things differently to the rest of us” he said.

UK antimonarchy campaign group Republic spokesman Graham Smith also slammed the couple for wanting to “have your cake and eat it”.

“To suggest that they’re not already financially independent is incredibly crass and belies a sense of self-entitlement and a lack of self-awareness that is common among royals,” he said.

Victoria.Craw@news.com.au



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