Prince Harry and Meghan Markle may be getting into bed with Wall Street but there is a financial mystery around their latest deal.
When King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936 so he could marry Wallis Simpson (and spend the rest of his life dithering about his garden in Paris and contemplating the full, gaping maw of his regal loss) his brother, the newly enthroned King George VI made a very smart choice. He gave him money.
While Edward, for the rest of his life, might have been something of a desolate soul, with no purpose, defining role or public identity, at least he had the francs to keep Wallis in Cartier and their cellars full of Chateau Yquem, all courtesy of an allowance from the palace.
More than eight decades later however, when his great-great-nephew Prince Harry followed in his footsteps and spectacularly walked away from royal life, American wife in tow too, the same story did not play out.
Instead, newly ‘freed’ from having to kowtow to the palace hierarchy and to agree to open the occasional bridge, Harry instead soon found himself face-to-face with a new and decidedly bourgeois development: Fretting about money.
Having his living expenses taken care of by his dear papa and the army up until the age of 35 did not exactly put Harry in good stead when it came to having to navigate the new and unedifying world of mammon.
So of course it makes perfect sense – cough – that with only every having worked for the government and his grandma and never having, pre-Megxit, actually earned money that did not come from the state in some capacity he and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex have been snapped up by a Wall Street outfit to come on board.
Yes, those Sussexes. And yes, that Wall Street.
In news broken overnight by the New York Times, it was revealed that the couple have signed on to become “impact partners” with Ethic, a Wall Street asset manager which focuses on sustainable investing.
“My husband has been saying for years, ‘Gosh, don’t you wish there was a place where if your values were aligned like this, you could put your money to that same sort of thing?’” Meghan told the paper. (You worry about where to put your dosh too, right?)
Ethic, meanwhile, said of Harry and Meghan in a statement: “They’re deeply committed to helping address the defining issues of our time — such as climate, gender equity, health, racial justice, human rights, and strengthening democracy — and understand that these issues are inherently interconnected.
“Working together, we hope to inform, educate and inspire widespread action around some of the most significant and defining issues of our time.”
Anyone else experiencing some deja vu here?
Another headline-grabbing corporate union. Another press release touting the world-changing potency of the pairing of the Sussexes’ big ideals and some big company. Another promise that working with a billion-dollar behemoth will somehow make the world a better place.
This schtick is getting all a bit tired and with this latest deal stretches plausibility to an emaciated thinness.
For Harry and Meghan to choose socially-responsible investing as their latest cause célèbre makes perfect sense and it is genuinely a worthy issue to lend their weight to. But if they were solely motivated by a burning desire to bring this burgeoning field to the world’s attention then why not pick a firm or platform that is founded by a woman or a person of colour?
Instead, they decided to align themselves with a company run that was founded by three white men, who are ex-Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs.
It has now been 13 months since news of Harry and Meghan’s partnership with Netflix, their first big deal, was revealed in September last year. It would prove to be only the first of many “megawatt” signings for Brand Sussex.
In December it was revealed that the duchess had invested in Clevr, a vegan latte brand; the same month also that they had inked a contract with Spotify. In March the Wall Street Journal announced that Harry had signed on as the Chief Impact Officer for BetterUp, a company which provides coaching and mental health assistance, while come July, it was Penguin Random House’s turn to bask in the reflected glow of getting Harry to come on board. (His memoir will be out next year.)
The combined value of these arrangements has been estimated at somewhere north of $200 million.
(The exact details of whatever financial arrangement they might have with Ethic have not been revealed. The company said in a statement that the Sussexes “have investments managed” by the company however it has not been stipulated if they are getting paid for their ‘impact officer’ roles. That said, if they were doing this purely out of the goodness of their hearts and not a dime was changing hands, one would think this would have factored into the press release.)
However, each time these (one would assume) highly lucrative relationships has been announced, the world has been treated to another press release or interview, furiously trying to peddle the line that it is all part of some grand humanitarian vision.
Of the Netflix deal, “Our focus will be on creating content that informs but also gives hope,” they promised along with declaring they would be creating “impactful content that unlocks action.”
Their Spotify podcasts, of which the world is yet to see anything beyond one episode, would “build community through shared experiences, narratives and values.”
Of Harry’s BetterUp Gig, the royal said: “I intend to help create impact in people’s lives.”
But c’mon. Stop packaging everything as being about “impact”. TV shows, podcasts and getting a job with a Silicon Valley unicorn are not going to trigger a profound global reckoning or catalyse any sort of world-shaking changes.
This performance of wrapping everything up in buzzwords and trying to pass it all off as part of some great philanthropic mission is just getting exhausting.
Where is the authenticity?
Harry and Meghan quit royal life because the Queen would not allow them to continue to operate under the royal banner while simultaneously pulling in dosh from the corporate world. Likewise, we know they need money because they have told us, with Harry having bitterly told Oprah Winfrey earlier this year, “my family literally cut me off financially.”
Which is to say, money – the getting of and the spending – are parts of their new Californian lives so why not be upfront?
It is truly fine if they are both driven to get involved with these big companies because they are motivated by both a genuine desire to make a difference and a genuine desire to be able to pay their gardeners. They are not mutually exclusive goals.
Instead every time a new deal is announced the whole thing gets shrouded in fuzzy phrases that sound like they were cooked up by a clutch of cold-brew guzzling publicists who have just gotten their hands on a thesaurus.
It all feels so transparent.
They can just as effectively serve as mouthpieces for and promoters of the various big names they have gotten into bed with without constantly trying to sell these arrangements to the world as some great philanthropic undertaking.
Earlier this month we passed the milestone moment when Harry and Meghan have been out of royal life for longer than they were in it together after their wedding. What is clear is that while Megxit might have been a body blow to the monarchy it has only been a boon for American marketing executives. Long live the almighty dollar.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media experts.