As everyone knows, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, have been making headline news ever since they announced they’re stepping back as “senior members” of Britain’s royal family.
In a statement, they also said they plan to work “to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen.” As expected, the announcement has been met with fireworks of speculation about their future and stories in the media… oh so many stories, with reporters and news agencies salivating about every facet of the Royals – the rift between Prince Harry and Prince William, the family’s rejection of Markle, and systemic racism in the British press.
I don’t watch the Netflix historical series The Crown, but I’m told from friends who do that the ongoing public spectacle is like sitting in on a live taping, which is sad. The two, blue blood or not, are real people with real feelings.
At any rate, what has fascinated me about this soap opera is the fact that the duke and the duchess are saying “no, thanks” to the millions of dollars they receive from British taxpayers for simply being born into the right family. Harry and Meghan, like some of their other relatives, are funded through the Sovereign Grant, public money that supports the Queen’s duties. If they wanted to, they could live out the rest of their natural lives without having to work a single day outside royal obligations.
Other royals – Harry’s cousins Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Eugenie, for example – do work in “regular” jobs outside their regal responsibilities, but Harry would be by far the most high-ranking royal to relinquish his stature.
Nevertheless, the couple’s decision to step back from their public role has resulted in dozens of stories about how they could earn their keep, from hitting the speaking circuit, to designing a fashion line. Markle, an accomplished actress, could even return to Hollywood.
It seems to me that in wanting to escape, the duke and the duchess aren’t that much different from the rest of us. Who doesn’t dream of financial freedom? Even when we love what we do, the idea of not being bound to an employer – in the royals’ case, the family – is powerful motivation to squirrel away part of our earnings and make a break for it.
Some of us want financial independence to travel. Others would prefer to loaf around and relax, or, in a few cases, to work at something more creative than the 9-to-5 grind we count on to get by. I would have no desire to lounge around all day, but I could definitely handle the freedom to travel without worrying about paying bills.
It would seem that, despite the lifestyle we’ve witnessed up to this point, Meghan may not value the extravagance as much as the freedom. I read an interview where she quoted PT Barnum, saying money is only a tool, “A terrible master but an excellent servant.” She said she admires the people who have, “renounced the trappings of status and consumption to create a life they want.”
So do I. Last year, a childhood friend gave up his successful engineering job to pursue his true love, photography. He hadn’t amassed wealth, but he was comfortable and on an upward career trajectory in his field. He now lives in a small town out of province, in a house much tinier than the sprawling property his engineering job provided, and he will be the first to tell you two things: he is far less financially secure, and he is incredibly happy.
If that isn’t true success, I don’t know what is.
For all their fame and glamour, Harry and Meghan aren’t that much different from my friend. I suspect their stepping away from their public duties is not about making more money – just the opposite, I’m sure they’re aware they won’t be nearly as wealthy as they would be with the Sovereign Grant. I think they value the prospect of living their lives on their own terms, royal protocol be damned, and they’re willing to take a financial loss for the sake of their overall happiness in life.
Their flight may be a lesson for all of us.