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The King Kong Of Musicals

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On a windy spring day in Johannesburg, South Africa, we make our way through the dusty streets of Braamfontein to the hallowed halls of the Joburg Theatre, a venue often described as the nucleus of the country’s theatrical history. It’s the perfect setting for the retelling of South Africa’s historic hit musical, King Kong, more than half a century after it was first showcased.

Ahead of the play’s Johannesburg run – from September 12 to October 8 – we are here to meet Nondumiso Tembe, the female lead playing Joyce, a role that catapulted the late Miriam Makeba to international stardom in the original production of King Kong, which opened at the Wits University Great Hall in 1959 as South Africa’s first black musical. In 1961, the play transferred to London’s West End and was a stupendous success with a 200-performance run.

Tembe, an award-winning actress and singer-songwriter, has credits of her own, including HBO’s Golden Globe and Emmy-award winning True Blood, SABC’s Generations, the military drama SIX on the History Channel and Zulu Wedding opposite Darrin Dewitt Henson.

She walks in to Stages, the restaurant at the entrance of Joburg Theatre, with a beaming smile and a spring in her step. She is relaxed but excited– the opening night is in five days – and rehearsals are on at the theater. Ordering a cappuccino, she gets straight to the interview.

“I think for our generation, King Kong, and the legend of this man has always been alive in our consciousness as South Africans,” she says.

“And many of us were aware of it and perhaps our parents had shared some of the memories and the experience of the production with us but I don’t think we really knew or understood the story or the music in-depth… It was there alive somewhere in the back of my consciousness but I did not know too much about it and in particular, I didn’t know much about the role of Joyce.”

Tembe smiles as she also admits she was not aware Makeba originally played the role.

“I was humbled to be chosen to be part of a play that was incredibly historic, ground-breaking and deeply brilliant at the time. I was hired two weeks before we were meant to start rehearsals and honestly it’s all kind of a blur,” she laughs.

“Before I knew it, I packed up my life in Los Angeles and prepared to be away for an extended period of time. From then, I spent every waking moment researching the production, the period and the role, in particular the music.”

READ MORE: Money, Witchcraft And Beer – This Is Metal From Soweto

Set in the 1950s’ Sophiatown in Johannesburg, King Kong tells the true story of heavyweight boxing champion Ezekiel Dlamini who named himself ‘King Kong’ because of his stout physique and fearless personality. The play is a story of love and self-destruction enacted to the invigorating music of Todd Matshikiza.

From left to right: Nondumiso Tembe, Joel Zuma, Sanda Shandu, Barileng Malebye and Ben Kgosimore star in King Kong. (Photo by Daniel Rutland Manners)

Dlamini is aptly essayed by actor, singer and dancer Andile Gumbi, who made his Broadway debut as Simba in Disney’s The Lion King.

Born in Vryheid in the then Orange Free State, Dlamini himself became an unwitting symbol for freedom and the wasted power of his people under apartheid. After sudden stardom in the boxing world, Dlamini’s life degenerated into drunkenness and gang violence.

In 1957, Dlamini was to be a classic Greek tragic figure when, in a fit of jealousy, he killed his girlfriend and at his trial asked for a death sentence, to serve as a warning to others. Instead, the white judge, who refused to take instruction from a black defendant, sentenced Dlamini to 12 years of labor. But, three months later, King Kong is found drowned in a dam on a prison farm. At 36 years old, he had taken destiny into his own hands and, inadvertently, become a legend.

Dlamini’s story bears a striking resemblance to William Shakespeare’s tragic hero Othello; a man consumed by love and his vices. Like Othello, King Kong is said to have ended his own life, unable to live with the devastation he caused.

READ MORE: Three Women, Three Wives, One True Story

On the opening night of the re-imagining of this tragic tale in Johannesburg in September, the theater is abuzz, unlike the quiet venue it had been a few days ago when we met Tembe.

“I’m really excited about this remake,” says South African actress and author Pamela Nomvete, just before the packed show.

“Todd Matshikiza put together a phenomenal musical and John Matshikiza, his son, launched my career in the UK. So for me, it’s like being a part of history because it was so significant at the time.”

