Harry and Meghan’s decision to ‘step back’ as senior royals – including what’s next for the couple

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  • Prince Harry and Meghan took a step back as ‘senior’ royals last January and have since confirmed they won’t return as working royals.

    One year on and the couple’s lives have changed considerably – with Harry and Meghan living in LA with their son Archie, and the Duchess pregnant with their second child.

    At the time of their shock announcement, there was much speculation on what ‘stepping back’ meant and what would happen next.

    From royal title changes to their living arrangements and fellow royal family member reactions – we reveal all about Harry and Meghan’s royal exit.

    What did Harry and Meghan’s initial statement say?

    The couple officially announced their decision to ‘step back’ as senior royals on 8 January 2020. Their statement was shared on their Instagram page @sussexroyal. 

     

    Harry and Meghan revealed their future plans were to become “financially independent”, while still “continuing to honour our duty to The Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages”.

    The royal couple also shared their intentions to “balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America”.

    “This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity.”

    What was Harry and Meghan’s deal with the Queen?

    On 19 January 2020, Buckingham Palace released a statement which outlined the proposed exit plans for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

    This confirmed that Harry and Meghan would “step back from Royal duties, including official military appointments” and would “no longer receive public funds for Royal duties.”

    The deal additionally stated that “The Sussexes will not use their HRH titles as they are no longer working members of the Royal Family.”

    Harry and Meghan’s change in living arrangements were also revealed in January 2020. The statement acknowledged that the gifted Frogmore Cottage would remain “their UK home” and that they would split their time between the UK and North America.

    In light of this, the couple agreed to pay for the renovation costs for Frogmore Cottage – which was paid for by taxpayers through the Sovereign Grant.

    These changes were to come into effect in Spring 2020 with a one-year review of the deal agreed by both parties.

    And sure enough, on 31 March 2020, Harry and Meghan officially stepped down as senior royals.

    (L-R) Queen Elizabeth II chats to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex whilst gathered to watch the RAF flypast on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, to mark the centenary of the RAF on July 10, 2018 in London, England.

    Credit: Getty

    Where do Harry and Meghan live? And what happened to Frogmore Cottage?

    Harry and Meghan initially enjoyed a quiet life in Canada after their announcement. However they later relocated to California with their son Archie and bought a house in LA in July 2020.

    The Duke and Duchess of Sussex honoured the arrangement to repay the £2.4 million in taxpayers’ money that they used to renovate their former home. In September last year, it was announced that Prince Harry had paid back the full amount. This repayment coincided with the pair signing a multi-million pound Netflix deal.

    “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,” said a spokesperson for the Duke at the time.

    Currently, Princess Eugenie is living at Frogmore with her husband and new son. A source told Harper’s Bazaar, Harry and Meghan were reportedly ‘delighted’ to rent out their former home to Harry’s cousin.

    How have Meghan and Harry’s royal roles changed?

    Harry and Meghan will no longer carry out royal duties, after stepping back as working royals in March 2020.

    The pair were originally able to continue with their patronages on behalf of the monarchy. However, following the Queen’s first review of the agreement, Harry and Meghan lost their royal patrons roles in February 2021.

    “Following conversations with The Duke, The Queen has written confirming that in stepping away from the work of The Royal Family it is not possible to continue with the responsibilities and duties that come with a life of public service,” the review statement from Buckingham Palace read.

    “The honorary military appointments and Royal patronages held by The Duke and Duchess will therefore be returned to Her Majesty, before being redistributed among working members of The Royal Family.”

    Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, the Patron of the Rugby Football League hosts the Rugby League World Cup 2021 draws for the men's, women's and wheelchair tournaments at Buckingham Palace on January 16, 2020 in London, England.

    Credit: Getty

    Harry lost his honorary military appointments with the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and RAF Honington. He also receded his patronages with The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, The Rugby Football Union and The Rugby Football League. Whilst Meghan’s patron roles for the National Theatre and The Association of Commonwealth Universities were also returned.

    The couple will continue to work with some UK charities that they were patrons of before their departure as senior royals.

