Chandeliers, marble coffee tables, billowing white linen drapes and a bowl of alabaster eggs. From the looks of Harry and Meghan’s docu-series, the cost of living crisis hasn’t reached Montecito, California. This moneyed beach enclave in Santa Barbara is known as “The Beverly Hills of the North” and it’s so exclusive that even the former royals might not be able to afford it soon.
It tells you a lot about house prices in Montecito that the couple almost didn’t bother looking here when they relocated from London. “We didn’t have jobs, so we were just not going to come and see this house,” Meghan said in an interview. “It wasn’t possible.”
But when they fell in love with the nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom estate (price tag a reported $14.65 million), they did “everything they could” to buy it. One of those things was a reported $100 million deal with Netflix, the first fruits of which, Harry & Meghan, landed last week.
But eagle-eyed viewers of the six-part docu-series have pointed out already that the couple didn’t even use their own home to film the interviews. The lavish living room you see on screen is actually in a $33 million house down the road from Harry and Meghan’s. Maybe they were feeling self-conscious after Tina Brown called their pad “a humble cottage”. The trouble is, by Montecito standards, where the biggest estates top the $100 million mark, it basically is.
In comparison with their billionaire neighbors, Harry and Meghan are comparative paupers. Les Miserables de Montecito, if you will.
Situated between LA and San Francisco, this tiny town in the Santa Ynez hills (the name means “Little Mountain”) has long been a popular choice with Hollywood heavyweights. Gwyneth Paltrow, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, Steven Spielberg and Brad Pitt all have homes here, as well as many tech billionaires and their families.
The sprawling estates all come with swimming pools, yoga studios and cinemas, and some are so big they even have their own vineyards. Yet Montecito is still considered less showy than LA (which is around a two-hour drive away). It’s extremely discreet and secluded. Although rarely talked about by the locals, Michael Jackson capitalized on the privacy of this area by building his Neverland Ranch here.
For denizens of Montecito wholesome pursuits such as hiking, horse riding, surfing and yoga dominate. It has Spanish colonial architecture, rolling vineyards, a year-round Mediterranean climate and miles of broad sandy beaches where you can spot whales. But don’t be fooled by the locals’ laid-back uniform of chinos, deck shoes and linen shirts. Montecito – and the neighboring area of Santa Barbara – is as glitzy as you can get. The local Mexican restaurant El Paseo has hosted parties for Quentin Tarantino and Jennifer Lopez. And then there’s the Coral Casino Beach and Cabana Club, where the Olympic-size-pool deck is populated by Victoria’s Secret models. Membership costs $300,000 a year. The super-luxe Coast Village Road is the place for independent boutiques, bakeries such as D’Angelo Bread and multiple yoga and Pilates studios which charge about $100 an hour for a private class.
Part of the appeal of Montecito is that the well-known residents are never hassled for selfies, rubbing along with everybody else as part of the insouciant laid-back beach culture which this part of Santa Barbara is famous for. And besides, Meghan and Harry are probably the least famous – and certainly not the wealthiest – people on their street.
Life in Montecito comes with a hefty price tag, and Harry and Meghan might soon have a bit of a cash flow problem for sustaining their Californian dream. Last year, Forbes pegged their net worth at a modest $10 million – despite their multi-million pound Spotify and Netflix deals – no doubt due to all their outgoings. It’s standard in this neck of the woods to have nannies, gardeners, personal trainers, 24/7 security, and a “house manager” – Gwyneth’s is called Jeffrey and had his own profile of him in The New York Times recently. Not to mention the therapists
So how are Meghan and Harry paying the bills? When they relinquished their royal duties in 2020, the pair were cut off from the Crown’s estimated $34 billion estate. Although Charles gave them “a substantial sum” to support their transition to financial independence – according to Duchy of Cornwall accounts, the couple received a share of £4.5 million between April and June 2020 (with William and Kate) – “That funding ceased in [summer 2020],” said a spokesman.
Of course, Harry does have his inheritance to fall back on. “I’ve got all my mum left me, and without that we wouldn’t be able to do this,” he told Oprah. Princess Diana reportedly left an estate worth £13 million to be split by William and Harry, which grew to £20 million by the time they could legally access it at age 30. This means Harry’s share was roughly £10 million or $12.2 million. Harry is also thought to have inherited millions of pounds from his great-grandmother, the Queen Mother. But that money will have been diminished by tax, and the $3 million they repaid to cover renovations made on their UK homes – costs that were initially covered by British taxpayers.
Meanwhile, Meghan had a reported $5 million of her own before she married Harry. She earned around $50,000 per episode to appear on Suits and topped that up with about $80,000 a year from sponsored content on social media and her blog The Tig. Having appeared in more than 100 episodes of Suits, she will still get a royalties check whenever the show airs – arguably the only “royal-ties” they’re still earning money from.
So they didn’t exactly start with nothing, but they still need money coming in. A lot of money, if they want to sustain their glossy lifestyle. In 2020, the couple founded Archewell Productions with the goal of creating “programming that informs, elevates and inspires” and signed a multi-year deal with Netflix to produce documentaries, scripted shows, feature films and children’s programming. While the planned animated series created by Meghan, known by its working title “Pearl”, was one of several programs scrapped by the streaming service this year as a result of cutbacks, the streaming giant Spotify gave Archewell Audio a reported $20 million for their podcasts .
There are other projects in the pipeline, too. Before Harry left the Royal family, he inked a contract with Oprah to executive produce an Apple TV series on mental health. The couple have also signed on with speaking agency Harry Walker, whose roster of A-listers includes the Clintons, the Obamas and Oprah, who can all command seven-figure fees. In March 2021, Harry was appointed “chief impact officer” (whatever that means) for Californian life-coaching firm BetterUp.
Then there are the books. Harry received a reported advance of $20 million last year when he sold his memoir of him Spare. The deal includes as many as three other books from the couple, so we can probably expect at least one memoir from his wife of him, too. Hopefully it’ll be a better read than her critically derived children’s book, The Bench, for which experts have estimated Meghan earned $600,000.
But the money needs to keep coming in, and now that they can no longer trade on the “SussexRoyal” brand and they’ve “spoken their truth” (and then some) to Oprah and on their six-part series, one wonders what they have left to sell.
And they won’t just be counting the financial effects of their break-up from The Firm. The emotional costs of flogging the family’s secrets are incalculable. When the couple appeared at an awards gala in New York earlier this month, a reporter asked them: “Harry, are you putting money before family?” There was no response.
Their tastes are not modest. In a recent interview, it was revealed that Meghan is fond of a $105 candle from Soho Home. But Harry and Meghan can’t keep burning through money forever without finding new (and more lucrative) streams of revenue and revelation. As Tina Brown remarked: “It’s not very pleasant to be a D-list celebrity who, for them, doesn’t have enough money. It’s a wholly different game to be with those super-rich people.”
Perhaps they will have to resort to a Kardashian-style reality show (Keeping Up With The Sussexes?) Maybe they will downsize to a cheaper area of Santa Barbara where the average house price is a “mere” $2 m?
And if things get really tough, they could always rent out their house and live in their chicken coop in the garden. After all, as Harry told Oprah: “It’s the simple life” they crave.