“I don’t owe you anything” is a phrase that, in most cases, is used figuratively, to suggest that a person does not deserve any emotional labor, time, or energy. But, in the case of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a more literal interpretation applies: as of this weekend, the couple have paid back—in full—the cost of Frogmore Cottage’s renovation.
Originally, that money came from Sovereign Grant, a public fund that goes toward the royal family’s salaries and upkeep of palaces. Yet when the couple decided to step back from their senior roles in January, they promised to return the money—an estimated 2.4 million pounds, or 3.1 million dollars. Now, a week after their (reportedly very lucrative) Netflix deal was announced, they have.
“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 UK residence of The Duke and his family,” a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex says.
“They are relieved and pleased to have taken this step,” a source close to the family tells Vogue. Makes sense: For months, Frogmore Cottage was a key talking point for critics of the royal couple. It was about the cost, yes, but more importantly, Frogmore was used to challenge the Sussexes’ demands for privacy. For example, they wanted to keep their son’s christening under wraps. But, argued some, if they were going to take public money, certain disclosures were expected. (Wrote Daily Mail columnist Richard Kay: “What [Harry] failed to understand then—and probably still doesn’t now—is not that there was public resentment at the cost of refurbishing Frogmore, but that the public felt cheated when Harry chose to keep secret details about son Archie’s birth and christening.”)
Today, that argument is a moot point. All government-funded money has been reimbursed, so there’s no way to justify feeling “cheated” over what the couple does, or does not, decide to share with the world. Furthermore, Harry and Meghan are no longer taking money from his father, Prince Charles: they bought their home in Montecito independently.
Speaking of their California property: it’s now their main residence. Yes, Frogmore Cottage still belongs to the couple. But with the coronavirus pandemic, it doesn’t seem like they’ll be there anytime soon. Instead, it’ll likely sit empty on the expansive green grounds of Windsor, a relic of a royal chapter closed shut. “They’re now in their forever home, it’s the start of their new life, and they’re very much looking forward to everything that’s about to come,” the source says.
They’ll surely be busy Stateside: There’s that aforementioned Netflix deal, where the couple will be working on multiple projects, including a nature docu-series and an animated program about female leaders. The Duchess is raising awareness about voter suppression ahead of the 2020 election. But where they were once public servants, now, they are operating as on-their-own advocates that aren’t—or at least shouldn’t be—subject to the same level of scrutiny. Which means that after their 20-month, highly publicized royal stint, they don’t owe anyone anything—literally, and perhaps now figuratively.
But will the nonstop attention they’ve received as royals ever let up? It’s safe to say Prince Harry is desperate for the scrutiny to end. As the youngest child of Princess Diana, a figure who continues to captivate the world even decades after her death, his life has been fodder for endless global fascination since he was born. Some of it, warranted (criticism over that Nazi costume), and some of it not (his phone being hacked by News of the World when he was 21 years old). In later years, he’s desperately tried to lessen the media’s glare —withholding information about his child’s birth and christening, issuing press releases about perceived media intrusion into his relationships. In 2016, his press secretary said this on his behalf: “[Harry is] aware that there is significant curiosity about his private life. He has never been comfortable with this, but he has tried to develop a thick skin about the level of media interest that comes with it.”
Perhaps moving across the pond, severing all financial ties to the United Kingdom, and no longer making official appearances on behalf of the Queen will finally give the couple the solace they seek. Or perhaps their star is so stratospheric that’ll it take more than some private property to stop media, and consumers, from needing to know everything about its glare.