    These include WellChild, The Mayhew and SmartWorks, with the charities confirming that Meghan and Harry will continue to act as Patrons for the charities and champion their important work.

    Have Harry and Meghan lost their royal titles?

    Prince Harry and Meghan have agreed to no longer use their HRH titles following their exit. This decision was based on the couple no longer representing the Queen at engagements.

    While the couple will not use their titles, they were not officially taken away by the Queen. Harry remains a Prince and the Sussex family will stay members of the British Royal Family.

    To reflect the loss of their HRH titles, Harry is now known as Harry, Duke of Sussex. Whilst Meghan remains the Duchess of Sussex. These were titles given to the couple by the Queen on Harry and Meghan’s wedding day in 2018.

    Will Harry still wear his military uniform?

    Harry is no longer able to wear his military uniform, following his decision to step back.

    His resignation meant that he will no longer wear uniform at public events, such as Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Sunday at the cenotaph. Prince Harry will still be able to showcase his medals including an Operational Service medal for Afghanistan, but protocol prevents him wearing uniform.

    Lord West of Spithead, the former First Sea Lord, said, “The next time he [the Duke of Sussex] is at a military event he should be in civilian clothes because he is no longer involved with any  military units. It is very unfortunate. It is very sad to be losing him from the military.”

    Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex salutes as he attends the field of remembrance service at Westminster Abbey on November 8, 2018 in London, England.

    Credit: Getty

    How have the rest of the Royal Family reacted to Harry and Meghan’s exit?

    After the Harry and Meghan’s exit announcement on their official social media account last year, a spokeswoman from Buckingham Palace told the BBC the Royal Family were “disappointed”.

    Alongside details of their agreement shared on 18 January 2020 was a statement from the Queen giving her reaction: “Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.

    “I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life,” her statement read.

    In the closing lines, the Queen also praised the Duchess of Sussex, stating that she was “particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.”

    According to The Sun, Prince William was “really sad” about the couple’s statement released after their patronages were returned in the one-year review.

    “As evidenced by their work over the past year, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain committed to their duty and service to the UK and around the world, and have offered their continued support to the organisations they have represented regardless of official role. We can all live a life of service. Service is universal,” Harry and Meghan’s statement read.

    Their comment that ‘service is universal’ was viewed as a veiled ‘dig’ at their patronages being stripped and the statement considered by some as ‘disrespectful’ to the Queen.

    Why did Harry and Meghan decide to step back from the royal family?

    The couple have cited that pressures from the tabloid media and behind-the-scene struggles with their mental health as reasons they decided to step back.

    In February 2021, Harry labelled the British press as “toxic” in a special ‘Carpool Karaoke’, recorded with friend and host James Corden.

    He told James that their decision to step back was because the couple’s media attention was “destroying” his mental health.

    “I did what any husband and father would do – I need to get my family out of here.

    “But we never walked away – and as far as I’m concerned, what decisions are made on that side – I will never walk away.”

    In the same month, Meghan successfully sued the Mail on Sunday after claiming it unlawfully published one of her private letters.

    When she first took action against the British newspaper in October 2019, her husband released a statement denouncing the press’s treatment of her.

    Harry said: “I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces. 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.”

    In March 2021, the 36-year-old Prince made further links between the press’s treatment of his mother, the late Princess Diana, and the couple.

    In a 30-second teaser of Harry and Meghan’s upcoming interview with Oprah Winfrey, Harry revealed his biggest fear was “history repeating itself”.

    ‘I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side, because I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for her going through this process by herself all those years ago,” he told Oprah. “Because it’s been unbelievably tough for the two of us but at least we have each other.”

     

    In the same Oprah interview, the Duchess also touched on her fragile mental health after joining the Royal Family.

    She told the American talk host that at one stage “she didn’t want to be alive any more”.

    “I went to the institution and I said that I needed to go somewhere to get help, said I had never felt that way before and need to go somewhere, and I was told that I couldn’t, that it wouldn’t be good for the institution.”

    This lack of support and further tensions between the the couple and the Royal Family were also alluded to elsewhere in the interview. This is perhaps another reason why the couple chose to step back.