The set design on stage is simple, consisting of painted corrugated iron shutters complete with rows of brilliant golden lights, and with the energetic actors and the live nine-piece orchestra led by Sipumzo Trueman Lucwaba, takes you back in time.

The costumes worn by the all-South African cast form an integral part of the musical narrative set in Sophiatown, the legendary black cultural hub featuring Kofifi dance, Kofifi music and other forms of entertainment.

The 1950s was when the ‘Kofifi style’ emerged, just as apartheid was being implemented. Men worked mainly in mines and factories wearing overalls and the only occasions they could wear a suit – an integral part of the Kofifi style – was at funerals, weddings or on payday.

It was a combination of fashion and a rebel lifestyle that defined this period and people who lived it up as best they could.

The South African project described Sophiatown as an area which “developed into the center of urban African music and culture and starting in the 1940s, it began to enrich its musical performances and elements of popular culture. Sophiatown symbolized something greater than the struggle of fitting in socially; it symbolized the fight for survival while having to deal with expensive rent, poverty, overcrowding, unfair wages, and unfair treatment. The people of Sophiatown established a strong community identity”.

The 120-minute play swiftly transforms from the playground to the boxing ring to the shanty town to the shabeen owned by Joyce, when Tembe makes her opening appearance with a soulful rendition of the legendary Back of the Moon, a sensual song written by Todd Matshikiza.

“The music for Joyce was incredibly challenging and sophisticated and multi-layered and really hard to sing. I was forced to buckle down and not think about the implications or the legacy we were carrying or the weight on our shoulders,” says Tembe at our meeting.

“The original script was very thin and the creative team agreed the characters were rather one-dimensional, more archetypes than real, complex, multi-dimensional human beings and we were very clear in our adaptation, not a revival of the original production; we were more interested in telling a human story the audience could relate to.”

Nondumiso Tembe. (Photo by Daniel Rutland Manners)

It was not an easy challenge to accept for the cast.

“There were a lot of holes so we all worked very hard to fill those gaps and make it more rich and dynamic. For me the challenge with Joyce, because she was one-dimensional and didn’t really have a back story; there was the danger of her coming across as a vamp or a man-eater and I was very clear that my greatest nightmare would be for the audience members to walk away from the play thinking she deserved what she got instead of sympathizing with her,” says Tembe.

This was especially important for Tembe because of the current social context in South Africa, where there has been an epidemic of violence against women, and this being a story about femicide, it was critical for her to convey the right message.

“We really didn’t want our audiences to cheer at the end of the tragic scene between Joyce and King Kong and that actually happened when we first staged it, in preview week, so, the writer, Bill Michaelson, who I admire, snuck in, very last minute during preview week, and added a wonderful but very deep and pivotal scene between King Kong and Joyce which we rehearsed with the director for barely an hour and then Andile Gumbi and I had to perform it that very night in front of a paying audience, which was terrifying,” recounts Tembe, letting out a little scream.

Watching that scene in the play makes it hard to imagine the script was enacted without it. The raw emotions portrayed by King Kong and Joyce are paramount to the play’s climax; a pivotal scene providing great insight into the characters – who they are and why they make the decisions they do.

READ MORE: The Father Of Ghanaian Theater

South African actor Andile Nebulane calls the play “magical”.

“It’s brilliant, fun to watch and you cannot fall asleep watching it. The choreography is also brilliant; Greg Maqoma did an outstanding job.”

But he adds: “Although, I do think South African theater needs to move from the third gear into sixth gear. It needs to be shaken up, we need new stuff. We need to stop recycling stories, we need to write, we need to create and we just need to be recognized by stakeholders like government, which does not take us seriously.”

Sne Dladla (left) and Lerato Mvelase in King Kong. (Photo by Jesse Kramer)

When the play was originally staged in 1959, the audience also included Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie. King Kong toured South Africa for two years, and was seen by 200,000 South Africans, playing to record-breaking multiracial audiences, this as apartheid began to take shape in South Africa. King Kong in part, launched the international careers of Makeba and Hugh Masekela, among many others.

But, it was at this time that King Kong moved to London. The celebration of what had been deemed South Africa’s greatest play was short-lived because of the Sharpeville Massacre of March 21, 1960.

