By Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s royal family is hurt and disappointed by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s surprise announcement that they will step back from their senior roles and spend more time in North America, a royal source said.
Harry and Meghan’s decision to step away from royal duties sent shock waves through the royal family as neither Queen Elizabeth nor Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, had been consulted on the announcement, made on Instagram.
Elizabeth, who has devoted her life to the public duty of monarchy since she became queen in 1952, and other senior members of the family felt hurt and disappointed by the move, a royal source said.
“We have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution,” Harry and Meghan said in their statement.
“We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family, and work to become financially independent.”
They said the decision was taken after months of reflection and discussion, and that they would split their time between the United Kingdom and North America to allow their family the space it needs.
Cast by the couple as an exciting next step, it was not immediately clear how the couple will become what royal biographers said was akin to being a “half royal” – and who will pay for their transatlantic lifestyles.
No senior royal has yet commented on the decision. British tabloids said the announcement had left senior royals such as Prince Charles and Harry’s brother, Prince William, incandescent with rage.
Buckingham Palace said discussions with Harry and Meghan were at an early stage and that such complicated issues took time to work out.
“MEGXIT” read The Sun’s front page headline. The Daily Mail said Queen Elizabeth was furious about the move.
While the manner in which Harry and Meghan have tried to exit the spotlight cast on the world’s most famous family drew criticism, Prince Charles has long sought a slimmer and leaner royal family.
The haste of their decision, though, raises questions for a family which had in Elizabeth’s words a “quite bumpy” year that included her son Prince Andrew’s decision to step down due to his relationship with disgraced U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Royal commentators drew parallels with the abdication crisis of Edward VIII who gave up the throne in 1936 to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson and lived out his life in France.
Opponents of the monarchy were scathing and even supporters questioned how one could be a part-time royal.
“This really is wanting to have your cake and eat it,” said Graham Smith, head of Republic which wants to abolish the monarchy.
“They have said they will dip in and out of royal duties as it suits them but won’t stop taking public money until they find other sources of income.”
Meghan, known for her role in the TV legal drama “Suits”, could return to acting in the United States though it is unclear how that would be viewed by the Palace.
“Perhaps she’d have to be careful about what roles she’d do because she is a member of the royal family, so she couldn’t do too many racy sex scenes for instance,” said Royal biographer Penny Junor.
WHEN HARRY MET MEGHAN
Harry and Meghan, an American divorcee, met on a blind date but fell in love in Botswana. They married in May 2018 in a lavish ceremony in Windsor Castle that was heralded at the time as a sign of a more modern monarchy.
Yet their relationship with the media turned sour as they struggled to deal with the intense scrutiny it brought.
Educated at the exclusive Eton College, Harry’s teenage years were overshadowed by negative headlines. Harry and his brother disliked the press because of the way it had hounded their mother, Princess Diana, who died in a Paris car crash in 1997 while being chased by paparazzi.
There have been negative stories criticizing Harry and Meghan’s use of private jets while promoting environmental causes and the 2.4 million pound ($3.08 million) taxpayer-funded renovation of their new home.
The couple, whose titles are the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, began legal action against some tabloid newspapers in October over historic phone-hacking and invasion of privacy.
Harry described the treatment of his wife as “bullying”, and likened it to that of his mother before her death.
(Editing by Alistair Smout and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)