| 14.5°C Belfast

Stars in their eyes: Meghan and Harry go to Hollywood

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have arrived for a new life in Los Angeles amid a chorus of sneers and jeers, but they could now turn their celebrity into a billion-dollar brand, writes Tanya Sweeney


Meghan and Harry at one of their last appearances as royals, the
Commonwealth Day Service in London

Meghan and Harry at one of their last appearances as royals, the Commonwealth Day Service in London

Getty Images

The fairytale wedding

The fairytale wedding


Meghan in Suits

Meghan in Suits

Meghan and Harry at one of their last appearances as royals, the Commonwealth Day Service in London

Even by usual standards, the latest raft of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle headlines are particularly spiked with sneer. 'Meghan has got everything she wanted now,' they chorus, intimating that it was entirely the former duchess's plan to endure four years of media scrutiny, trolling and abuse before deciding to return home.

This week, the couple began their non-royal life. Megxit has officially happened and, according to reports, they have been hunting for a mansion in Malibu.

Sure, they've waved off some decent blue-blood perks - a large household of courtiers, access to the royal jewellery collection, the royal household physician constantly at their beck and call - but what harm, if it means thriving and not surviving?

It's no small irony that Prince Harry (35) and Meghan (38), who ostensibly departed the royal family for a quieter life, now find themselves under more scrutiny than ever. What was meant to be an exile has become anything but.

After a fallow few weeks in their Vancouver hideaway, they recently touched down in the US. It now appears to have riled many that Meghan this week reached the promised land of California with her royal prince in tow.

It's immaterial that Meghan was born there and her mother Doria still lives there. No, this could only have been a coldly calculated career move.

The downtime in Canada, apparently, was a mere stop-gap to put cynics off the scent.

Harry, the critics note, has left the only life he's ever known to play second fiddle to an upwardly mobile actress.

A nation that took Harry into its collective bosom as a 12-year-old forced to walk behind his mother's coffin seems none too pleased about it.

That the Sussexes touched down in Hollywood via private jet appears to be perhaps an ill-timed move. Perhaps the couple felt it a good time to bury bad headlines. Maybe they wanted to reach the US before the country's borders were closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But in a world in the throes of crisis, Meghan's apparent desire to put Operation Hollywood into motion has not gone down well.

This week, Harry and Meghan reportedly wound down their social media sites and transferred the management of their image and philanthropy to a new team of advisers in Los Angeles.

The couple also allegedly recruited new staff members in the US. Catherine St-Laurent, who worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has become chief of staff to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, as the couple are formally known. She will also run their new non-profit organisation.

Adding insult to injury, Harry's brother William this week expressed a desire to return to the NHS and put his training as an air ambulance pilot to good use.

The Sussexes' inspirational quote, left on Instagram hours previously, paled in comparison, as gestures go: "This moment is as true a testament there is to the human spirit," it read.

Hot on its heels came yet more Insta-waffle, however well-intentioned: "What's most important right now is the health and wellbeing of everyone across the globe and finding solutions for the many issues that have presented themselves as a result of this pandemic," the Sussexes posted. "We are focusing on this new chapter to understand how we can best contribute."

If Meghan has, as her detractors are fond of saying, "got everything she wanted", they're not likely to let her enjoy it in a hurry.

Meghan's first professional job since quitting the royal family has received an almighty drubbing from the critics. Last year, Prince Harry was recorded offering his wife's acting services to Lion King director Jon Favreau and Disney boss Bob Iger at a film premiere.

Commentators were appalled at the royals' barefaced canvassing. At the time, of course, Harry and Meghan were destined for duties on behalf of the crown and not much else.

In any case, Harry's request appears to have worked. Well, sort of.

Meghan's narration of a Disney documentary entitled Elephant is, according to one review in the Times, "packed with schmaltz and cheesiness". Empire magazine, meanwhile, described the duchess's efforts as "just about staying on the right side of annoying".

Much less has been publicly noted of Meghan's desire to donate her fee from the job to charity, but as the woman herself knows all too well now, she can't do right for wrong.

As one of the most famous women in the world, it's safe to assume that Markle will command more than a modicum of power within the movie industry. Whether she is adored or abhorred is immaterial. A project involving her will garner acres of coverage without much effort and, ergo, bums on seats.

Earlier this month it was revealed that Meghan's agent, Nick Collins at The Gersh Agency, already has a slew of role offers lined up for the actress. A source told the Daily Mail: "She has said she wants her return to acting to be part of an ensemble cast in something like a superhero film. She knows she can't carry a film as an actress - people won't be able to get past the fact she's Meghan Markle - but she's determined to act again and she thinks a big ensemble film is the way to go... something that pays big but which doesn't put her front and centre.

"Pretty much every A-list actress, including Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba, Margot Robbie, Jennifer Lawrence and Halle Berry, have starred in superhero movies. There used to be a certain stigma attached to Marvel films, but now they are the biggest market in the world. That's what Meghan wants."

Harry, too, has been no slouch in ploughing his own throughway. In February he gave a speech at a JP Morgan event in Miami and reportedly received a six-figure fee for his troubles. He was also said to be in talks with banking giant Goldman Sachs.

Harry has also committed to Apple and Oprah Winfrey to work on a documentary series about mental health for Apple TV+. Financial independence, presumably, can't be that far behind.

Whatever the couple's future fortunes, the Prince of Wales will also continue to offer financial support to his son.

David Haigh, the CEO of Brand Finance, a brand evaluation consultancy firm in London, noted that the pair could create a global brand worth billions.

Speaking engagements, book deals, clothing collaborations could easily pocket a seven-figure sum, he reasons. Reports abound, too, that over 100 trademarks were secured last year for a wide range of Sussex Royal apparel and merchandise. "We're so much smaller and pinched here. America is really a huge place - it's half of the world's economy, basically," he told fashion industry trade journal WWD. "If they are popular in America, they could easily become a billion-dollar phenomenon very fast."

Haigh also estimated they could pocket a couple of hundred thousand dollars per speech on the speaking circuit. A major speech could amount to $500,000.

"They are actually a very compelling couple and they've got a lot of interesting things to say," he said.

With their financial independence barely in doubt, another kerfuffle has bounced in out of nowhere in recent days. US President Donald Trump noted on Twitter that the US would not be paying for the couple's security while in the country (Canada had assisted the couple with security arrangements).

He tweeted. "Now they have left Canada for the US, however, the US will not pay for their security arrangements. They must pay!"

In response, a Sussex spokesperson said the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had no plans to ask the US government for security resources.

As of now, the couple meet an intriguing fork in the road and the future remains to be seen. Will the same fate as Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson befall them?

Will they, like the abdicating king and his profligate wife, eke out their royal exile at a geographical remove, living the remainder of their life in a sort of easy retirement, largely unbothered and inconsequential?

Or will Meghan's supposed tenacity and Harry's blue-blood provenance see them parlay the events of the last four years into a global super-brand, with a quiet life further from view than ever before? I know where most betting people would put their money.

Belfast Telegraph