In all the speculation about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s motives for stepping back from front-line royal duties – furiously supported and disparaged by warring camps on Twitter and in the press – the closest we have to a version of truth is their own website, sussexroyal.com. We don’t know if the Duke and Duchess wrote every word of it, but they’ll certainly have approved the text. And we can be completely sure that every photograph will have received the seal of approval. It’s a website which repays scrutiny, so we’ve decided to scrutinise it – or, rather, three parts of it; their statement, and the sections on the Media and Funding.
But most of what you need to know is in the photograph above, which accompanies the statement about their departure. It says: “It’s just the two of us, and we’re an international brand.” Wherever this picture was taken, it’s clearly not in the UK. It feels closer to a photograph from a Gap catalogue image than standard royal fare, and perhaps that’s not surprising when you look at who put the website together – a Canadian brand agency called Article (madebyarticle.com) with a client-list that includes the children’s channel Nickelodeon, the fashion house Diane Von Furstenberg, and the Toronto Maple Leafs ice hockey team – and now, prominently advertised on Article’s own website, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
The official statement
This updated approach aims to: Engage with grassroots media organisations and young, up-and-coming journalists; Invite specialist media to specific events/engagements to give greater access to their cause-driven activities, widening the spectrum of news coverage; Provide access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting to cover key moments and events; Continue to share information directly to the wider public via their official communications channels; No longer participate in the Royal Rota system.
There’s no ambiguity here: “We’re taking control. Access will be on our terms and given to people we choose.”
Under this system, the rota, or pool, gives these British media representatives the opportunity to exclusively cover an event, on the understanding that they will share factual material obtained with other members of their sector who request it. The current system predates the dramatic transformation of news reporting in the digital age.
It’s true that the Royal Rota predates the digital era, but more importantly it obliges the Sussexes to deal with media they don’t trust. They’re not having it any more.
Britain’s Royal Correspondents are regarded internationally as credible sources of both the work of members of The Royal Family as well as of their private lives. This misconception propels coverage that is often carried by other outlets around the world, amplifying frequent misreporting.
Ouch! The door slams hard on Royal Correspondents. The Sussexes clearly see them as the real villains of the piece.
The current structure makes it challenging for The Duke and Duchess of Sussex to personally share moments in their lives directly with members of the public (via social media for example), without first going through the filter of the Royal Rota.
Really? The Sussexes have built a formidable social media brand within the constraints of the current system.
In 2020, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have made the choice to transition into a new working model. As they step back as senior members of the Royal Family and no longer receive funding through the Sovereign Grant, they will become members of the Royal Family with financial independence which is something they look forward to. As The Duke and Duchess of Sussex prepare to make this change, the answers to the following questions aim to provide clarity on existing and future funding arrangements.
Everything is not quite what it seems in this paragraph. The key phrase is “members of the Royal Family with financial independence”. To be fair to the Sussexes, it’s explained in more depth later in this section of the website, but it doesn’t immediately suggest the truth, which is that in giving up the Sovereign Grant they’re only giving up five per cent of their income. The other 95 per cent comes from the Duchy of Cornwall via Prince Charles. In effect, the Sussexes are proposing that they can become financially independent by taking a five-per-cent pay cut.
In addition, they value the ability to earn a professional income, which in the current structure they are prohibited from doing. For this reason they have made the choice to become members of the Royal Family with financial independence. Their Royal Highnesses feel this new approach will enable them to continue to carry out their duties for Her Majesty The Queen, while having the future financial autonomy to work externally.
This is a potential ethical nightmare for the royal family. The Sussexes want to work, not just do good deeds. Who are they going to work for? Who will decide if there are conflicts of interest, or if their work commitments are damaging to the interests of the wider royal family? This kind of stuff can take a lot of sorting out.
Do any other members of the Royal Family hold a title and earn an income?
Yes, there is precedent for this structure and applies to other current members of the Royal Family who support the monarch and also have full time jobs external to their commitment to the monarchy.
It’s not at all clear what precedent they’re talking about. Prince Andrew made some money independently – but not full time, and it didn’t end well. Princess Anne and Prince Edward don’t; Princess Margaret didn’t. The Prince of Wales makes money from his Duchy and Highgrove brands, but it all goes to charity. You have to go quite a long way into the further reaches of the royal family to find something you could call a precedent for this.
By becoming financially independent, will The Duke and Duchess of Sussex be cutting ties with the monarchy?
As working members of the Royal Family, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex remain dedicated to maximising Her Majesty’s legacy both in the UK and throughout the Commonwealth. They will continue to proudly do so by supporting their patronages and carrying out works for The Monarchy within the UK or abroad, as called upon.
The choice of words here is fascinating: “dedicated to maximising Her Majesty’s legacy.” When Charles becomes king, will they be dedicated to His Majesty’s future works? They don’t say so. More than once in this website, the Sussexes commit themselves to the Queen when they could commit to the monarchy.
Given their transition into members of the Royal Family with financial independence, will The Duke and Duchess of Sussex maintain their residence at Frogmore Cottage?
Frogmore Cottage will continue to be the property of Her Majesty the Queen. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will continue to use Frogmore Cottage – with the permission of Her Majesty The Queen – as their official residence as they continue to support the Monarchy, and so that their family will always have a place to call home in the United Kingdom.
The section about Frogmore Cottage sounds defensive, and it’s not surprising. It belongs to the Queen, and the taxpayer paid for it to be refurbished. But the Sussexes assert that they will continue to live there even after they’ve stepped back (with the permission of the Queen, they acknowledge).
Does their future financial autonomy extend to covering the costs of security?
The provision of armed security by The Metropolitan Police is mandated by the Home Office, a ministerial department of Her Majesty’s Government, responsible for security and law & order.
This paragraph was amended in the course of yesterday morning. At the beginning of the day it said, “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are classified as internationally protected people which mandates this level of security.” By early afternoon, that claim had disappeared.
Photographs Getty Images