When Prince Harry and his American wife, the former Meghan Markle, distanced themselves yesterday from the British royal family, they announced the move on Instagram—where, as of last night, they had 10.2 million followers. Under a photo of the smiling couple holding hands was a statement full of gilded bombshells: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are (somewhat) stepping down from their official duties. They are (somewhat) leaving the United Kingdom, possibly moving to Canada for part of their time. They want their son to grow up (somewhat) normally. But the boldest declaration of all? They will “work to become financially independent.”
Note the phrase “work to”: This will be an act in progress. But, for Meghan, the status quo has to be stifling. In exchange for room, board, and staff, financed by taxpayers and ancient estates, the royals agree to live like zoo animals. Their job, beyond producing heirs and reminding Britons of their nation’s past, is to be gawked at and commented on and studied down to their stockings. To truly break free—their effort has already been dubbed “Megxit”—they’d have to pay their own way.
Fortunately for the Sussexes, as everyone seems to know them, they will be entering an economy in which fame, no matter how arbitrarily gained, can easily be leveraged for other purposes. The social-media influencer Emma Chamberlain, an 18-year-old YouTuber who makes comic videos, now has sponsorship deals with Louis Vuitton and Hollister (and is currently on the cover of Cosmopolitan). The top-earning YouTuber of 2019 is an 8-year-old who reviews toys; he now has a toy and clothing line, a Nickelodeon show, and a Hulu deal. Demetrius Harmon, an influencer who got his start on Vine, uses his fame to talk about mental health in communities of color. More traditional celebrities, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Selena Gomez, can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single Instagram post. Harry and Meghan could make a livelihood as influencers, too.