Pity the poor residents of Hope Ranch, California. On the one hand, they live in a beachfront, palm-treed paradise where the sun shines nearly every day. On the other, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are rumored to be moving in. The welcome may not be warm.
“Nobody in Hope Ranch holds any ill will towards the Sussexes,” one of them has said, “but the fact is, many fear they’re going to bring a circus to their quiet, super-private ’burb since they’re so famous and controversial.” The couple would present “real-world problems”, the resident continued, because the streets are narrow and could become clogged with paparazzi. “It could create peril,” they told the celebrity Web site TMZ, “especially for kids who are playing and walking to school.”
Yet it’s only a few weeks since Meghan told The Cut magazine how much she loved their present home in Montecito. They hadn’t wanted to view it, she said, because “we didn’t have jobs, so we just were not going to come and see this house. It wasn’t possible.” Thanks to a reported $25 million from Spotify and $100 million from Netflix plus a rumored advance of $16 million for Harry’s memoirs, buying a $14 million house suddenly became a lot more possible. More to the point, how could they not buy a house whose garden featured two palm trees joined at the base? “My love,” Harry told Meghan, “it’s us.”
“You walk in and go … joy,” Meghan said in her interview, “and exhale. And calm. It’s healing. You feel free.”
Yesterday we learned more about life in Montecito after Prince Harry spoke to children helped by the charity WellChild, whose awards ceremony he had been due to attend before the death of the Queen. Archie, he revealed, is “very busy” and has a toy giraffe called Gerald, while Lilibet “is learning to use her voice”. The family’s three dogs, Pula, a black Labrador, and rescue beagles Guy and Mia, “charge around chasing squirrels and causing all sorts of problems. But they’re also emotional support dogs — 100 percent. When they’re behaving.”
“We didn’t have jobs, so we just were not going to come and see this house. It wasn’t possible.”
The house, the writer noted, had a lawn “so verdant it’s better not to consider the water bill”, which brings us neatly to one reason they might be moving: money. According to the royal biographer Tina Brown, “it’s not very pleasant to be a D-list celebrity who, for them, doesn’t have enough money,” she told the Henley Literary Festival at the weekend. “It’s a wholly different game to be with those super-rich people. In Montecito, their $14 million mansion is a humble cottage compared to what these other people have.”
Those other people famously include Oprah Winfrey, who bought up three neighboring estates to form a vast one worth $100 million, and Gwyneth Paltrow, who recently finished building her dream home. It has an 18th-century fireplace and floor imported from a French château, a spa complex and a bathroom angled precisely to take advantage of the sun setting over the Pacific. In the parallel universe that is Montecito, the Sussexes’ mansion is entry-level wealth, and the cost of their lifestyle could feasibly blow the roof off.
Their security bill alone has been estimated by Forbes magazine to be between $2 and $3 million a year. For that, as well as personal-protection personnel working round the clock, there might also be drones, dogs, teams to check locations before they visit, people monitoring social media for threats and arranging decoys to throw photographers off their trail. One security expert told Forbes that the couple made “a rookie mistake” in buying their Montecito home in their own name, because it made their address publicly available.
He could, he boasted, find it in ten minutes online and some people have, which could be another factor behind the rumored move. Local police are said to have received six calls about security breaches in only 14 months, including two in less than a fortnight and a trespasser on the couple’s wedding anniversary in May. Concerned by a series of “sophisticated” burglaries in the area, Santa Barbara police have installed number plate recognition cameras on many roads.
The couple have been photographed at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club, which overlooks the Pacific and boasts that it is “polo in paradise”, and paradise doesn’t come cheap. The membership application asks if you’ve ever sued a club of which you were a member, although, happily, suing private members’ clubs appears to be one of the few areas of litigation in which the couple are not at present engaged. It costs nearly $900 a season just to watch, although that is for a family ticket and does include car parking. Harry, however, doesn’t just watch polo, he plays it. It’s not clear whether he rides his own horse or someone else’s (buying, training and stabling polo ponies costs millions of dollars a year). Then there’s the private jet he recently took to a match in a different state.
One of Meghan’s Netflix projects, a children’s TV program, has already been canceled, and Harry is said to be desperately trying to modify some parts of his book, which was due to be published imminently to capture the Thanksgiving and Christmas markets. A first draft was allegedly rejected because it was too “touchy-feely” and focused on mental health. What a publisher wants from a multi-million-pound advance, it appears, is juice.
“It’s not very pleasant to be a D-list celebrity.”
Then there are the legal bills, with the couple launching a new action against a tabloid, and the PR bills. The couple recently parted ways with an expensive PR firm, Sunshine Sachs. The Daily Mail reported a source as saying, “She takes the view that she doesn’t need to pay an outside firm a lot of money to do PR for her and Harry any more.” Sussex PR will now be handled in-house by Christine Weil Schirmer, who used to work in Silicon Valley.
“They are now in this bind,” Brown says, “where they’ve taken all this money and Harry has made this book deal where he’s supposed to spill everything about his horrible life as a royal, but now he’s actually tortured about it because he understands there is no way back if he does it. If the book continues, I don’t think there is any way for Harry to return. So my view has always been that the book won’t see the light of day.”
If she is right, Harry might have to repay his advance. Alternatively, she speculates, his father might do it for him. “I always thought at some point a deal would be made and Charles would have to pay back the advance to stop Harry writing this book.”
Which prompts the question: if criticizing the royal family is their big earner, and if they’re going to pull back on that for one reason or another — respect for the late Queen, the ascension of Harry’s father to the throne, or even a desire to make amends with his family — then how are they going to pay the bills? Harry inherited around $7.2 million from his mother, which is thought to have accrued interest to increase to the tune of about $11 million, and Meghan is believed to have earned about $50,000 an episode for Suits. In the world they now live in, lawns don’t stay green by themselves, their house memorably has 16 bathrooms and who knows what it costs to run Archie’s chicken coop?
If all roads lead to Hope Ranch, what can they expect? Ten miles up the coast from Montecito, just a 15-minute drive, it’s said to be a friendly community of fewer than 800 homes sprawled over 1,800 acres. Arguably less starry and more understated than Montecito, the area has been described by locals, one of whom is the rapper Snoop Dogg, as “upscale and thoroughly private”.
For the privacy-obsessed couple, who recently released new photographs of themselves, the key word here is “private”. It isn’t an entirely gated community, but only three of the roads are public and it has its own security patrol, which may help to reduce the Sussexes’ reliance on outsiders. It is, say insiders, “a palm-lined, peaceful oasis that is a world all of its own”. It has a private golf club, private tennis courts and a private beach complete with a summer staff of beach boys and a food stand. There are also 22 miles of riding trails, which are almost certainly private too.
Homes for sale range from $3 to $22 million, but there are plenty around the $7 or $8 million mark. Brown joked about Meghan that “at some point it might be more than a new house she’s looking for. Elon Musk is still single, that’s all I have to say.”
Hilary Rose is a longtime columnist for The Times of London and the author of the weekly column How to Get Dressed