But in a fitting tribute to the art form and the local talent the country boasts today, Nomvete says: “I think South African theater is of an outstanding caliber and more people should be coming into our country to watch our shows; King Kong is testament enough of how well professionals in the performing arts are doing their thing and they are doing it well.”

The Fugard Theatre’s King Kong, directed by Jonathan Munby, was also staged at the Fugard Theatre in Cape Town before its Johannesburg outing.

“I do think that Mariam Makeba and Todd Matshikiza and the entire original creative team who may no longer be with us are smiling down from heaven and are proud of the steps we have taken and how we have pushed the story and the production forward and caused it to evolve. We are proudly and graciously carrying the torch they originally lit,” concludes Tembe.

The standing ovation the play received more than confirmed that. – Written by Rofhiwa Madzena

Entrepreneurs

‘Toilet Paper, Gently Used.’ How Facebook Marketplace Has Become An Unlikely Platform For Comedy

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In the two days since he advertised  “unprocessed toilet paper” for sale on Facebook Marketplace next to a photo of logs, David Traichel says the response has been better than expected. No actual buyers, just hundreds of views, laughs, and “you made my day” from other users browsing through the online classifieds.

“So many people are so freaked out about the idea of not having toilet paper,” says Traichel, 39. The aerospace technician and welder from Northford, Connecticut generally uses Facebook Marketplace to sell vintage car and bicycle parts. He decided to offer his oak and cedar woodpile (price, $1) to jog users out of their shopping panic. “Maybe those people would see the ad and think, ‘OK, maybe I’m overreacting.”  

Homebound Americans have turned to scavenging on ecommerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace for the boring household goods that have become hot items during the coronavirus pandemic. The shortages have inspired some mercenary sellers to excessive pricing (say, hand sanitizer for $149) and prompted the tech companies to crack down on price gougers. The hoarding frenzy has also been catnip for armchair humorists, who have found an unlikely platform to yuk it up in the free classifieds of Facebook Marketplace. 

You snooze, you lose. KIM MARIE/FACEBOOK

On the social network’s 800 million-user shopping site, one Internet standup is offering “toilet paper, extra long roll” for $69,4202—it’s a CVS receipt wound around the toilet paper dispenser. Another wants to sell you the “last roll of toilet paper in the world,” marked at $10,000. As a last resort, yet another smart aleck is advertising $90 toilet paper alongside a photo of sandpaper. “Don’t go without during this crisis,” it reads.

In reality, there’s no toilet paper crisis. Unlike imports such as iPhones and flat-screen TVs, most U.S. toilet paper comes from domestic factories, buffering supplies from a drop in production in China, where the viral outbreak started. Georgia-Pacific, maker of AngelSoft and Quilted Northern, is boosting its U.S. production. Proctor & Gamble, which makes Charmin brand toilet paper, Bounty paper towels and Puffs facial tissue, says production at its U.S. plants is at record highs. “Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible,” says P&G spokeswoman Loren Fanroy

Which makes it all the more absurd that anxious shoppers stripped supermarket shelves of every last double-ply roll. Relishing the irony, Kim Marie, a 42-year-old naturopathic practitioner from Manorville, New York, decided this week to flog “vintage toilet paper” on Facebook Marketplace. For just $55,990, she’s showcasing a water-damaged and rotting roll mounted on a rustic wall, closing with the Craigslist battlecry of overpriced junker listings, “no low ballers, I know what I got.” Marie, who regularly sells vintage housewares on the site,  says she has received no serious inquiries. Just as well, since the item listed isn’t actually in Marie’s possession— it was a funny photo texted to her by her husband. She threw it up on Marketplace “to lighten the mood.”

See more of Liz Stoppiello’s work on her Facbook page, @Stitchizbyliz.
 
LIZ STOPPIELLO/@STITCHIZBYLIZ

It was the “organic toilet paper,” a $10 baggie of leaves listed on Facebook Marketplace by her brother’s girlfriend, that inspired Liz Stoppiello, 27. The stay-at-home mom usually sells items like car seats and books on Facebook Marketplace. This week she’s offering “washable crochet toilet paper! Been used only a cpl times”  for a cool $100. The advertised off-white crochet squares, wrapped around a cardboard tube, look worthy of an Etsy storefront. It took about 30 minutes to make. She just wanted to “get a good laugh” from people and to promote her crochet-oriented Facebook page. “You never know if anyone will start to desperately need handmade items in the near future lol,” she said via email. 

