Last week, the news broke that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were making a move. Granted, they had already spent six months making moves: from the United Kingdom to Canada, then from Canada to Los Angeles, where they stayed in a Beverly Hills mansion owned by Tyler Perry. But this time the move wasn’t to a new country or a rented residence: It would be a permanent home.
Whereabouts? Santa Barbara. More specifically, Montecito—the hillside millionaires’ enclave tucked between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. According to property records, the couple bought the 14,500-square-foot home for $14.65 million. (They took out a $9.5 million mortgage.) Previous listing details describe it as idyllic: there’s a tennis court, a pool, a guest house, rose gardens, and cypress and olive trees. The home’s previous owner was Russian investor Sergey Grishin.
“The Duke and Duchess of Sussex moved into their family home in July of this year,” a spokesperson previously confirmed. “They have settled into the quiet privacy of their community since their arrival and hope that this will be respected for their neighbors, as well as them for a family.”
Why Montecito? A source close to the couple tells Vogue this: “Harry loves California, but they were both drawn to the smaller town of Santa Barbara, where they can integrate into the community while having some distance and privacy that is hard to come by in the Los Angeles area. For that reason, they had never intended to stay in Los Angeles.” (Previous reports suggested that the prince disliked L.A., which was a driving factor behind their move.)
In Los Angeles, the Sussexes struggled to stay out of the spotlight—even during a pandemic. Paparazzi pictures of the two and their young son, Archie, abounded. Currently, the couple is suing a photographer for attempting to take drone photos of the family, an incident they no doubt viewed as a gross invasion.
Still, it seems that cameras may follow them wherever they go: Earlier this morning, Newsweek broke a story that paparazzi are “patrolling” for the Sussexes in their new neighborhood. However, the source tells Vogue that the couple’s settling in Montecito is so far, so good—“Both of them are really enjoying their family time.”
A pertinent detail: This is the first home the couple has owned themselves. (Frogmore Cottage was gifted to them by the queen.) Nor, Vogue has learned, did they take a loan from Prince Charles or any other family member. For once, they are beholden to no one but each other (and, well, the bank—even British royalty needs to make their mortgage payments).
This new ownership is, of course, kind of the point. When the duke and duchess quit royal life, they did so with this statement: “We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family and work to become financially independent.” Later, they elaborated that this was about more than autonomy with money: “The royal family respect and understand the wish of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to live a more independent life as a family, by removing the supposed ‘public interest’ justification for media intrusion into their lives,” reads a line on their official website.
“Public interest” was, indeed, the rationale behind much of the coverage about their U.K. home, Frogmore Cottage. Frogmore Cottage’s renovations were paid for by the Sovereign Grant, the fund annually given to the royal family by the U.K. government. Critical commentary about its multimillion-dollar costs was routinely discussed in the papers, blogs, and social media spheres. The emphasis on public involvement often factored into other arguments about the couple’s (real or perceived) slights: Some believed that it was wrong to keep their son’s christening private when public money footed the renovations.
Now, that’s an argument that can no longer be made because the only money Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are spending is their own. (Markle had a career before becoming a royal, after all, and Prince Harry benefits from an inheritance. At the moment, though, the couple’s plans for ongoing income—whether through speaking fees or other work—are unclear.)
That’s not to say they now live a tabloid-fodder-free life. There will always be interest in the couple and their lifestyle—Prince Harry, after all, has been a celebrity since birth, and the duchess enjoyed fame as a Hollywood actress. As they continue to make appearances in the public eye, it’s unrealistic to think the spotlight will ever turn off completely.
But slowly and surely, the Sussexes are morphing from royals to, well, regular California celebrities. Their goings-on may pique our daily interest and curiosity, but truthfully they owe us nothing. They want to show us a picture of their baby? We’d love that but certainly can’t argue it’s our right. They want to put fancy things in their fancy home? The only person who can be justifiably outraged about it is their accountant.
For Harry and Meghan, perhaps that’s their version of California dreamin’.
Originally published on Vogue.com