Prince Harry, Meghan Markle Announce Shock Decision to Step Down as Senior Royals

Prince Harry Meghan Duchess of Sussex Commonwealth Day - Getty - H 2019
Samir Hussein/WireImage

The two have said they would work to become financially independent of the royal family.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have made the shock announcement that they are preparing to "step back" as senior members of Britain's royal family.

“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 said Wednesday in a statement. 

"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," the statement continued. “It is with your encouragement, particularly over the last few years, that we feel prepared to make this adjustment. We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America, continuing to honor our duty to the Queen, the Commonwealth, and our patronages."

The decision may have been fueled by the deteriorating relationship between the royals and the British media, with the couple the source of relentless speculation and scrutiny in the tabloid press.

Last year, Markle announced that she was suing the Mail on Sunday over an allegation that it unlawfully published a private letter she sent to her estranged father, while at the same time Prince Harry accused British tabloids of a launching a “ruthless” campaign against his wife.

Given Markle’s acting background and Prince Harry’s upcoming Apple TV+ series on mental health in partnership with Oprah Winfrey, the power couple could take a page out of another’s playbook — the Obamas — and establish a production company to develop content in line with their interests.

"We have an office waiting for them in the animation studios building should they be looking to produce television," ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke said Wednesday in response to the news while at the network's Television Critics Association's winter press tour.

Following the pair's announcement, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's website shared how the couple will adopt a revised media approach, which will occur as the couple settles "into the new normality of their updated roles."

The website noted the updated approach will allow Markle and Prince Harry to "engage with grassroots media organizations and young, up-and-coming journalists" and "provide access to credible media outlets focused on objective news reporting to cover key moments and events." 

A key change for the couple lies in them no longer participating in the Royal Rota system, which allows UK print and broadcast media exclusive access to official engagements of the Royal Family.

"The Duke and Duchess believe in a free, strong and open media industry, which upholds accuracy and fosters inclusivity, diversity and tolerance," the website noted in terms of the couple's stance on media in general. "Both The Duke and Duchess have collaborated with media organizations including: Time Magazine, National Geographic, The Daily Telegraph, British Vogue, and various others. Their Royal Highnesses recognize that their roles as members of the Royal Family are subject to interest, and they welcome accurate and honest media reporting as well as being held to account if appropriate. Equally, like every member of society, they also value privacy as individuals and as a family."

As for Markle and Prince Harry's presence on social media, the website noted that will continue as the couple "look forward to continuing their use of social media and believe that their updated media approach will enable them to share more, with you, directly."

The website noted how in the past, while a part of the Royal Rota system, when the pair released a never-before-seen photo "they would be expected to give the image to The Rota (of which four of the seven are UK tabloids) simultaneously or in advance of their own release."

"This formula enables these select publications to profit by publishing these images on their websites/front pages. Any breach in this understanding creates long term repercussions. 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. For more information on the rota system, please see top of this section," the website added. 

The pair's announcement comes months after Prince Harry addressed a rumored rift with brother Prince William in an ITV documentary — Harry & Meghan: An African Journey — which aired in October, admitting that he and his older sibling were on "different paths."

"Inevitably stuff happens. But we’re brothers, we’ll always be brothers. We’re certainly on different paths at the moment," he said at the time. "I’ll always be there for him and as I know, he’ll always be there for me. We don’t see each other as much as we used to because we’re so busy, but I love him dearly."

Of the media attention that his relationship with Prince William receives, Prince Harry added in the doc, "The majority of stuff is created out of nothing. As brothers, we have good days and we have bad days."

Rather than spend the holidays with Prince William and the rest of the royals in the U.K., though, Prince Harry and Markle recently spent nearly two months in Canada with their 8-month-old son, Archie, where they enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas on Vancouver Island. There, the pair visited close friends and Markle's mother, Doria Ragland, at their remote vacation home.

Markle and Prince Harry began dating in 2016 when the former actress was still living in Toronto, where she filmed her USA Network series Suits. The pair made their first public appearance together in support of Prince Harry’s Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017, and later tied the knot in a lavish royal wedding ceremony in the U.K. in May 2018. They welcomed Archie one year later. 

Via its official Twitter account and website, the royal family responded to Markle and Prince Harry's announcement with the following statement: "Discussions with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are 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."

Jan. 8, 2 p.m. Updated with statement from the royal family. 

Jan. 8, 3 p.m. Updated with new information from Duke and Duchess of Sussex's website.