It’s been six months since Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan moved to Southern California to build a new kind of royal lifestyle, one bolstered by more independence, more control over their image and new Hollywood business partners.
So, Harry and Meg, how’s it going so far?
Meghan, the Los Angeles-born former actress, hinted about how she feels in recent online interviews. “It’s good to be home,” she sighed contentedly.
And that was before the news on Sept 2 that the couple signed a multi-year mega deal with Netflix to become Hollywood producers of scripted series, docu-series, documentaries, features and children’s programming. For the first time ever, a British royal couple is set to become players in the global entertainment industry.
“This is a massive unparalleled historical deal,” enthused Jonathan Shalit, chairman/founder of InterTalent Rights Group, who bills himself on Twitter as “London’s Most Influential Talent Manager.” He says he knows Harry and Meghan because one of his clients, The Kingdom Choir, sang at their 2018 wedding. “Meghan could not have been more warm and charming,” he says, comparing her compassion and empathy to the late Princess Diana, whom he also knew.
So, time to take a look back at what’s happened since “Megxit,” the tabloids’ mocking epithet for the couple’s shocking announcement in January that they were stepping back from their senior royal roles. Are Harry and Meghan happy now? Do they have agency over their new lives and their new purpose?
USA TODAY reached out to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s media reps, who declined to comment.
Others were more willing. “Yes, independence and a role they clearly want in life has been achieved with the Netflix deal,” says Shalit, who says he and many others in the U.K. think Harry and Meghan have “a right to happiness and a right to carve their own path in life.”
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But the couple may never redeem themselves with some of their fiercest critics.
“Many resent and blame Meghan for the manner in which they feel she ‘crashed’ herself into the royal family and then tried to change an institution that has existed for 800 years,” Shalit says. Their split from royal life seems inevitable in retrospect, he adds.
In less than six months, Harry, 36, and Meghan, 39, have morphed from second-tier royals, to media moguls-in-waiting.
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“Through our work with diverse communities and their environments, to shining a light on people and causes around the world, our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope,” they gushed in a statement.
“The deal will make Meghan and Harry prima donnas of Hollywood,” predicts Eric Schiffer, chairman of Reputation Management Consultants in Los Angeles. “It’s the hottest power play of modern Tinseltown.”
The price tag of the Netflix deal was not disclosed but it has already helped defuse one reason for lingering resentment: They paid off about $3.2 million in taxpayers’ money spent to renovate their Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage, which remains their base when they are in the U.K. They had already said they would pay back the costs monthly over a few years, but their critics insisted that wasn’t good enough. Now that issue is moot.
The couple’s partnership with Netflix will help make it possible for them to live a grand lifestyle without help from Harry’s father, Prince Charles, or British taxpayers. They were both millionaires anyway (he inherited many millions from his late mother, Princess Diana and from his great-grandmother, the Queen Mother, and she made a few million as an actress on cable show “Suits”) but their expensive requirements, especially security costs, meant they needed to up their game in America.
Stand and deliver:
Howard Bragman of La Brea Media, says Harry and Meghan, as neophyte producers, still have a lot to prove. Now they have to put together an experienced Hollywood production team and some genuine quality projects, as their friends, former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, did when they signed a mega production deal with Netflix after leaving the White House.
“People are not going to watch just because it’s them – they’ll get a ton of promotion because it’s them, (viewers) might sample because it’s them but it could backfire, they could be more critical, too,” the longtime Hollywood PR management expert says.
“The real challenge is to take their woke concepts and translate that into entertainment that is going to be compelling, because in the end if it’s not good entertainment people are not going to watch it no matter how much promotion you give it.”
A new palatial estate:
They moved in June to their “new family home,” as they described it, a 19,000-square foot Mediterranean-style villa in pricey Montecito in Santa Barbara County, near where their pal Oprah Winfrey lives, about an hour northwest of Los Angeles.
Their fourth abode since January, the price tag was just under $15 million, according to Variety and the Los Angeles Times.
Their new wealth means they can hire personal, professional and security staff loyal to them alone, unlike those employed in the royal palaces in Britain, some of whom have been known to leak to the media.
One of the reasons Harry and Meghan were fed up with the royal lifestyle, according to a recent biography, “Finding Freedom,” by two sympathetic journalists, was the palace media operation, which they felt did not do enough to counter the negative, even racist coverage of the couple in British tabloids and on social media.
Now they have a new media team, funded by the Sussexes and working out of the Sunshine Sachs PR firm, well-known in Hollywood. They are helping the couple set up their new non-profit organization, Archewell, and are working on building their new Twitter and Instagram social media platforms.
The Sussex media team is anonymous, and totally under the couple’s control. Now that Harry and Meghan are no longer working royals, they can set their own rules about how they present themselves to the public.
Meanwhile, the standard media pools organized by the palace to cover royal engagements are gone; instead, the couple announces engagements only after they’re over (to help foil paparazzi), and encourage whoever they’re visiting to post positive sentiments on social media.
More: Duchess Meghan reveals Prince Harry calls himself a feminist, too, during Gloria Steinem chat
More freedom to speak out:
The price of being royal is a constrained life; you can’t say or do or wear anything you like whenever you like, and you can’t talk about politics and other topics off limits for royals.
“When they left they were looking for fewer layers of palace interference in what they wanted to do. Now that can be (organized) without clearing it through 18 levels of palace sign-off,” says Lainey Lui, a Canadian TV personality and founder of Toronto-based Laineygossip.com, who closely follows royal news.
Harry and Meghan also have more freedom to speak up about causes they believe in. Since arriving in the USA, Harry has been campaigning publicly for reform of social media, while Meghan has been talking about empowering women and urging them to vote.
“We all know what’s at stake” in November, she warned in an online get-out-the vote appearance last month.
More: Harry, Meghan threaten legal action over published paparazzi pictures that show baby Archie
Privacy still elusive?
It was one of the issues the couple cited in their reasons for seeking to build a new life in North America – their desire to control when and where they are left alone. So far, they’ve been “paparazzied” only a few times in Los Angeles.
“It’s not just about where the paparazzi are, it’s about the people around you who are selling you out,” Lui says. “It’s when the people assigned to protect them or who are around them (as staff) are allegedly leaking to newspapers about their private business.”
Still, Los Angeles is the capital of the paparazzi. Only months after they moved into a borrowed mansion overlooking the Beverly Hills area, Harry and Meghan were alarmed to see low-flying drones buzzing the backyard for pictures of 16-month-old son, Archie.
In July, they filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles aimed at stopping the “disgusting and wrong” publication of a picture, taken by an unknown photographer, of baby Archie.
California law bans photographers from invading people’s privacy by peering into private homes. But it’s yet another legal battle with the media – they are suing three tabloids in London in two separate lawsuits – that could end up being Pyrrhic legal victories.
Shalit points out that the Netflix deal could also challenge their much-desired privacy.
“The price they will have to pay is media and personal intrusion into their lives for so long as they live public lives in show business,” Shalit says. “They will need the fuel of publicity and media support to promote and maximize attention for what Netflix have paid for.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Meghan Markle, Prince Harry post-Megxit: Are they happy now?