Now that they’ve left their life as full-time working Royals, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are tapping into their celebrity status to make money and bolster what they currently have.
By Dawn Chmielewski, Forbes Staff
Now that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have completed their Hollywood transition, the couple is entering an uncharted new chapter in life now that they won’t be returning as full-time working members of the British royal family. No diplomatic formalities. No government security detail. And no royal patronage.
Up until last year, Harry’s father, the Prince of Wales, covered the majority of the expenses associated with their royal duties, including staff and travel, through the Duchy of Cornwall, which Forbes estimates amounted to about $800,000 a year. The Crown paid for more than $3 million for renovations underway at Frogmore Cottage before it became their family home in the U.K. They voluntarily repaid the sum in September with a contribution to the Sovereign Grant.
That’s left them with the progressive new life they want but also the kind financial uncertainty—a former royal’s version of it, at least—of recent college graduates who’ve just left home to embark on the independence of adulthood. His older brother and future king, Prince William, covers expenses with help from the Duchy of Cornwall, which in the last fiscal year spent about $8 million to support the public, charitable and personal activities of Prince Charles and his immediate family.
Prince Harry spoke about his withdrawal from official Royal duties with fellow Brit James Corden on The Late Late Show yesterday—a week after Buckingham Palace released a statement—but he took issue with Corden’s depiction of him “walking away” from the family. “It was never walking away; it was stepping back rather than stepping down,” said the Duke, saying he decided to leave to escape a relentless press. “We all know what the British press can be like and it was destroying my mental health. This is toxic. So I did what any husband, what any father, would do. I need to get my family out of here.”
His late mother, Princess Diana, who famously died in a car crash after being chased by paparazzi, made the move possible. With financial support from the Crown abruptly shut off, the relocated royals have relied largely on the estimated $10 million inheritance Harry received from his late mother’s estate. Contrary to published reports, a representative confirms he was not a beneficiary of any of the nearly $100 million (£70 million) fortune left by his great-grandmother, the Queen Mother. Meghan Markle contributed an estimated $2 million in after-tax earnings from her work in films and television shows, most notably the long-running legal drama Suits.
They bought a $14.7 million estate in Montecito, the seaside Santa Barbara, California, enclave that’s home to such Hollywood celebrities as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres and wife Portia de Rossi, in August 2020. They put down $5 million and now have a nearly $10 million mortgage. The Duke and Duchess also repaid the Sovereign Grant for the $3 million spent to remodel Frogmore, which remains their UK family home. That leaves Prince Harry and Meghan with a surprisingly modest nest egg of roughly $5 million—at least for now. Their estimated net worth, including the equity from their Montecito home, is roughly $10 million. The Queen has a net worth of $500 million, according to the last tally by Forbes in 2019, while the combined value of the British Monarch’s holdings with the Crown Estate, the Duchy of Lancaster (a real estate trust), were worth an estimated $25 billion.
The Prince and his American wife want to dedicate their life to helping others and improving the world. “My life is always going to be about public service, and Meghan signed up to that,” Prince Harry told Corden. But they also have to pay the bills, and thanks to their global celebrity and cachet, Hollywood is only happy to capitalize, helping to cushion the financial blow.
Earlier in the week, they touted their partnership with Spotify during a livestreamed event that also featured Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish, Bruce Springsteen, Barack Obama and Ava DuVernay. The Duke and Duchess plan to produce podcasts and shows that “elevate voices that maybe aren’t being heard” exclusively for the streaming service’s 320 million monthly users around the world.
Spotify’s three-year podcasting deal with Prince Harry and Meghan could be worth as much as $15 million to $18 million, according to industry sources. It’s unknown whether the streaming music service has begun writing checks, however, since the first podcast from Archewell Audio is likely to take at least a year to develop. But when the checks arrive, it would add around $3.5 million a year to their coffers, after taxes.
The couple had begun to tentatively trod Hollywood’s red carpet long before their move to California. Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey announced in April 2019 that they would executive produce a mental health series for Apple TV+. The series, which was caught up in the pandemic’s production delays, is an extension of the Duke’s long-standing work in this area, in which he has candidly shared details of his own experience of loss. Deal terms could not be determined.
Speaking engagements are another potential avenue for them. Prince Harry spoke at a private JPMorgan summit in Miami in February 2020, which reportedly fetched $1 million. Last June, they retained the New York-based Harry Walker Agency to drum up speaking engagements. It’s the same agency that represents the Obamas, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Stacey Abrams.
Perhaps the biggest potential moneymaker for them: a lucrative five-year, $100 million contract with Netflix, signed in September 2020, to produce documentaries, docuseries, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming. It’s unclear whether Prince Harry and Meghan received an advance on the deal, which is likely to contribute handsomely to their net worth down the road. But the streaming service recognizes its subscribers’ fascination with the British royal family. Netflix renewed The Crown, a hit drama about the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, for a sixth and final season last fall.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also will sit for an extended interview with Oprah Winfrey that airs at 8 p.m. EST Sunday, March 7, on CBS, where Meghan is expected to discuss such topics as “stepping into life as a royal,” a topic bound to stir unease behind the gates of Buckingham Palace, and Prince Harry will later join the two to discuss the move to the United States and his hopes for their expanding family.