News & Opinion


Prince Harry and Meghan Markle pay back $3.1 million, but the media won’t let go

The Daily Beast

September 10, 2020

Harry and Meghan have paid back the $3.1 million they owed U.K. taxpayers. A Netflix deal gives them financial independence. But don’t expect their tabloid tormentors to let up.

They have paid the money back. They are now “financially independent,” as they stated they wanted to be. But do not expect the media—the British tabloid media to be specific—to grant Prince Harry and Meghan Markle peace.

It does not matter that Harry and Meghan have now officially repaid the $3.1 million of public money (£2.4 million) used to renovate their British residence, Frogmore Cottage. People reported Tuesday that the couple are also not relying on any financial assistance from Harry’s dad, Prince Charles, who had not—as had been supposed—funded security costs but had been helping the couple “with some ongoing living costs.”

A spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said in a statement, “A contribution has been made to the Sovereign Grant by The Duke of Sussex. This contribution as originally offered by Prince Harry has fully covered the necessary renovation costs of Frogmore Cottage, a property of Her Majesty The Queen, and will remain the UK residence of The Duke and his family.”

Harry and Meghan’s Netflix deal, announced last week and said to be worth around $100 million, has likely helped vaporize the couple’s financial burdens, but do not expect for a moment that Harry and Meghan’s tabloid watchers will quit their posts. For Piers Morgan, one of the couple’s most relentless, exhausting critics, they should now give up their “very commercially beneficial Duke and Duchess titles,” and then be free to “do & say whatever they like.”

Richard Kay in the Daily Mail said the financial squaring-off was a “signal” that Harry and Meghan’s “divorce from Britain is permanent, while removing any pretense that they might still have a future role in the Royal Family.”

The Netflix deal, and whatever shows and films come from it, guarantee Harry and Meghan’s presence in the celebrity firmament. They are living in a big house in Santa Barbara. They are about to embark on a Hollywood life, the very opposite of life out of the public eye. They are making the transition from royal celebrities to celebrity royals.

In one sense, Morgan is right; the Duke and Duchess titles are the last practical vestige—in name only—to the British royal family. But it’s unlikely they’ll give them up, or the royal family would insist on the same. Unless some huge scandal comes knocking.

In Harry and Meghan’s ideal world, the media will remain interested in them and their work—but not write anything mean about them, or question their motives and doings. There would be positive pieces about whatever uplifting, social-issue oriented movie or TV show they will produce or oversee.

The couple has launched a number of legal actions against media organizations. They feel intruded upon, and overly criticized. But the weird contradiction at the heart of their future plans is that if they want less attention, if they just want to quietly do good works and simply be admired for doing so, why have they decided to become power-players in Hollywood? This is a place full of flashbulbs, full of journalists, and full of critics—ready to criticize.

Certainly, American television is a kinder promotional arena for the couple than in Britain. But Harry and Meghan, apparently attention-averse, have chosen the most attention-attracting arena on which to base their futures.

It does not matter that they have paid the money back. It doesn’t matter that they have given up Charles’ cash. Harry and Meghan are high-profile personalities. The fact they are not working royals any more does not mean that public and media interest in them is lessened—and their pursuit of a lucrative Hollywood life shows they do not vont to be alone either.

Their embrace of the world of celebrity shows not how mutually exclusive royalty and celebrity are, but how porous both spheres are. Meghan and Harry hope they can parlay their brand to become the kinds of mega-rich, do-gooding public figures they see themselves as. Their fiercest tormentors and critics in the press will be smacking their lips.

To Piers Morgan and others, Harry and Meghan will always be rich and hypocritical—in their lecturing of others, while living the high life themselves, particularly when it comes to their past use of private jets. Their transformation into Hollywood producers will only make that attention more intense.

Harry and Meghan provide, consistently, a vital ingredient that guarantees ongoing coverage in both Britain and America: drama. And they’re in a country where the seductive glamour and proximity of royalty surrounds them; titles, at this point, are immaterial.

The challenge for Meghan and Harry remains the same—completely impossible—challenge they had in Britain: to regulate the coverage, its amount and content, that surrounds them. For their critics, Harry and Meghan will always be an appealing target.

The loathing is mutual. Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family, which shows a remarkable intimacy with the couple’s innermost thoughts and many grievances, revealed how much they dislike the media—and for Harry how that dislike is intensely personal, based on the experiences and tragic death of his mother, Princess Diana. It also had mountainous levels of drama.

That’s the strange thing about Harry and Meghan. They clearly want attention, they clearly want to voice and showcase opinions, but they want to do this all on their own terms and be celebrated and congratulated, as opposed to being questioned and criticized. They want to influence political and cultural debate as fragrantly as possible.

They are determined to redefine their relationship with the media, via legal force when necessary, but the media shows no desire to simply be their uncritical mouthpieces—in Britain at least. And so, separated by an ocean rendered meaningless by the internet, this uneasy dance will continue, lawsuits and all. The strangest thing of all: Both Harry and Meghan and the media need each other far more than either would ever admit.