January 9, 2020 / 11:16 AM / 17 days ago

Breakingviews - Royal couple test House of Windsor revolving door

Britain's Prince Harry gestures next to his wife Meghan as they ride a horse-drawn carriage after their wedding ceremony at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle in Windsor, Britain, May 19, 2018. Picture taken May 19, 2018.

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - Who says Britain’s royal family lacks entrepreneurial zeal? Prince Harry and his wife Meghan are displaying impressive business acumen with their ploy to disentangle themselves from state funding. The plan, unveiled to their 10 million Instagram followers late on Wednesday, resembles the revolving door that enables former public officials to enrich themselves in the private sector. Yet just as politicians and civil servants rely on access to their former contacts, the couple’s success will depend on staying close to their relatives in Buckingham Palace.

Like former Prime Minister Tony Blair, or ex-European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, Queen Elizabeth’s grandson and his wife have a valuable public profile. Blair and Barroso monetised their positions and powerful contacts by working for JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, respectively, after leaving office. For the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, quitting the family firm enables them to make money from a vast global fan base. Their current funding structure, partly backed by the British government, prohibits the couple from earning an income of any form.

Cutting themselves off from the state should therefore make financial sense. Just 5% of the funding for the office of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex comes from government payments that cover the royal family’s costs including travel, parties and palace upkeep, according to their website. The other 95% of the couple’s costs are covered by Harry’s father, Charles. In the financial year ending in 2018 he handed them less than 5 million pounds, the Daily Telegraph reported. That implies Harry and Meghan are giving up at most 200,000 pounds a year from taxpayers.

The Duke and Duchess’ considerable celebrity should easily enable them to replace that income. Cashing in on the brand is one option: at the end of 2019 they applied to trademark “Sussex Royal” for categories including footwear and clothing. Social-media influencers with similar followings can earn millions of dollars a year from endorsements. Meghan could also return to her acting career.

The risk is that distancing themselves from Buckingham Palace dims the royal glow that powers Harry and Meghan’s celebrity. According to the BBC they have hurt other royals by keeping the plan secret. In a worst-case scenario, Charles could choke off their main funding source. Harry and Meghan will hope the House of Windsor’s revolving door keeps spinning.

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