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Following the news that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are stepping back “as senior members of the royal family” and splitting their time between the U.K. and North America, some critics suggested that Meghan Markle has somehow brainwashed her husband, Prince Harry, into turning his back on his family, his country and his royal duties.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, even before Prince Harry, 35, met Markle, there was endless speculation about his future as a member of the royal family. Quite a few pundits suggested that Harry would do his own thing, quite possibly in a part of the world far away from Buckingham Palace.
“He’s a rich young man; he could decide to kiss goodbye to the whole thing,” a friend of Harry’s said, per Penny Junor’s 2014 biography “Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son.” “He could say, ‘I waive my rights to the throne, I waive my rights to any money, I’m not going to live in palaces, I’m going to look after myself and do my own thing.’”
“He would be relatively in his rights to do so, so long as he paid for his own protection and all the rest of it. He’s got enough money,” the source added. (And that he does — Forbes reported that Diana, Princess of Wales, left Prince William and Harry $10 million each, after tax.)
Harry’s charity Sentebale, which he co-founded in 2006, has always been one of his priorities, and it’s never been too much of a stretch to imagine him moving to Lethoso, South Africa, where it’s based — even for part of the time.
The Sussexes’ official statement, published on the official Sussex Royal website and also posted on their official Instagram account, stated that the couple made the life-changing decision “after many months of reflection and internal discussions.” In order to establish “a progressive new role within this institution,” they would “work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen.”
“The geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born,” they continued, “while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.”
Their announcement has created shockwaves across the world, but it really shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Prince Harry has already spoken about the challenges the couple has faced, primarily due to the attitude of the British press. In an ITV documentary filmed during their tour of Africa in October, Harry told Tom Bradby that his grief from losing his mother, Princess Diana, when he was age 12, was a “wound that festers,” a pain that he experiences every time flashes from paparazzi cameras go off in his face, reminding him of the relentless harassment his mother endured.
“I think being part of this family, in this role and in this job, every single time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash — it takes me back,” Harry said. “So in that respect, it’s the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best. As I said, with the role, with the job, and the sort of pressures that come with that, I get reminded of the bad stuff, unfortunately.”
Towards the end of their tour, Harry issued an unprecedented statement in which he accused sections of the British tabloid press of pursuing a “ruthless campaign” against his wife and said some newspapers had “vilified her almost daily for the past nine months,” publishing “lie after lie” about her simply because she was out of public view on maternity leave.
Making reference to his mother, Harry said his “deepest fear is history repeating itself.”
“I’ve seen what happens when someone I love is commoditised to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person,” he wrote. “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces.”
“I spent many years kicking my heels and I didn’t want to grow up. I felt I wanted out but then decided to stay in and work out a role for myself,” he said.
He also told Levin, “I am determined to have a relatively normal life, and if I am lucky enough to have children, they can have one, too. We don’t want to be just a bunch of celebrities but instead use our role for good.”
And that’s what he and Markle intend to do — insofar as they can ever have a “normal” life. They may be planning to jump the royal ship, but they’ll continue with their patronages and their charity work; their own newly launched Sussex Royal charity is expected to have a commitment to female empowerment on a global scale.
It’s also important to remember that Harry is not his brother. Being second in line to the throne, Prince William has a very clear destiny. But Harry is currently sixth in line, outside the direct line of succession, and will move further down the chart if William and Kate have more children, or if one of their kids has a child. In other words, Harry is never going to be king.
Aside from spending less time in the U.K., the Duke and Duchess of Sussex might carry on pretty much as they have been. Except they’ll be doing it without taking public money — because clearly that comes at a price that, to them, just isn’t worth paying.