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When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle issued their first official photograph together as a couple to mark their engagement, the fact that Meghan chose to appear in a dress by designers Ralph and Russo that was priced at $75,000 was a source of bemused horror to seasoned courtiers.
The fact that this was an engagement photograph, and there was a ton of goodwill toward the couple (at that stage) in the press, meant the media didn’t go to town criticizing the costs of the diaphanous dress.
The palace declined to publicly say who had paid for it, or if a discount had been offered. However, The Daily Beast understands that this dress, like all of their clothes, was paid for in full out of funds provided by Prince Charles’ office.
(Representatives for Harry and Meghan did not return a request for comment; Kensington Palace declined to comment.)
This is the normal run of things. Speak to anyone in any of the design houses and retail businesses which provide senior royals with clothes and they will tell you the same thing: Kate (and Meghan when she was a royal) do not accept freebies, discounts or anything that might compromise them.
You can try not to charge them the clothes they ask for, but they will be returned unworn unless a bill is presented in relatively good time.
The contrast between Meghan’s engagement dress and Kate’s choice for the occasion of announcing her engagement, albeit many years previously, was notable. While Kate’s Issa wrap dress, at $600, was far from inexpensive, Meghan’s clothing was in the super-extravagant league.
While in the royal family, of course, Meghan now says she felt “unprotected” by the institution, and unable to defend herself against criticism.
In the new book Royals At War authors Dylan Howard and Andy Tillett say that the very public display of wealth spending was one of the “fundamental factors behind the deep fissure that opened between him and his brother, Prince William.”
“The fact that Meghan splashed so much cash rang alarm bells with the traditionally conservative Queen Elizabeth,” said the authors.
“Growing up in the war left the monarch with a built-in sense of frugality and economy, despite being one of the richest women in the world.”
Observers largely wrote off the Ralph and Russo episode as an attack of new-princess exuberance, but, Meghan continued to wear unbelievably expensive outfits.
For example, for her first engagement with the Queen she wore a Givenchy dress which Vanity Fair reported was valued at around $18,000.
While one might be excused for pulling out all the stops when appearing alongside Her Majesty, Meghan often wore very expensive clothes to even the humblest of domestic engagements.
The contrast between her and Kate’s spending habits was highlighted when they sat side by side at a royal foundation event in 2019: Meghan wore an $1,800 wrap dress by Jason Wu, Kate wore a $169 dress by Seraphine. It was a dress Kate had worn many times before—Meghan’s pricey Jason Wu number was never seen again.
Meghan’s wardrobe swiftly expanded to include multiple pieces from high-end designers such as Givenchy, Stella McCartney, Erdem and Oscar de la Renta.
The royal fashion blog UFO No More (UFO standing for “unidentified fashion object”) estimated Meghan’s 2018 apparel spend at an eye-watering $508,258, and that figure didn’t include her Givenchy wedding gown. Middleton’s new garb in the same year, they estimated, cost $85,097.
Author Lady Colin Campbell told The Daily Beast that the Sussexes’ spending habits are a theme she explores in her new book, out later this month, Meghan and Harry: The Real Story.
“The spending absolutely became a very important bone of contention,” says Campbell. “Meghan was spending more per annum than every other prince or princess in the whole of Europe. I am told she spent over £2m on clothes.
“The overtness of the extravagance—for example, everything had to be designer—was a major problem. No matter that in private, many of the royals have extremely expensive tastes, publicly the royals are always careful to give the message that they are living within budgets. Such extravagance was regarded as not only tasteless but politically unwise by veteran courtiers at the palace.”
Of course, it wasn’t just the clothes; the debacle of their move to Frogmore Cottage on the grounds of Windsor Castle prompted such outrage in the U.K. largely because they spent around $3 million of taxpayers’ money to refurbish the cottage. Even the Queen was said to be rather irritated by the amounts involved.
(Harry and Meghan are now reportedly paying off the bill at a rate of $20,000 a month while they stay at Tyler Perry's $18 million, 12-bedroom villa in Hollywood.)
Then, famously, there were the lavish holidays and private jets that shuttled them around Europe in the summer of 2019. It made no difference when Elton John said he had paid for one of the trips, the fact that they took four PJs in 11 days stank of privilege and hypocrisy.
As Christopher Andersen, author of the book Diana’s Boys, told The Daily Beast: “The Queen and older rank-and-file courtiers view such conspicuous consumption as unseemly. Of course, the irony is that nothing in the civilian world really compares to the unparalleled lifestyle of the royals.”
What Harry and Meghan knew last summer, and we didn’t, was that they had had enough of life in the royal goldfish bowl and were searching for a way out. Maybe they didn’t care too much about tut-tutting from the palace or William.
When the shocking announcement of their departure from royal life came, it was, bizarrely, couched in financial terms. It repeatedly spoke of their desire to be “financially independent” and said that being able to earn their own money was something they were “looking forward to.”
Of course, many would argue that Harry and Meghan already have “financial independence” at a level of which most of us can only dream. It is a matter of public record that Harry has a private fortune of some $40m as a result of inheritances left to him by his mother and great grandmother.
When the couple departed the royal fold, there was wild speculation about the hundreds of millions of dollars they would be able to earn as private citizens in the era of global celebrity.
Such astronomical predictions now seem badly misjudged. Indeed, owing to the coronavirus, it is thought that Harry and Meghan have only pulled in one mega-bucks deal so far, after they were reportedly paid $1m for a short speech by Harry to a roomful of J.P. Morgan investment bankers.
Harry and Meghan will be hoping a few more deals like that will materialize soon as they try to figure out how to continue to enjoy the expensive lifestyle to which, one assumes, they have become accustomed.