'Meghan’s secret money problem'
Meghan, Duchess of Sussex holds many distinctions: The first member of the house of Windsor to star in a cable drama; the first duchess to have guest edited an issue of Vogue; the only HRH to understand the intricacies of being a Deal Or No Deal briefcase girl; and most impressively, the only person who has ever entered royal life as a self-made millionaire.
By the time the Los Angeles native first took her position on the Buckingham Palace balcony in June 2018 for her debut Trooping the Colour weeks after her and husband Prince Harry's wedding, she had an actual fortune to her name, one she had not inherited, married into or gotten from her parents. While estimates vary, Forbes has pegged the figure at around $2.5 million.
What no one quite realised as the Windsors waved to the masses that day was how large the Sussexes' money situation would loom, not only over the couple but the entire royal family in the years to come.
Today the Duke and Duchess might be sitting on a new, far, far larger fortune of their own creation with some reports putting their Netflix and Spotify deals alone at around $180 million, however that doesn't mean money isn't an issue.
Rather the couple, especially Meghan, have a growing money problem and one that may only become more glaring in the years to come as their coffers swell and their bank accounts are filled to bursting. Namely, the jarring juxtaposition between their own lifestyle and their nascent charitable brand.
'Money issue' on display in Meghan's Vax Live video
This problem was on glamorous display this week when a video Meghan had recorded for the Vax Live charity concert, of which the Sussexes were co-chairs, aired showing the 39-year-old passionately talking about how the COVID-19 crisis had a hugely deleterious impact on women economically.
"Since the pandemic began, nearly 5.5 million women have lost work in the US, and 47 million more women around the world are expected to slip into extreme poverty," she told viewers while wearing a $2158 Carolina Herrera dress, a $6445 gold Cartier Love bracelet and a gold Cartier Tank Francaise watch, which currently retails for $30,300. (Meghan bought herself a version of the iconic timepiece back in 2015 and is also believed to own another model which previously belonged to Diana, Princess of Wales.)
The median household income for lower income families in the US is $36,766. You can barely get a decent watch for that sort of coin.
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And therein lies the yawning tension here, between their philanthropic aims and projects and the lifestyle that the Sussexes seems to have no issue putting on very clear display.
For example, in 2019, Meghan was photographed for Vogue at Smart Works, the London charity which helps unemployed women get back into the workforce and of which she is the patron - wearing a $2900 Gucci dress.
In March, when Meghan and Harry sat down with Oprah Winfrey to enumerate their many grievances against the royal family and the palace, the Duchess wore a $6000 Giorgio Armani frock and $890 heels, an interesting choice given one of their key gripes was that Prince Charles had cut them off financially. Clearly things aren't too tight for the self-exiled duo then.
(Back in the day, Charles used to fund the Sussexes' life reportedly to the tune of about $5 million annually, according to the BBC.)
Now, it would be disingenuous for Meghan to start only buying cheapy H&M jumpers in 100 per cent acrylic and pretending she is anything other than hugely wealthy. Cosplaying 'normal' would just seem patronising.
However, surely she could make some sort of concession given the message she is trying to convey because seeing her done up in a look worth the equivalent of a house deposit is just grating and casts her in a Marie Antoinette-esque light.
Was a watch worth more than many people's cars really necessary to accessorise her look given she was (very rightly) highlighting the dire economic straits millions of women find themself in?
Tone deaf, you say? Quite.
Charitable endeavours versus luxe lifestyle
There is no obscuring the disconnect between the Sussexes' charitable goals and the very wealthy way they present themselves to the world.
For son Archie's second birthday earlier this month, they urged their fans to donate money to a COVID vaccine equity fundraiser. Prince Charles, by contrast, made a private donation weeks earlier to help fight the pandemic in India.
Last week it was revealed that Meghan has penned her first book called The Bench, a children's title which started life as a poem she wrote for Harry for his first Father's Day after the birth of their son in 2019.
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Maybe bespoke, hand-hewn chicken coops and Harry's tedious parade of grey polo shirts cost more than one might imagine.
To be fair, Harry and Meghan have dipped into their own pockets to make a number of hugely impressive donations, including among others, $166,000 to CAMFED, a pan-African non-profit that supports the education of young women and girls, to mark the Duke's birthday last year and in January, they paid to fix a Texas women's shelter's roof after it was damaged in devastating storms. In April last year they donated the $144,000 left over from the sale of broadcast rights to their wedding to Feeding Britain.
Only this week they donated 200 knitted beanies to help kids in need via the New Zealand initiative, I've Got Your Back Pack. Seriously lovely stuff.
However, at the heart of this issue is that the couple seem wholly unwilling to let their charitable endeavours crimp their luxe lifestyle, even if it might just be during public appearances.
A sort of 'do as I say, not as I shop'.
After all, Bill and Melinda Gates are worth $160 billion but when they take part in videos for their eponymous foundation or other high-profile charity events they don't do so with her dressed in an entire suite of Romanov diamonds or him clutching the Leonardo da Vinci Codex he bought for $38 million. They can clearly afford it and may well gad about the house just like that but when they're in the public eye? Nope.
For Harry and Meghan, their intentions, hearts and heads are all in the right place, focused on using their platform and lives to make the world a better place. But it's time to put all the Cartier back in the safe - at least until the cameras stop rolling.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Meghan's secret money problem