For more than a year, it has been the millstone around Prince Harry‘s neck, a gold‑plated slice of taxpayers’ largesse that reeked of privilege and entitlement.
But to Harry and Meghan, the £2.4 million of public money — our money — that was lavished on renovating Frogmore Cottage, only for it to be shuttered and abandoned along with the rest of their royal lives, represented something far more intrinsic.
He saw it as a chain that shackled them to the land of his birth, inhibiting their efforts to be truly free of the Royal Family and — crucially — of their media critics.
In his eyes, the money was not a loan from a generous nation pleased to be helping this young royal couple find its feet after their joyful wedding, but rather a stick with which to beat them.
So paying back every penny to the public purse, having previously offered to do so at the rate of £18,000 a month (a deal of such indulgence it would have taken them 11 years to repay the debt), is highly significant.
In the short term, it is designed to silence the drumbeat of criticism to which they perceive they are subject. But will it really end what they complain of as unjustified ‘public interest’ in their new lives?
A source close to the couple confirmed that they were no longer receiving financial support from Harry’s father, the Prince of Wales, either from the Duchy of Cornwall or his private income
This, too, marks a fork in the road for Harry and Meghan, although insiders suggest they may already have received the full amount of the stipend they expected from Charles for this year anyway
Surely by embarking on such a high-profile life in the entertainment capital of the world, where every resource is choreographed for maximum publicity, such a move raises more questions than it answers?
It can be no coincidence that this remarkable gesture comes just days after it was revealed that the couple had signed a production deal with Netflix, estimated to be worth £75 million.
Many will wonder if this payment to the Sovereign Grant was part of the first instalment of that extraordinary deal. But while royal officials were digesting the implications, another equally bold announcement was being released by the Duke and Duchess.
A source close to the couple confirmed that they were no longer receiving financial support from Harry’s father, the Prince of Wales, either from the Duchy of Cornwall or his private income.
This, too, marks a fork in the road for Harry and Meghan, although insiders suggest they may already have received the full amount of the stipend they expected from Charles for this year anyway.
What it does do, however, is signal that their divorce from Britain is permanent, while removing any pretence that they might still have a future role in the Royal Family.
Harry could, of course, have avoided this whole sorry saga before it ever became an issue. With an estimated fortune of £20 million inherited from his mother’s estate and trust funds from the Queen Mother, he could have afforded to pay for the renovation himself.
With an estimated fortune of £20 million inherited from his mother’s estate and trust funds from the Queen Mother, he could have afforded to pay for the renovation himself
Prince Charles reacts during a national service of remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, central England on August 15, 2020
What he failed to understand then — and probably still doesn’t now — is not that there was public resentment at the cost of refurbishing Frogmore, but that the public felt cheated when Harry chose to keep secret details about son Archie’s birth and christening.
‘It sent the message that they were happy to take public money for granted, but not if it meant having to share things with the public they didn’t want to,’ says a courtier. ‘Ever since, it has become more and more toxic.’ For now, questions remain about how the money has been repaid and who knew about it. Royal aides suggested that, although the timing had come as a surprise, it was not entirely unexpected.
Harry has been determined to emphasise his and Meghan’s lack of reliance on British taxpayer funds, by first meeting the cost of their substantial security bill and now by paying back the Sovereign Grant. They believe it will remove what they consider to be media intrusion into their lives.
But criticism of the lavish renovations of Frogmore Cottage have hardly been confined to the media. At the weekend, Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, deputy chairman of Parliament’s public accounts committee, noted: ‘Clearly anyone who has borrowed taxpayers’ cash needs to pay it back as quickly as possible; £2.4 million is a lot and, even if you paid back £250,000 a year, it would still take a decade.’
Harry may see his new-found wealth, which has allowed him to pay back this money, as gaining liberty and escaping his critics. But it may have unforeseen consequences. While his father contributed to Harry and Meghan’s life, there was still a link, however tenuous, anchoring him to his country and his family. Without it, Harry may find himself more adrift than ever.
Thanks a million, Megflix: After huge Netflix deal, Harry and Meghan pay off £2.4m Frogmore cottage bill – and stop taking cash from Charles too
By Rebecca English Royal Editor for the Daily Mail
Harry and Meghan have reimbursed taxpayers in full for the £2.4million used to renovate their Windsor home – in a dramatic escalation of their ‘divorce’ from the Royal Family.
In an unexpected move, the couple – who had been paying back the cash in monthly instalments – announced that they had totally refunded the Sovereign Grant for the redevelopment of five-bedroom Frogmore Cottage on the Queen’s Berkshire estate.
Sources close to the couple also claimed that they would no longer be asking Prince Charles for handouts as they sought to establish ‘financial independence’.
The surprise move came after it was revealed the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had secured a lucrative deal to produce shows for streaming giant Netflix, said to be worth in the region of $100million (£75million).
The £2.4m in public money that was used to convert Frogmore from what had been five small staff cottages into a larger country home for the couple has been a particular bone of contention since they quit as working royals in January.
Critics had argued that not only should the cash be refunded in full after their move to California, but they should also forfeit their right to even live at Frogmore, which was given to them by the Queen.
Those calls intensified after they recently bought an £11million nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom mansion in Montecito, Santa Barbara, with a £7.5million mortgage.
Until now, they had been paying back the money at a rate of £18,000 a month – a figure which also covered ‘rent’ on the property.
Sources close to the couple claimed that they would no longer be asking Prince Charles for handouts as they sought to establish ‘financial independence’
This meant it would have taken them 11 years to repay the British taxpayer, a timeframe that many felt was far too long given the couple’s earning potential.
But last night, a spokesman for the couple said that Prince Harry had now repaid the money in full. They said: ‘A contribution has been made to the Sovereign Grant by the Duke of Sussex.
‘This contribution as originally offered by Prince Harry has fully covered the necessary renovation costs of Frogmore Cottage, a property of Her Majesty the Queen, and will remain the UK residence of the duke and his family.’
The spokesman made clear that the Sussexes would continue to use the Windsor property, for which they will now continue to pay an undisclosed ‘commercial’ rent, as a UK base.
The Mail has been told that the decision to suddenly pay back the money in full came as a surprise to royal officials. One well-placed source said that the Sovereign Grant money had always been a ‘sore spot’ for Harry, who – rightly or wrongly – felt that it was used as a means of ‘controlling’ him by members of his own family, and by the media.
The Sovereign Grant is the money given by the Treasury to support the Queen as Head of State. It meets the running expenses of her official household, as well as the maintenance of properties owned by the Crown Estate.
The source told the Mail yesterday that Harry ‘made very clear from the start that he wanted to repay that money because he felt that if he handed it back then no-one would have the right to control him.’ They added: ‘But while he uses the word control, many see this as a desire by Harry to escape criticism under a fair and free Press.’ The source added that Harry had never seemed in ‘any rush’ to repay the sum in its entirety.
‘This has come as something of a surprise,’ they admitted, ‘and it can only be assumed this has something to do with the Netflix deal. Maybe it now means he can afford to pay the money back in full at once or maybe he has been irritated by the criticism that the deal has led to of his finances. No one really knows.
‘But if he thinks that it will make him immune from public and media scrutiny, he is misguided.
‘This new, highly visible media role that he is seeking in the US makes him more of a public figure than ever.’
Frogmore, which was gifted to the couple from the Queen through her Crown Estate, had fallen into disrepair before the couple moved in. Builders worked around the clock for six months so they could move in before the birth of their son Archie in May 2019.
The couple chose to move out of Kensington Palace following their fallout with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.