How Prince Harry Learned There Is No ‘Half-in, Half-out’ of the British Royal Family

Finding the balance between commercial contracts for financial independence and the implicit contracts between his family and the media.

Image: Stefan Kellar

“One insider said: ‘The view is very clear — either you are in or you are out, and any form of ‘hybrid’ role is incompatible with representing the head of state.’” (Daily Mail, ‘You can’t be half-in, half-out’, February 3, 2021)

But, what if it wasn’t?

Imagine a member of the (white) British Royal Family. Though a blood prince, he is outside the direct line of succession, several steps removed from ever reaching the top job. Married to a foreign-born divorcée, his family initially viewed their relationship with some skepticism. She was not a U.K. citizen nor from a Commonwealth country like other royal brides. Worse, she came from a family with more than a few skeletons in their closet. Some in the Royal Family found her a bit high-handed and more pompous than she had any right to be given her background. Uncomfortably, questions about race and racism seemed to follow her. But despite some early bumps in the road, the prince, his wife and their two children, both private citizens, are considered cherished members of the Royal Family.

The prince began his career in the military. After graduating from Sandhurst Military Academy, he served with distinction enjoying a long career with multiple tours. Throughout his life, he supported queen and country well. With the next three heirs firmly in place, he wanted to focus on his own family life and pursue personal business interests, while still maintaining the values of the Queen. He does not receive taxpayer funding like other senior working royals so “has the Queen’s permission to earn his own living.”

With Her Majesty’s blessing, the prince established his own private business leveraging the skills that his military career and unparalleled access as a member of the British Royal Family provided. “Operating in countries and in sectors in which he himself has a close interest and wide experience,” he is highly sought after with an enviable network of contacts both at home and abroad. His business is understood to be an independent entity despite his family ties.

The prince and his wife maintain their royal titles even using them in their commercial work. Eyebrows are invariably raised at his wife’s title, though it’s clear that it was conferred on her by marriage. She was honored to take his name, as many wives, even those as independent as she is, often do. In addition to his commercial business interests, the prince devotes much of his time to working with “non-profit-making charities, institutes, trade associations, societies and health organizations.”

Though the prince is not considered a ‘working royal’ he continues to serve the Queen at her behest. He and his family attend public Royal Family events. Each year they can be seen waving from the balcony at the Trooping the Colour or in the carriage procession at Royal Ascot. Occasionally, the couple attends more formal royal engagements such as state banquets, in and outside of the U.K., where they join senior working royals to welcome visiting diplomats and heads of state. The prince and his wife attend these events at the discretion of the Queen, but they are happy and eager to serve when called upon. While his official engagements are not formally counted in the Court Circular, the prince makes numerous appearances for “Royal Family, diplomatic, military or Masonic functions.” He successfully juggles these commitments on behalf of the Queen while running his own business.

The prince’s career in the British Armed Forces was a formative part of his life. He continues to hold a few honorary military appointments granted by the Queen, in addition to the ranks he earned during his own years of dedicated service. He doesn’t live in the country of the military division he represents. However, he maintains close contact and is committed to arranging in-person engagements as schedules allow given current coronavirus travel restrictions. It’s clear that he takes great pride in maintaining these formal military ties after leaving active service.

By dint of these honorary appointments, the prince joins the senior working royals to honor the fallen on Remembrance Sunday. Standing solemnly in uniform, he follows Prince Charles and Prince William to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph each year.

His family home in the U.K. is part of a large property near other members of the Royal Family. He does not own the home, but it was given as a gift from the Queen. It is maintained by the Queen and belongs to the Royal Crown Estate.

Meet Prince Michael of Kent and Princess Michael of Kent née Baroness Marie-Christine von Reibnitz.

Born eighth in line, Prince Michael of Kent, a cousin to both the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, is now 49th in line to the throne. The prince earns a professional income as Chairman of his own specialist consultancy. His family is self-funded and do not receive taxpayer dollars from the Sovereign Grant. In June 2019, Prince Michael and his wife attended the state dinner the Queen hosted for President Trump and his family. The previous year he joined senior members of the royal family on Remembrance Sunday to lay a wreath. Prince Michael served in the British Armed Forces for twenty years and now holds seven military appointments including one outside of the U.K. as Colonel-in-Chief of the Essex and Kent Scottish, Ontario, Canada.

Princess Michael of Kent’s father served as a major in Hitler’s SS Cavalry Corps. Though not exactly a firm favorite within the family, she supports her husband in his work on behalf of the Queen while pursuing professional interests of her own. She is an author with an extensive catalog of books including an autobiography. Her book jacket lists her as Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.

