Relationships

Harry and Meghan’s Break With the Royal Family Is a Real Thrill for Us All

Meghan and Harry are all smiles as they depart Canada House.
The Duchess and Duke of Sussex in London on Tuesday.
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced on Wednesday that they plan to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family” and split their time between the United Kingdom and North America. The couple, said to have a net worth estimated between $30 million and $45 million, also announced they will “work to become financially independent.”

The announcement follows months of signals that Harry and Meghan were miserable in their formal roles. They returned to “work” just this week after taking an unprecedented six-week holiday break from their royal duties. Last year, they gave interviews for a documentary in which they spoke frankly and emotionally about the burden and stresses they face, and the tensions that had arisen between Harry and his brother William, Duke of Cambridge. In October, Harry announced that the couple was suing the parent company of the Daily Mail after the tabloid published a private letter Meghan wrote to her father, Thomas Markle. “I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” Harry said at the time. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.” Meghan gave birth to their first child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor, in May.

British tabloids have been brutally critical of Meghan in particular, and often blatantly racist. But she has become a beloved figure internationally. “Meghan and Harry have really gotten a raw deal from the British press, but the wider world adores them,” said Leslie Carroll, the author of American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who said she was both surprised and not shocked by Wednesday’s news. “Imagine if you were joining a sorority where everyone was mean to you and then you realize: I don’t have to be here.”

In their statement, which was first posted to Instagram, the couple said their decision to break away was made “after many months of reflection and internal discussions” and that they plan to “carve out a progressive new role within this institution.” The couple also launched a new website in which they describe their “decision to adjust their working model” in more detail. One change is that they will forgo their income from the “Sovereign Grant,” the funding mechanism of the monarchy that covers their work on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II.

The website says that they received 5 percent of the “funding for their official office” through the grant in 2019. (The other 95 percent came through the office of Harry’s father Charles, Prince of Wales.) They will also take greater control of which media outlets have access to them and stop participating in the “Royal Rota” system, a press pool that includes several major tabloids. Harry and Meghan say they will now engage with “grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists” and “credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting.”

The announcement will be greeted with skepticism from those who point out that the couple is already rich and apparently keeping their royal titles. Meanwhile, they are cutting themselves off from an increasingly toxic brand while retaining their status as global celebrities. They will enjoy more personal and professional freedom, a round of sympathetic international press coverage, and potentially even higher incomes. What exactly is the sacrifice here?

Fair points, all! But it’s possible for this break to be both canny and justified. There’s a reason, after all, that it’s unusual for a member of the royal family to publicly renounce their duties and move across the ocean. The whole premise of royalty is that it is a matter of blood. Giving a metaphorical two weeks’ notice on a birthright is a radical move, one that indicates the couple felt they had no gentler way to negotiate for what they wanted.

In any case, the good news for the rest of us is that this is all shaping up to be a very irresistible, refreshingly meaningless drama. It’s already clear that the royal family apparently had to scramble to react. The BBC’s royal correspondent tweeted that the couple did not consult any other members of Harry’s family before making the announcement, and that the family is “understood to be ‘disappointed.’ ” Buckingham Palace quickly released its own terse statement saying, “discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage.” Exciting!

Among many questions that remain is where in North America the couple will settle, which will make a difference in the optics of the break. Moving to the United States would be a major departure. But the family apparently spent at least part of their holiday break in Canada, which is part of the British Commonwealth. Markle is from Los Angeles, but she lived in Toronto for years when she starred in the USA Network drama Suits. Only the royals could turn “We’re thinking about possibly moving to Canada” into the juiciest celebrity story of the year so far.