It’s been eighteen months since Harry and Meghan upped sticks and relocated to the States. Martha Hayes checks in on Montecito’s most famous couple. This weekend, a smiley Queen, dressed in apple green and pearls, celebrated the 70th anniversary of her reign. This Platinum Jubilee weekend was low-key: Prince Charles and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall paid tribute, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge shared a Story on Instagram.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were conspicuous by their silence. Still, the official celebrations will come over the four-day bank holiday in June — which Harry and Meghan are expected to attend. If they make the trip (Harry is in the process of a legal challenge to allow him to personally pay for police protection to “ensure” the safety of his wife and children), it will be a family reunion in the glare of the world’s spotlight, a year after the Oprah interview widened the schism between the US and British branches of the Windsors and 18 months since the couple relocated to Montecito, a star-studded but sleepy seaside town a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles.
The Sussexes will return with plenty to small-talk about: their daughter, Lilibet Diana, is now eight months old, two-year-old Archie is making friends with the kids of their A-list neighbours — and Harry’s back at work. Last week, he addressed an online conference in his role as Chief Impact Officer at mental wellness app, in which he advised 45 minutes of “me-time” every morning, and urged employers to offer it to their staff. “From an employer’s perspective, you can’t expect — in today’s world — people to put in the work on themselves if you’re not giving them the time to be able to do that.”
While settling into the rhythm of life in coastal California, where they share a $14.7 million estate, the couple have kept a low profile, besides the odd shopping trip or Zoom conference — Meghan is a regular at Montecito Country Mart, a shopping village boasting designer children’s clothing boutique Poppy. But that’s all set to change. “I can understand them locking down during the pandemic, as many people have, to keep their kids safe but I think as we come out of this crisis we’ll be seeing more of them in the community,” says former Royal correspondent Richard Mineards, who lives near the couple in Montecito. “Harry’s been out on his bicycle and walking his adopted Labrador on Miramar Beach and she’s been out shopping in both the upper village and lower village and they seem to be very, very happy as far as I can see.”
In the last year or so, Harry and Meghan have spent most of their spare time making their house — a Mediterranean-style 18,000 sq ft, nine-bedroom, 16-bathroom estate known as “The Chateau of Riven Rock” — feel more like a home. “We moved here during lockdown, exactly when things shut down, so we’ve just been able to spend a lot of time at home and creating our home,” Meghan told friend and neighbour Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show in November.
No doubt cult homeware store Hudson Grace (where Meghan was spotted) has come in handy. Because while the couple were once seen at Lucky’s Steakhouse on the buzzy Coast Village Road, more often they cook at home, using local produce from Meghan’s favourite family-owned deli, Pierre Lafond, which also stocks a fine selection of wine.
Given the year-round sunny climate, the family are embracing an outdoor lifestyle, with Archie regularly playing in the grounds of the 7.4 acre property, protected by a team of security guards. “Like his dad, Archie likes to be barefoot,” a source told the American OK magazine. “There’s a cool playhouse in their garden and Archie loves running around the lawn with the dogs. He’s at the age where he can’t keep still.”
And thanks to their parents’ Hollywood friends (Harry and Meghan are now said to be courting couple du jour, Spider-Man stars Zendaya and Tom Holland) Archie and Lili have (according to OK) had playdates with Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom’s 16-month-old, Daisy, and David Foster and Katharine McPhee’s baby boy, Rennie (10 months). “They’ve made a lot of friends here, particularly Orlando and Katy who live nearby on Park Lane,” says Mineards. “They also have good friendships with Ellen and Oprah who live minutes away so they may well have been going over there and vice versa with the children.”
Mineards says it’s likely Archie will attend a local school. “The catchment area where they live… is Cold Spring School which seems to be a very, very good public school so I could well see Archie there when he becomes that age. “Given all that, the fact that they feel secure and are not under the public spotlight like they would have been when they were living in Beverly Hills, I think they’re blissfully happy here,” he adds. “Why would you want to move?” Well, quite. And yet there have been rumours that the couple are considering selling their property — which has a pool, tennis court, gym, spa and a guest cottage for when Meghan’s mother Doria Ragland visits — because they are not “over the moon” with it. “I don’t think those stories are correct,” says Mineards. “It’s an idyllic situation right between the mountains and the ocean.”
“To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the lovely estate Harry and Meghan purchased,” Jill Nelsen, an estate agent at The Agency in Montecito and Santa Barbara, told Realtor.com. “Like many properties in town, most buyers would choose to update the interiors with new finishes and technology, as the couple has reportedly chosen to do.” According to Newsweek, house prices in the area have soared by up to 43 per cent. “I think they’ve got a wonderful house. In the 18 months they’ve been there it’s gone up amazingly in value — about six million — so it’s now worth about 20 million,” says Mineards.
A sound investment if they’re as motivated by money as he suggests. “I think they’re very money driven [with their] Spotify and Netflix and whatever other deals they can come across and also registering their companies in Delaware which is a more tax free community. “They’ve obviously got their eye on the money like their good friend James Corden who now earns something like $12 million per season of The Late Late Show. I think they’d like to get on that sort of level where hopefully they can earn lots of money and get their views across but also do good things with The Archewell foundation [the couple’s non-profit organisation] as well.”
The best of both worlds, a lot like Montecito. And if Harry and Meghan are smitten, the feeling could soon be mutual. “As people get to know them, I think they’ll appreciate having them here,” says Mineards. “I don’t think they’ll move back to the UK at all. The British people see [Meghan] as the Wallis Simpson stealing the golden prince. They are much more welcome on this side of the Atlantic. Sounds like the trip back for the Jubilee celebrations will be a flying visit.