    The Duchess of Sussex claimed that the Firm (senior Royal Family members) have played “an active role” in spreading “falsehoods” about her and Harry.

    “I don’t know how they could expect that, after all this time, we would still just be silent if there is an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us,” she told Oprah.

    Indeed, Omid Scobie, co-author of the Harry and Meghan biography Finding Freedom, believes that the relationship between them and other senior royal figures was strained prior to their royal split.

    “Meghan was a woman of colour, an American, marrying into a very traditional institution. That was already going to ruffle feathers,” Omid told the Irish Times.

    “Where it really goes wrong is not the people who were advising them, but some of those higher up within the institution that didn’t support the couple, or hear them when they spoke about certain grievances.”

    There has been further speculation that Harry and Meghan discussed their royal exit pre-marriage. Sources told The Sun that the royal couple ‘discussed Megxit before they got married’ because Harry was ‘deeply unhappy for a long time’.

    What would happen to Harry and Meghan if the couple were to split up?

    Despite stepping back from royal duties, Prince Harry is still a member of the royal family. He will remain one regardless of personal circumstances.

    Meghan would no longer be part of the royal family if the couple were to end their marriage. Though she may be able to keep her title as ‘Duchess of Sussex’ – if taking Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew’s divorce as precedent.

    Following her divorce from the Duke of York, Sarah was able to keep her Duchess of York title. She was however asked to no longer use ‘Her Royal Highness’. This was because she was no longer married to HRH Prince Andrew. If Sarah were to remarry, she would no longer be able to use the title ‘Duchess of York’.

    Will Harry and Meghan continue to interact with the media?

    Yes, Harry and Meghan are continuing to interact with the media but the way they do so has changed.

    As part of their new “working model”, Harry and Meghan no longer participate in the “royal rota”. The rota system was set up to give the media access to official royal engagements. Instead their goal is to focus on other media in their plan to step back as senior members of the royal family. This includes social media, “credible outlets” and grassroots media organisations.

    So far we’ve seen Meghan and Harry boost the profiles of charities by marking special moments and milestones with new photos and updates shared directly through charity social media channels. This included a sweet video of Meghan reading Archie a book to mark his first birthday that was shared by Save The Children and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s 2020 Christmas card, which was given to The Mayhew to share with the world first.

    However, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are still giving interviews and sharing their lives away from images on social media too. The couple have appeared in a number of recorded discussions and interviews for important causes so far.

    Harry and Meghan have also spoken to Oprah in what is now a highly anticipated interview set to air in March 2021. The intimate chat will cover topics ranging from Meghan’s experience entering royal life to the couple’s philanthropic work.

    Does this mean the royal line of succession has changed?

    No. The Duke of Sussex is sixth in the line of succession to the British throne, meaning that Harry could still become king of England.

    Harry and Meghan’s son Archie Mountbatten-Windsor also remains seventh in the line of succession.

    The Duke and his son’s position to the throne hasn’t changed despite the decision Harry and Meghan made to step back.

    Prince Harry, Meghan Markle and son Archie

    Credit: PA

    Does this mean Harry and Meghan are both still royalty?

    Yes. Both Harry and Meghan are still considered royalty. As the grandson of The Queen, Harry remains a member of the British Royal Family as does his wife Meghan and their son Archie. Their royal status is not affected by their decision to no longer be senior royals. However, as part of their exit agreement, the couple can no longer use their HRH (His/Her Royal Highness) titles.

    Are Meghan and Harry the first to leave the Royal Family?

    Harry and Meghan are not the first royals to take a step back from their official public role in the Royal Family. Their decision echoes that of Prince Edward, who abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcée.

    What does it mean for Harry and Meghan’s security?

    When Harry and Meghan first announced they were to step back, they claimed they would still be classified as “internationally protected people” by the Home Office.

    “The provision of armed security by The Metropolitan Police is mandated by the Home Office, a ministerial department of Her Majesty’s Government, responsible for security and law & order. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are classified as internationally protected people which mandates this level of security,” read a statement published on their Sussex Royal website.

