Insiders Say Meghan and Harry Plan to Launch Their Own "Sussex Royal Brand"
Royal sources say Meghan and Harry want their own "Sussex brand," but "it won't fly within the Palace."
Less than 48 hours after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle returned to their royal duties after a six-week, royal-responsibility-free vacation, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex made the shocking announcement on their Instagram Wednesday that they are stepping down from their "senior royal roles." Friends of the couple told The Sun that their decision to step down comes, in part, because Harry and Meghan feel they have been sidelined by the monarchy while the family focuses on the shoring up the line of succession with Prince Charles and Prince William. But my Palace source attributes the couple's decision to move away from their prescribed royal roles because of their unhappiness over not being able to change the royal system fast enough to their liking. My source suspects that instead, they plan to launch their own royal brand of sorts.
"It's clear Meghan and Harry want to be in charge of their own 'Sussex brand,'" said the insider. "That's not something that's been done before and it will be tricky to pull off."
But, my source notes, it's something Meghan has been working on since she first came into the fold. "Meghan came into the family full of good ideas, but never accepted that change within an institution that has been around for thousands of years takes time," said the insider. "Harry is fully supportive of whatever Meghan wants and she has been pushing for this. Harry's hatred of the press has made it easier for him to relinquish his role as a senior royal. He can't bear being on show anymore."
The couple's statement in part read: "After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. We intend to step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty The Queen." The statement also included the fact that Harry and Meghan plan to split their time between North America and the United Kingdom.
It appears the couple has been laying the groundwork for their big announcement for some time. Last year, Meghan and Harry filed to register a trademark for their organization—Sussex Royal, The Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—after they split with The Royal Foundation working with Prince William and Kate Middleton. It was revealed in December that the trademark application applies to an extensive list of categories—like magazines, books, clothing, education, counseling services, and charitable fundraising.
According to the Intellectual Property Office's website, with a registered trademark, Harry and Meghan will not only be allowed to sell and license the organization, but they'll also be able to "take legal action against anyone who uses the brand" without permission.
That said, it won't be easy for them to branch out and keep their titles. "If it smacks of 'celebrity,' it won't fly within the Palace," said my source.
While their statement clarifies the couple's intentions for a very different future than was expected when they married in 2018, it "raises more questions than it answers," one Palace insider told me. "It's clear that Harry and Meghan used the time away from the royals to map out a strategy of some sort," the insider said. "This is uncharted territory. At the moment, everything is up in the air."
My source also noted the significance of Buckingham Palace refusing to deny reports that Harry and Meghan's future roles were set to significantly change. Shortly after Harry and Meghan posted their announcement on Instagram, Queen Elizabeth's office said in a statement: "Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at an early stage. We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through." (The Queen is not set to return from her holiday visit to Sandringham until early February.)
In their carefully worded statement, Harry and Meghan also said they would work towards "financial independence," but it's unclear what they would be permitted to do while remaining titled royals.
Harry, currently sixth in line to the throne, has yet to relinquish his HRH title. According to The Mirror, the couple's joint fortune is estimated to be around £29 million, which sounds like a lot but could hardly sustain a royal lifestyle over a period of years without additional income. And in addition to the Queen's gift of their country estate, Frogmore Cottage, Prince Charles' office reportedly pays for Meghan's "wardrobe."
Just how things will change and who will pay for it all is the big question. "At a time of great economic uncertainty, this raises the question about whether the British taxpayers will continue to fund the Sussex's lifestyle," said my source. "There was a firestorm about the millions of tax dollars spent on renovating Frogmore Cottage, now Meghan and Harry may not even live there. The Queen and Prince Charles will have to sort this out carefully."
According to my sources, Harry and Meghan plan to meet with the Queen and Prince Charles "in the coming weeks" to discuss their plans for the future, which could include giving up their royal titles entirely.
"Meghan and Harry may think they can design a royal life of their own making, but there are limits to what the Queen and the British public will accept," said one royal insider. "They could reinvent themselves right out of the family entirely."
Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.