Her fellow Marketplace posters might be in on the joke, but Facebook’s bots are not. The social network, which uses artificial intelligence to help monitor content and warned Monday that its systems may have removed some COVID-19-related posts in error, had flagged Traichel’s toilet paper ad for unprocessed wood as “under review.”

Facebook “must be so flooded they don’t know what to do,” Traichel emailed, adding an “lol.” He isn’t interested in making a profit, at least not on his firewood. “If people really need toilet paper, I’ll give ‘em a roll.”

Helen A. S. Popkin, Forbes Staff, Innovation


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The Talented Choir That Never Had A Music Lesson

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From humble beginnings to the limelight in  Hollywood, their success is for every ordinary African with big dreams and a bigger mission.

From the dusty rural Moutse village in South Africa’s Limpopo province to the bright lights of Hollywood, the Ndlovu Youth Choir have proven there can be no impediment to global glory if your ambition is great and your passion greater.

When this group of young boys and girls came together, little did they know the world would rise in unison to applaud them. Late last year, their turn as the finalists of America’s Got Talent, a televized American talent show competition in the United States created by Simon Cowell, earned them prowess and praise.

So when an opportunity came to meet them at popular South African restaurant Nando’s in the suburb of Lorentzville in Johannesburg, during a launch event last month, I seized it with conviction and my camera.

The choir’s co-founder and choirmaster Ralf Schmitt started from the beginning, about how he got involved with the group at the opening of the amphitheater in the village of Moutse.

READ MORE | Soweto Gospel Choir: Three Heavy Grammys And A World Singing Their Praise

What started out as a mission to serve the community ended up becoming an even greater force – on the world stage.

“This is the same village that raised the Ndlovu Youth Choir powered by the Ndlovu Care Group. The group was doing amazing work with HIV awareness and treatment in the early 2000s and the amphitheater was built for the community to gather, receive information and do drama workshops around HIV/AIDS.”

Schmitt was contacted to do music for the opening in 2008 because of his track-record in the industry, as he was also part of the internationally-renowned Drakensburg Boys’ Choir.

“I’ve always loved choir and singing. I went on to study music and it worked from day one. I started conducting school choirs and worked with young people. I love composing, I love conducting, I love performing and I love teaching and the medium of a choir allows me to do them all,” he enthuses.

These young people can be the beacons of what’s possible in a rural community.

Ralf Schmitt

He had originally suggested they start a brass band but because of their location in Limpopo, far from big city Johannesburg, it would have been difficult for the teachers and trainers to regularly access and develop them.

The choir became the obvious choice as part of the orphans and vulnerable children’s program at the Ndlovu Care Group.

The horrific HIV pandemic had left many orphaned and the program was meant as a healing curriculum for the community. It became so successful that when it came for the participants to leave school, they were not willing to leave the program as they were unable to find employment or afford secondary education.

Schmitt says thus an idea of transforming the choir into a platform to generate an income for unemployed youth was born.

READ MORE | The Choirboy Inspired By Criminals

Today, the choir boasts about 40 members and includes a job creation program for the older singers who do most of the performances.

The choir has also started a home schooling program for learners – a full-time tutor travels with them locally and internationally.

“When we turned professional in 2018, it took about six months to get us going. I called a few people I knew in the industry and bookings were coming in slow,” recalls Schmitt.

“We needed a product and the arrangement we did of a Zulu version of Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran, brilliantly translated by Sandile Majola and Sipho Hleza, went massively viral on social media and had 25 million views and that got the nation’s attention and that was the first time we got serious publicity and bookings started flooding in.” 

Soon after, the choir performed live for a South African radio station and that’s where America’s Got Talent heard the Zulu arrangement and made contact and asked for videos.

He remembers he couldn’t get the videos out to the producers because of service delivery protests in the area. The choir conductor was blocked by an angry mob with burning tyres and rocks, but that didn’t stop the choir from performing at the Derby Theatre miles away from home.