    Meghan Markle in a white shirt sat next to Prince Harry in a blue shirt looking on with inquisitive faces.

    Credit: Getty

    However, when the Sussexes moved to Canada, they had to foot the bill for their own security. This is because the Canadian government publicly refused to pay for their protection after they were no longer working royals.

    It was initially claimed that Prince Charles was paying for the couple’s security but a friend told the Daily Beast this was not true.

    “Charles is not paying for security costs,” the source said.

    It was later revealed in the Sussex’s Oprah interview, that their security was at one time provided by American media mogul and friend Tyler Perry. This was when the couple moved from Canada to southern California.

    Meghan, in particular was grateful for Perry’s support, giving them a chance to “breathe” and work out their next steps in California.

    What does it mean for Harry and Meghan to be ‘financially independent’?

    In their initial statement, Harry and Meghan revealed they were giving up public funding to become “financially independent”.

    Under the previous agreement, Harry and Meghan were prohibited from earning any of their own personal income.

    Their livelihood was supported by Prince Charles’s income from the Duchy of Cornwall. This duchy is made up of Charles’s financial investments and property portfolio. Historically it has paid for the public duties of the Sussexes and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

    Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex (L) and Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex (2nd R) follow Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge (C) and Britain's Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge (R) as they depart Westminster Abbey after attending the annual Commonwealth Service in London on March 9, 2020.

    Credit: Getty

    However this changed when Harry and Meghan stepped back, with the Sussexes now reliant on professional incomes.

    In the couple’s interview with Oprah in March 2021, Harry said his family “literally cut me off financially,” following their royal exit.

    This led the couple to sign a Spotify podcast deal and agree a multi-million pound production deal with Netflix in late 2020.

    Harry added that these work deals were never part of their plan but that financially, Harry “had to afford security for us”.

    How much money do Harry and Meghan have?

    Prior to their split, Harry was estimated as having around £30 million in personal wealth. This includes the millions he inherited after the passing of his mother Princess Diana.

    Harry claimed the couple lived off this inheritance when their public funding was cut after stepping down.

    “I’ve got what my mum left me and without that we wouldn’t have been able to do this,” he told Oprah in the March 2021 interview.

    Before she tied the knot with Harry, Meghan was a millionaire herself. The Duchess had an estimated £3.8 million fortune made through acting jobs, including her role in drama Suits.

    A close up of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex dressed in black and smiling.

    Credit: Getty

    According to Forbes, their combined fortune has actually decreased since stepping back. This takes into account the Frogmore cottage repayment (£2.4 million) and the money they put down on their new $14.3 million Santa Barbara home.

    “Their estimated net worth, including the equity from their Montecito home, is roughly $10 million,” says Forbes.

    However, the couple’s lucrative business deals with Spotify and Netflix are likely to double or triple this figure in time. So watch this space.

    How do Harry and Meghan earn their money now?

    The Duke and Duchess of Sussex now earn their money through a work income.

    Six months after Harry and Meghan took a step back, the couple announced a multi-million dollar deal with Netflix.

    According to Deadline, sources claim the contract is worth up to $150 million (or £106 million). The deal will see the couple produce series, documentaries and children’s programmes with the streaming giant.

    Another exciting project was revealed in December 2020 – a Spotify podcast with the Sussexes.

    According to the Mirror, Spotify will pay the couple’s new production company – Archewell Audio – £30 million.

    In a promotional trailer on Spotify’s website, Harry says: “That’s what this project is all about, to bring forward different perspectives and voices that perhaps you haven’t heard before and find our common ground.”

    Is Harry likely to give up his royal life completely?

    The Sussexes are keen to remain part of the Royal Family and continue to “fully support Her Majesty The Queen”.

    But there have been times historically when it was thought that Harry would remove himself from royal life – for good.

    In the recent documentary, Meghan Markle: American Princess, royal biographer Penny Juror explained: “Harry was a reluctant Royal. I think there was a real danger at one time that Harry might turn his back on his Royal life and Royal responsibilities and go and live somewhere quietly.”

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