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Why Prince Harry's "Divorce" From the Royals Seems "Final," Insiders Say

"Harry may believe is he finally free and has escaped his increasingly vocal critics," says a source.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have wasted no time making themselves feel at home in California since moving to the States in July. Between snapping up a sprawling $14 million estate in Santa Barbara and inking a production deal with Netflix rumored to be worth $150 million, the couple has made it clear they're in the U.S. to stay. But according to a former friend of Princess Diana's, it's what Harry and Meghan did immediately after signing with Netflix that signaled their "divorce" from the royal family may be, in effect, final: paying off their royal debts.

In a column for the Daily Mail, Diana confidant Richard Kay wrote that he believes Harry and Meghan's decision to repay the £2.4 million of public money used to renovate Frogmore Cottage, the home in Windsor given to the couple by Queen Elizabeth, is "highly significant" for one reason in particular: They opted to repay the debt in one lump sum. They previously offered to return the money at the rate of £18,000 a month (which would have taken 11 years), as outlined in the Sussexes' final exit agreement approved by the Queen.

But, according to Kay, the debt was weighing heavily on Harry in his desire to distance himself from royal life. "For more than a year, it has been the millstone around Prince Harry's neck, a gold‑plated slice of taxpayers' largesse that reeked of privilege and entitlement," he wrote. "To Harry and Meghan, the £2.4 million of public money—our money—that was lavished on renovating Frogmore Cottage, only for it to be shuttered and abandoned along with the rest of their royal lives, represented something far more intrinsic."

Kay, who was one of the last people Diana spoke to the night she died, said Harry saw the debt "as a chain that shackled them to the land of his birth, inhibiting their efforts to be truly free of the royal family and—crucially—of their media critics."

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex lay ferns and a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Warrior while they visit the newly unveiled UK war memorial and Pukeahu National War Memorial Park on October 28, 2018, in Wellington, New Zealand.

The royal columnist has been critical of Harry and Meghan's actions since the couple announced their intentions to step away from their senior royal roles. Kay had previously written that, because the couple was "bent on re-writing the rule book of what being a member of the royal family actually means," from the moment they married there was a "disconnect." He cited, among other things, their "secrecy" over their son's birth, and, in the case of the money spent renovating Frogmore Cottage, Kay said Harry and Meghan don't see it as "a loan from a generous nation pleased to be helping this young royal couple find its feet after their joyful wedding, but rather a stick with which to beat them."

Following the announcement that Harry and Meghan had repaid the debt on Frogmore Cottage in full, it was revealed that the couple would no longer be receiving financial support from Prince Charles. In Kay's view, Harry and Meghan severing all financial ties to the royal family is a "signal that their divorce from Britain is permanent, while removing any pretense that they might still have a future role in the royal family."

A Palace source told Kay that the complete repayment of the money spent on Frogmore's renovation came "as something of a surprise" and may have been done because Harry has been "irritated by the criticism that the deal has led to of his finances. No one really knows." The insider added, "But if he thinks that it will make him immune from public and media scrutiny, he is misguided."

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A spokesman for the couple confirmed the prince had fully repaid the debt saying, "A contribution has been made to the Sovereign Grant by the Duke of Sussex. 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 U.K. residence of the duke and his family." Harry and Meghan will now reportedly pay an undisclosed commercial rent on the property.

Another Palace insider told me that, despite Harry's desire for independence, his ties to the royal family are not so easily severed. "While Harry may believe he is finally free and has escaped his increasingly vocal critics by being financially independent, he is still a member of the royal family, which remains the strongest tie there is to Her Majesty, the Queen, and this country," my source said. "As such, his actions will always be viewed through that lens." And for more on Meghan and Harry's new life, check out The Stunning Details on Harry and Meghan's $14.7 Million California Home.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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