Prince Michael and his family live in a five bedroom apartment at Kensington Palace. Their adult children Lord Frederick Windsor and Lady Gabriella Windsor have their own professional careers.

This is the type of working relationship that Prince Harry sought when he and Meghan announced they wanted 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.” Instead, Harry and Meghan were told they could not:

  • Formally represent the Queen in the U.K. or abroad
  • Hold honorary military appointments and royal patronages
  • Serve as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador
  • Serve as President and Vice-President of independent nonprofit The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust
  • Use their His and Her Royal Highness styles
  • Use the word ‘royal’
  • Lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday

The Kents were notoriously “dubbed Renta-Kents, after a series of embarrassing commercial ventures which tried to cash in on their titles.” There were concerns that they were seeking royal amenities and access while on private foreign travel to promote British trade. Their personal finances also came under scrutiny when the Sunday Times revealed that between 2002–2008 the Kents had received $500K from Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky through offshore companies. Yet, they remain in good standing within the family while Harry and Meghan’s attempts to reshape their working roles were said to have “disappointed” the Queen.

Could the real issue be the size of the deals that Harry and Meghan have signed? Within six months, they proved that they could indeed be financially independent. While the actual terms have not been disclosed, their contracts with Netflix and Spotify are said to be lucrative with estimates for the combined deals ranging from $135-$250M. Prince Michael’s consultancy, listed under the umbrella company Cantium Services Limited, has seen losses four of the past five years. Its most successful year in that same period saw net profit of just $66K.

There is financial independence while still being attached at the apron strings to the monarchy, and then there is the level of autonomy that a quarter of a billion dollars brings. Before the Oprah interview was announced, Richard Palmer, royal correspondent for the Daily Express, noted that the Queen could have extended the Sussexes the same role that had been granted to Prince Michael’s family. However, Palmer implied that Prince Michael was considered “discreet and loyal” whereas Harry and Meghan were not. Which begs the question what had they done as working royals that was more indiscreet than the “Renta-Kents?” Was loyalty synonymous with being beholden to the crown for their livelihood?

Harry and Meghan had hoped to earn a “professional income” ostensibly to self-fund their charity work while remaining part of Prince Charles’s ‘slimmed-down monarchy’. They believed that renouncing taxpayer funding would negate the public interest in their private lives that had led to so much toxicity and vitriol in the press. Instead of reforming the U.K. press pool known as the Royal Rota, Harry and Meghan were told that if they wanted to break ties with the rota they would have to fund their own household office and engagements. That was the driving force behind their original desire for financial independence.

Ever since Harry and Meghan’s relationship became public knowledge, they have alleged and High Court judges have now ruled five times over that their coverage in the U.K. tabloid press was defamatory and intrusive. The couple each won independent lawsuits against Mail on Sunday publisher Associated Newspapers Limited just in the past month. In the television interview Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special, Harry spoke of “asking for calm” and to “call the dogs off,” “once as a boyfriend, once as a husband, and once as a father,” to no avail. While condemning Harry and Meghan for participating in the interview and mendaciously claiming their move to America was profit-driven, the Mail on Sunday ran an eleven page special insert preview without irony. Such is the corrosive relationship between the U.K. media and the Royal Family.

Perhaps the palace’s fear wasn’t the Sussexes’ commercial success, but the true independence that comes from removing financial ties. Harry and Meghan’s “progressive new role” represented a potential breach of contract on two fronts — the implicit contract that the Royal Family maintains with the media and the intrafamily power dynamic that centers the heirs with other family members dependent on their largesse. Either breach would be an existential threat to the monarchy.

The official statement from Buckingham Palace formalizing the end of the Sussexes’ time as working members of the Royal Family closed with the reassurance that “while all are saddened by the decision, The Duke and Duchess remain much loved members of the family.” That turn of phrase just doesn’t have the same ring to it as it did when first used in January 2020. An accommodation was made for Prince Michael of Kent as the Queen’s cousin. Yet for Prince Harry, the Queen’s grandson, son of future King Charles III, only brother of next in line King William V and only royal uncle of his heir King George VII, no solution could be reached. Royal reporters hailed the Queen for drawing a distinction between her love for her grandson and her duty as monarch. The same reporters who have universally repeated the Firm’s stance that “There is no ‘half in, half out’ of the British Royal Family.” Funny, it would seem that only holds true for Prince Harry.

Read the previous article in the House of Windsor series: Prince Harry and the Flight of Icarus.

Personally I love a great love story. I found one following as Meghan Markle left the role of Rachel Zane to marry Prince Harry & become The Duchess of Sussex.

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