In the end, it took just over a week for Prince Harry to announce and finalise the terms of his exit from the royal family. But Queen seems to have told him that, while he’s free to leave the firm, out means out. He and Meghan have agreed to give up their ‘royal highness’ titles so they will “no longer be working members of the royal family”. Their idea of being hybrid royals, “collaborating” with the Queen, has been politely but firmly quashed. They’ll perform no more royal duties and – ergo – receive no more taxpayers’ money. Moreover, they’ll refund the £2.4 million cost of refurbishing Frogmore Cottage outside Windsor, which they’ll keep as their UK home. This gives a taste of how hard the deal is: Harry and Meghan had been angling to avoid this bill, saying on their glitzy website that the costly upgrade merely reflected ‘the monarchy’s responsibility to maintain the upkeep of buildings with historical significance.’ Now, he says he’ll cover it himself.
But in return, Prince Harry is a free man. Perhaps more free than he had originally envisaged. It seems as if the statement on the ‘Sussex Royal’ website – that they ‘proudly carry out official overseas visits in support of Her Majesty The Queen’ – has been rejected by Buckingham Palace. There can be no halfway house, so there will be no more royal duties. No ‘collaborating’ with the Queen, as their glitzy website puts it. Harry has agreed to drop all his military roles, including Captain-General of the Royal Marines.
But there is a good deal of sense to a hard exit: bad for all of them, in a way, but better than the alternative. Harry clearly hated life in what he called ‘the goldfish bowl’ and wanted out – it’s not hard to understand why. He has a wife, a child but not a career. If he thinks he needs to break out on his own – the better to settle and protect his family – then he has every right to make that move now. The scrutiny he’s subjected to and the role he’s expected to play would be too much for most people. He’s worth £30m, she’s also pretty wealthy and they have the chance to go live abroad, further from the gaze of the press. He and Meghan had expensive tastes and habits, way out of line with the parameters that the Queen and Prince William have carefully set for the modern monarchy. They want more privacy than the royal deal allows. It makes sense for them to go. Had things continued as they were, they’d be accused of choosing the values of Hollywood over that of Sandringham and it would have been worse for everyone.
‘It is a complete misconception,’ the Duke of Edinburgh once said, ‘to imagine that the monarchy exists in the interests of the monarch. It doesn’t. It exists in the interests of the people.’ He is right: royalty asks a lot of its members. It means a whole list of rules and codes, how to behave, what to do and what not to do. It means a life of duty serving unfashionable charities – and, perhaps toughest of all, sharing huge amounts of your private life with the public via the media.
The Queen has, through her conduct, set an incredibly high standard – but her success means the monarchy a unifying force in an often-divided country. Public support for the monarchy is strikingly strong in Britain, but it would soon start to crumble if its members lost their sense of public duty.
Sofia Svensson wrote a few days ago about how Princess Madeleine of Sweden, whose big sister is the heir to the Swedish crown, also married a rich American and moved over there to opt out of royal life. It works for the Swedes and there’s no reason that a royal exit can’t work for Harry and Meghan. As long as they’re not on the public purse, and don’t embarrass the country by running Blair-style errands for sheiks and oligarchs, this could be as elegant a way out of this as either side could hope for.
This is not over yet. We haven’t been told whether they’ll still get money from Prince Charles’s Duchy businesses or what kind of work they’ll do from now on. Some years after Princess Madeleine left Sweden, the king decided that her children should not have the ‘royal highness’ title: we have not been told that the same will happen to the offspring of Harry and Meghan. And he’ll keep the title, even if he has agreed not to use it: perhaps to offer him a route back, should he be minded to take one. If they live like Toronto millionaires then everything will be fine. But if the lifestyle they’re shooting for is that of Californian billionaires then there could be more controversy in store.
But as things stand, there’s no reason why this Megxit deal should not work. A 21st century monarch should have an exit mechanism for those minded to take it. Prince Harry has just created one. In our weekly magazine podcast, The Edition (below), Katie Nicholl says that if it ends well then Harry might have created useful blueprint for Charlotte and Louis and others not in the direct line of succession. So this hard Megxit could very well end up better for everyone, with the monarchy ending up stronger as a result.