“I am so pleased that these young people can be the beacons of what’s possible in a rural community, every single one of them are from that community and not anyone went and studied music at tertiary level, all that is produced is raw talent and they never had a music lesson in their life. As the artistic director, I try very hard at preserving that talent because that’s the magic,” he says.

The first time they got on stage, he recalls thinking that the audience didn’t know them; they probably just saw the group as kids from a rural community in South Africa.

However, the warmth they received was unforgettable. Whereas, in comparison, the experience at America’s Got Talent was intense and draining, but exhilarating, he recalls.

“It was nerve-racking when the music went down and the lights dimmed and Gabrielle Union [American actress] screamed ‘you are going through!’ and everyone just lost their minds. It was special we were through to the live finale.”

Thulisile Masanabo is one of the senior members in the choir who also assists with wardrobe. She has been with the choir since 2013 when she was 16 and very shy.

READ MORE | ‘Don’t Be Afraid To Bend The Rules’ – Miss Universe

“I used to stand at the back of the row at the beginning. As the years went, I began to gain confidence and moved to the third row, then second, now, I’m in the first row,” says Masanabo. 

She opened the song Africa by Toto wearing bright yellow garments to a noisy and ecstatic American crowd.

Looking back, she chuckles saying she had auditioned singing the South African national anthem.

“I was on my way back from school and Sandile called me in. He was standing outside and just calling people in to audition. He didn’t want to know if you can or cannot sing,” Masanabo says of her recruitment into the group.

All members of the choir are under the age of 30; among them, is 25-year-old Majola who helped arrange the Zulu version of Shape Of You.

He joined when he was a 14-year-old school boy accompanying his sister to the auditions.

“I was invited inside to try my luck on August 23, 2009,” he recalls vividly.

“I first traveled internationally with the choir in 2011 to Holland and the performance was average, it was not as nice as we perform today.”

He says the choir upped his self-esteem and he now can communicate better with people and perform more effectively on stage.

One of the songs instilled in him was written by Schmitt titled Believe dedicated to the choir.

 “The message was for us, but now, it’s for other young people as well. They should never stop dreaming,” says Majola.

This young group of music-lovers is testament that believing and dreaming big can indeed make you cross borders.

Their journey was from a tiny village, to grabbing the limelight in one of the globe’s biggest talent search shows. The world is now truly their stage.

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Harry And Meghan Need $3 Million-Plus To Be ‘Financially Independent.’ Here’s How They May Do It.

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would like to “become financially independent,” they announced Wednesday—and that may have to happen sooner rather than later, as Prince Charles, Harry’s father, is reportedly threatening to pull the millions he gives them each year. How they plan to replace those funds remains a subject of feverish palace intrigue about which the couple remains mum.

But what is clear: By stepping away from their duties, they likely are no longer prohibited from earning income the way senior members of the royal family are, clearing the way for them to take real jobs. What will those be? And how much will they actually need to make in order to live in the style to which they’ve become accustomed?

Annual Costs: Roughly $3 Million A Year (Not Including Renovations)

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact amount that Prince Harry and Markle earn from the various royal mechanisms each year—and a spokesperson for the Sussexes did not respond to questions about on the couple’s finances—but 95% of their annual income comes from Prince Charles, Harry’s father, via the Duchy of Cornwall. A trust that consists of 131,000 acres of real estate and more than $450 million in commercial assets within the United Kingdom, the Duchy of Cornwall was established in 1337 to support the direct heir to the throne.

That estate paid a combined $6.5 million (or £5.1 million) to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Prince William and Kate Middleton) and to Prince Harry and Markle in the fiscal year ending March 2019, according to the latest financial report. The funding for the princes and their families didn’t change much from 2018 to 2019, although both reports were prior to the birth of the Sussex couple’s son, Archie. Let’s assume the brothers split that income from the Duchy (though William and Kate, with three children, are likely taking a bit more). While the Duke and Duchess did not immediately surrender this income, reports surfaced Friday that Charles is threatening to cut them off completely.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex did announce that they will “no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant,” which we know covers an additional 5% of their income, and used for their official duties. It covers official business such as international tours, travel to official events and the upkeep of their homes and offices, and comes from about 25% of the revenue from the Crown Estate (£85.9 million or $112.2 million for the 2020–2021 fiscal year), a portfolio of investments controlled by the monarchy—though not by the royal family or the government—and includes properties across the United Kingdom. (For example, the Queen herself does not own Buckingham Palace.) 

