World

Prince Harry and Meghan to 'step back' from royal roles, spend more time in North America

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan announced on Instagram their intention to "step back" from their royal roles, while Buckingham Palace stated discussions with them are "at an early stage."

Buckingham Palace says discussions 'are at an early stage'

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, leave Canada House in London on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the couple announced they are stepping back from their royal duties. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan say they plan "to step back" as senior members of the Royal Family, a stunning revelation that underscores the wish of the couple to forge a new path for the royals in the modern world.

A statement issued Wednesday evening described as "a personal message from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex," said Harry and Meghan intend to become financially independent and to "balance" their time between the U.K. and North America, where the 38-year-old duchess grew up. It wasn't specific about where in North America they would go, though they recently holidayed in Canada. 

"After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution," the couple wrote.

"We intend to step back as 'senior' members of the Royal Family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support Her Majesty the Queen."

Hours later, Buckingham Palace issued a statement in response, hinting that the first had caught some in the royal household by surprise. The statement said discussions with Harry and Meghan are still "at an early stage."

"We understand their desire to take a different approach, but these are complicated issues that will take time to work through," it read.

The royal pair described their new roles on their website. The site noted that the Sovereign Grant, which funds the monarchy, covers just five per cent of their official expenses, but they want to cut this financial tie. 

The 35-year-old Harry is the Queen's grandson and sixth in line to the British throne. With his ginger hair and beard, he is one of the Royal Family's most recognizable and popular members and has spent his entire life in the glare of the public eye. 

Before marrying Harry in 2018, the Duchess of Sussex worked as an actress. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she lived in Toronto for about seven years while shooting the dramatic TV series Suits. The royal couple has one son, Archie, who is eight months old.

Although as an actress and human rights advocate the duchess was accustomed to media attention before her marriage, she has made no secret of the fact that the transition to the level of celebrity faced by the Royal Family was difficult.

Based on the statement released by Buckingham Palace, it seems perhaps Queen Elizabeth wasn't expecting the announcement from Harry and Meghan that they plan to take a step back from their roles as senior members of the Royal Family. (John Stillwell/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Last year, Harry lashed out at the British media for its treatment of his wife, accusing them of hounding her the way they did his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a 1997 car crash while trying to elude paparazzi. 

"My deepest fear is history repeating itself. I've seen what happens when someone I love is commoditized to the point that they are no longer treated or seen as a real person. I lost my mother, and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces," Harry said in the fall.

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The royal couple revealed their struggles with the media in an ITV documentary, Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, which followed them on their autumn tour of southern Africa. Both said they had struggled with the spotlight and that much of what was printed about them is untrue.

The duchess told ITV that her British friends warned her not to marry the prince because of the intense media scrutiny that would follow in his country. But the U.S. television star said she "naively" dismissed the warnings, because as an American she didn't understand how the British press worked.

"I never thought this would be easy, but I thought it would be fair. And that is the part that is hard to reconcile," Meghan said.

Prince Harry, left, acknowledges that he and his brother, Prince William, have had their differences, but he says the media have blown it out of proportion. (Gareth Fuller/AFP/Getty Images)

The British media have also made much of an alleged rift between Harry and his older brother, Prince William, who is second in line to the throne. Harry and Meghan last year opted out of living at Kensington Palace in London, where William and his family live, and moved to a Frogmore Cottage at Windsor.

In the ITV interview, Harry acknowledged there have been some differences between him and the 37-year-old William, although he said most of what has been printed about a rift between them has been "created out of nothing."

"Part of this role and part of this job and this family being under the pressure that it's under, inevitably stuff happens," he said. "But, look, we're brothers. We'll always be brothers. We're certainly on different paths at the moment, but I will always be there for him, as I know he'll always be there for me."

What's next

Harry and Meghan did not spell out exactly what they were planning or where in North America they might live.

Last year it was reported that Harry would be executive producer of a documentary on mental health with U.S. television mogul Oprah Winfrey for Apple's video streaming service.

Royal biographer Penny Junor said it's possible Meghan might revive her acting career given the demand and fees she could command.

"Perhaps she'd have to be careful about what roles she'd do because she is a member of the royal family," Junor said.

Last year was one of the hardest of Queen Elizabeth's record-breaking 67-year reign, culminating in her second son, Andrew, stepping down from royal duties over his association with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

With files from CBC News and Reuters

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