LONDON — With their decision to distance themselves from their royal duties this week, Harry and Meghan are just following in the path of many young couples: hunting for new jobs, spreading their wings outside the extended clan and trying to reinvent themselves as a family.
There’s no precedent in modern times for this kind of working arrangement within the royal family, or “The Firm,” as some in Britain like to call it.
But the maverick course set by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex seems just fine to many watching it unfold as a sort of royal soap opera, replete with grumpy in-laws, a baffled father and questions over who will pay the bills.
In interviews around Buckingham Palace, the overwhelming feeling from those milling outside the palace — a selective audience, granted — was one of support for Harry and Meghan. They applauded their efforts to start a new, independent life away from the world’s most famous family — so long as it didn’t dent the public purse.
Harry and Meghan are “grown-ups. They should be able to make their own choices,” said Theresa Leonard, 51, a horse-riding instructor who was taking in the sights before heading to the theater. She said that American-born Meghan hadn’t been treated fairly by the British tabloids.
“With Meghan being divorced and her being mixed race as well, that’s probably not gone down very well. But if Harry is happy and Meghan is happy, that’s all that matters,” she said.
“I think Diana would be so proud of her boys for standing up for what they believe, especially with their ladies and their privacy,” she added, referring to the late princess and mother of princes Harry and William.
A survey by the pollster JL Partners published in the Daily Mail found 72% of Britons said that the queen should let them go — a break that was quickly dubbed “Megxit.” But the poll also found that 71% said that Meghan and Harry were wrong not to tell Elizabeth II in advance of their decision.
But if the public seems supportive of them seeking out a new, independent life, they don’t appear keen to fork out taxpayer dollars.
For example, 73% said they should give up taxpayer-funded security, and 60% said they should pay back the 2.4 million pounds, or $3.13 million, spent on renovating Frogmore Cottage, Harry and Meghan’s residence in Windsor, where they plan to stay when back in Britain as part of plans to also spend time in North America.
Harry and Meghan clearly surprised the palace with their bombshell news Wednesday of wanting to roll back their royal duties. But some close to the royal family have suggested the announcement may have been rushed out following a leak in the Sun tabloid.
Some of the Brits outside the palace wondered the same thing.
“Did they drop a bombshell? Or was it in the pipelines?” asked Sandy Hanvey, 54, a handyman from Cambridgeshire.
He suggested that whatever happens next, the queen will have the final signoff.
“I think they will do good if the queen allows them to do what they want to do. Whether she will or not, I don’t know, to be quite honest. As for moving to Canada or America, I don’t know if that’s a good idea or not, but time will tell,” he said.
On Friday, palace officials confirmed that Meghan had returned to Canada, intensifying speculation that she and Harry may find new digs there.
Harry stayed behind in Britain, where he is talking with the queen, Prince Charles and Prince William about the future role for him and his wife. A front-page article in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph read: “Queen wants rift repaired in 72 hours.”
Standing outside the palace’s wrought iron gates, Suzie Davison, 21, a university student, said that it was a family matter and that the public shouldn’t get too worked up about it.
“At the end of the day, there are more pressing things we should be caring about, like climate change and all the horrible stuff in the Middle East,” she said.
“The self-funded bit, that’s the only thing I’ve heard people talking about,” she added. “People don’t really care that they are stepping down. It’s more like, ‘Where is money going to come from? Is he going to get a job?'”
She said it should not have come as a shock that the Sussexes would want to spend more time in North America.
“You can’t expect Meghan Markle to dedicate her whole life to the U.K. She’s from America. She has family there, friends there, her work was there — telling her to give that up in the first place is a strong thing … and she got absolutely destroyed in the tabloids over here. It’s not a surprise,” Davison said.
On their new website SussexRoyal.com, Harry and Meghan said that they would no longer receive money from the taxpayer-funded Sovereign Fund, which covers 5% of their costs and is spent on their official office. The remaining tab, or 95% of their costs, is met through funds from Prince Charles via his Duchy of Cornwall estate.
Harry and Meghan stayed silent on whether they would continue to receive money from Prince Charles. They said on their website that they would strive to be “financially independent” but haven’t spelled out what that means.
Nicola Somerville, 19, a university student originally from Glasgow, said that the tabloids have attacked Meghan “unfairly.”
“And I think it’s completely understandable for Harry to want to defend his wife after what happened to his mother, so it’s really understandable why he’s scared and wants to protect his family,” she said.
Harry has had a turbulent relationship with the press, who he believes played a role in the death of his mother, Princess Diana.
Somerville added: “If they are going to be self-supported and the U.K. actually aren’t going to be paying for anything, then let them do what they want. I completely support them.”