In 2018 and 2019, the couple used money from the Sovereign Grant to travel across the world, from Fiji to South Africa, on official royal business. While the royal annual reports don’t detail how much the Sussex’s travels cost in total, their trip to Fiji and Tonga cost $105,000 (£81,000), according to the latest Sovereign Grant financial report. (While it may seem that travel costs could go down as the couple steps back from royal duties, they say they plan to split time between the British Isles and North America, which will lead to new expenses.) 

Based on what we know, we estimate the total of the couple’s funds from the Duchy and Sovereign Grants to be a (very conservative) $3 million—again, not including security costs. 

And that’s not including the cost of their home and renovations: The Sovereign Grant covered last year’s $3.12 million (£2.4 million) refurbishment of the Frogmore Cottage, the four-bedroom plus nursery home in Windsor where the couple lives when they are in England. The home’s maintenance began before the couple decided to move in and was covered by the Queen, under existing commitments to maintain the upkeep of certain historical buildings, while the couple privately paid for the furniture and decor. Even though the house is property of the Queen, the couple plans to continue using it as their official residence when they are in the United Kingdom—meaning less rent to pay. 

None of this takes into account the cost of their security, which is reportedly covered by the Metropolitan Police, and which the family is expected to continue to accept.  

With all of these expenses and their easy access to funds facing a precarious future, the questions remains of how, exactly, the couple plan to earn the millions that their lifestyle demands. 

What Could Make A Royal Gig: Books, Speeches, SponCon?

They do have some money to live off of: Thanks to her seven-year stint on the television drama Suits, Forbes estimates that Markle has a net worth of about $2.2 million. Prince Harry has money of his own as well, as he and his brother received the bulk of Princess Diana’s $31.5 million estate upon her death in 1997.  

But it is likely that they will join other royals, like Harry’s cousins Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, and actually take paying gigs (the former works in finance, while the latter works at an art gallery). While no announcements have been made as to how exactly the couple plans to make money, it would seem natural that they take up work in the entertainment and media fields. 

Markle has said that she was giving up acting for good once she joined the royal family; maybe this is an opportunity for her to change her mind. At the height of her acting career, she commanded up to $85,000 per episode of SuitsForbes estimates, a number that would likely shoot up thanks to her royal title if she decided to return to the screen.

But it is more likely that the pair will take up shop on the speaking and book circuit. High-profile speakers like former president and first lady Bill and Hillary Clinton can earn up to six figures per speech to corporations and universities, while even B-list celebrities like Jersey Shore’s Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi could command $32,000 per oration during the height of her fame. 

A hit book has the potential to earn the couple even more. A seven-figure advance is typical for celebrities like Amy Schumer and politicians like Elizabeth Warren, with some high-profile authors earning even more. In 2017, former president and first lady Barack and Michelle Obama signed a record-breaking $65 million book deal with Penguin Random House, while Hillary Clinton scored a $14 million advance for Hard Choices in 2014, and Bruce Springsteen got $10 million for 2016’s Born to Run. 

There’s also talk that the couple, which favors new media and direct lines of communication with their fans, may even start a podcast, which could be a lucrative endeavor. Last year, advertising spend on podcasts reached an estimated $680 million, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, and that number is supposed to shoot up to $1 billion by next year.

And in the unlikely chance they’re ever interested in following the footsteps of the royal family of Calabasas, the Duke and Duchess could surely earn an enormous sum doing sponsored content on their widely popular (10.4 million followers) Instagram account. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and her half-sister Kylie Jenner earn up to $500,000 per post.

Of course, the details of the couple’s future, and their future earnings, are all in flux, as Buckingham Palace’s curt statement on the matter made clear. And the wording of their own statement made sure that they can work toward financial independence on their own time. One thing is for certain: It doesn’t seem as if the Duke and Duchess will be hurting for cash anytime soon.

By  Madeline Berg, Reporter, Forbes Staff and Deniz Çam , Wealth Reporter, Forbes Staff.

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