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A Change In Harry And Meghan's Financial Status Creates Problems


Britain's royal family is in the middle of a royal mess. Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, say they don't want to be senior royals anymore, and that means they will try to become financially independent. But as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports, it's complicated.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Being a senior royal like Harry and Meghan is a life of duty and obligation. You spend your days in endless official visits to schools and charities and hospitals, chatting politely without saying anything remotely controversial. David McClure writes about the royal family's finances.

DAVID MCCLURE: You might think that, oh, they're a duke and duchess. It's all totally glamorous and whatever, and they don't have to worry about anything. But there is a drudgery element to being a working royal.

ZARROLI: And McClure says senior royals do all that without getting a salary.

MCCLURE: By convention, working royals - that is, royals who receive public money - are not allowed to earn money.

ZARROLI: That's not to say royals aren't very well-compensated. They get government money for expenses. And unlike commoners, they live in nice palaces. They also have property of their own. Prince Harry gets about $2.5 million a year from the huge Duchy of Cornwall, which is owned by his father, Prince Charles. The lavish holdings were the subject of a documentary that ran on BBC.


AMANDA REDMAN: (As narrator) The Duchy of Cornwall is a traditional landed estate whose 700 rural tenants pay rent to farm the prince's land.

ZARROLI: And McClure says Harry and Meghan have money of their own. Harry inherited millions from his mother. Meghan had a long-running TV show.

MCCLURE: They won't have to panhandle. They might be - both of them were something of the order of - I don't know, $20 million. So, you know, they'll be able to manage for a little while.

ZARROLI: But once they leave the royal fold, at least some of that money will stop coming in, and they'll have to pay for things they now get free, like their security detail. Even the status of the house they live in, which was recently renovated at government expense, is unclear. What they take with them is their glamor and fame. The question is, can they leverage that? The couple say they want the chance to earn a professional income. But Marlene Koenig, who writes about the royals, says there aren't a lot of jobs they can do.

MARLENE KOENIG: The real issue is, is that members of the royal family are not allowed to use their titles to make money.

ZARROLI: That even applies to royals who don't get government money. The queen's granddaughter, Princess Beatrice, caused an uproar when she briefly signed with an agency to give paid speeches a few years ago. With their celebrity status, Harry and Meghan can cash in the way the Kardashians do. But whatever they do to earn money will generate lots of criticism. It already has. The pro-Brexit politician Nigel Farage mocked the couple for trying to cash in on their titles.


NIGEL FARAGE: Or Harry can go on "Oprah Winfrey," and he can appear on shows - can you imagine? Can you imagine what the appearance fees would be for Harry on American television? Could you even contemplate what he and Meghan would get?

ZARROLI: You're not likely to see Harry and Meghan doing a reality TV show or commercial endorsements anytime soon. Koenig says they will probably be careful about what they take on.

KOENIG: This is, you know, a whole new world, and I think it's going to be carefully plotted over the next year. It's not going to happen overnight. It's going to be a transition.

ZARROLI: If they succeed, Harry and Meghan will create a new model for working royals in the 21st century. But just like anyone else who changes jobs, they're taking a risk as well.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.