Hollywood loves a freebie – but here’s why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are taking it too far

They say there’s no such thing as a free meal, but the Sussexes beg to differ

prince harry and meghan markle

by Closer staff |
Published on

They’ve been accused of trying to “have their cake and eat it too” – stepping away from the restrictive lifestyle of a working royal, while simultaneously wanting all the prestige and perks that come with being a member of royalty.

And while Prince Harry and Meghan Markle haven’t been officially tied to the monarchy for four years now, losing their honorary titles and HRH prefixes following the late Queen Elizabeth’s edict that they were either to be fully in or fully out of the monarchy, they’ve seemingly still continued to life a quasi-royal life. Both tend to fashion themselves as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex more readily than their civilian names, and they also tend to mix and mingle with international dignitaries and changemakers in a manner usually reserved for the most high-ranking members of society. Their recent trip to Nigeria, which had all the markings of a royal tour, was no exception. 

But crucially, there is a big difference between how Harry and Meghan handle their affairs compared to the rest of the royal brigade – and that’s when it comes to earning money and accepting freebies. No sooner had they stepped down as senior royals in 2020 than they’d signed multimillion dollar deals with the likes of Netflix, Penguin Random House and Spotify (though the latter ended their involvement last year), while also accepting thousands for making personal appearances across the globe.

meghan markle and prince harry
The couple were presented with gifts including traditional clothing while in Nigeria ©Getty Images: Andrew Esiebo/Getty Images

Still, it’s the delicate issue of accepting gifts and freebies that has put Harry and Meghan more at odds than ever with the expectations placed upon royal members and has landed them in hot water again following their Nigeria tour.

In just three days, the couple were lavished with gifts that included paintings, traditional clothing, personalised merchandise, traditional jewellery and books – and took it all back home with them to Montecito. Of course, they’re no longer tied to Buckingham Palace, which keeps a strongly monitored record of all gifts received by members of the monarchy, and also follows a strict royal protocol over when and how they are allowed to accept such gifts.

Still, the fact that Harry and Meghan still seem to cash in on their royal credentials – while simultaneously accepting freebies – has not gone unnoticed, with royal commenters saying they’re taking things far too far. But according to insiders, the pair don’t see anything wrong with their behaviour. After all, they’re no longer bound by any institutional body. Indeed, if someone offers them a gift, wouldn’t it be rude to reject it?

meghan markle and prince harry
Their Nigeria trip bore all the hallmarks of a royal tour ©Getty Images: KOLA SULAIMON/AFP

“Harry and Meghan are rolling their eyes at the criticism against them getting freebies,” says an insider close to the couple, who celebrated their sixth wedding anniversary this month. “

If something comes their way, what are they supposed to do – send it back? If they do that, they’ll be branded ungrateful, so they feel like they can’t win. But while it’s totally common practice in Hollywood to get gifts, they’re taking it to extremes. They get free clothes, furniture, beauty and haircare treatments, five-star vacations… It’s one thing for celebs like the Kardashians to accept freebies. They’re reality stars, so it’s expected of them. But Harry and Meghan are judged by a different standard and everyone is watching like them like hawks.”

Eyebrows were raised earlier this month as the gifts kept coming during the pair’s visit to Nigeria. Despite it being a private trip, it bore all the hallmarks of a royal tour, with a formal welcome ceremony, PR-heavy visits to schools and charities, political engagements, and an artfully curated wardrobe for Meghan that paid tribute to their host country. While there, they were duly lavished with gifts that included a painting of Harry and his late mother Princess Diana; another one of him and Meghan; traditional coral drop earrings for Meghan and wooden beaded necklaces for both of them; Nigerian outfits, scarves, drawings, literature and personalised T-shirts emblazoned with the slogans, “Harry Dreams Big” and “Meghan Dreams Big”. By all accounts, all offerings went back with them to the US.

prince harry and meghan markle
Meeting the British public back in 2018 when they were officially royal ©Getty Images: Karwai Tang/WireImage

Meghan and Harry are, of course, not bound by any rules when it comes to receiving gifts, unlike the strict protocol the royal family have to deal with. According to official royal policy, last updated in 2003, royals are not allowed to personally own gifts from government or civic bodies, armed services, charities or guilds. A royal record is kept of all official gifts handed to the royal family, and most are placed on display or are loaned out to reputable organisations. Gifts from people not known to the royal in question are to be refused when there are concerns “about the propriety or motives of the donor”. The bottom line is that the royals are not to be shown, in any way, to endorse any brand or body. They can’t even accept gifts when they get married.

Meanwhile, Meghan and Harry have steadily gained a reputation for taking a different approach to freebies and gifts. Earlier this year, they accepted a free trip to Jamaica for the premiere of the Bob Marley biopic One Love, travelling on a private jet paid for by Paramount Pictures, before staying for free at the five-star Half Moon resort in Montego Bay. After leaving the UK for the US in 2020, they famously stayed as guests of producer Tyler Perry in his LA mansion. Meanwhile, while defending Meghan’s kindness and generosity in his memoir Spare, Harry wrote that, while still working as a royal, “She shared all the freebies she received, clothes and perfumes and make-up, with all the women in the office”.

Last year, royal biographer Tom Bower dubbed the former royals – who are parents to Archie, five, and Lilibet, two – as “scroungers” and said they made “constant demands for expenses because they want to live for nothing”. He added, “It’s about Harry and Meghan constantly looking for freebies, whether it’s jets, houses, meals, whatever, and that is in the end what drove Spotify and also Netflix mad”. This came after one Spotify executive labelled them “f**king grifters”.

prince harry and meghan markle in jamaica
The Sussexes enjoyed a luxury trip to the premiere of the Bob Marley biopic in Jamaica ©Getty Images: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Now, as Meghan continues to launch her new lifestyle brand, American Riviera Orchard, it’s likely she’ll be sent even more freebies and gifts, as companies vie to be featured on her website and Instagram page. But while insiders have warned that, if she and Harry wish to continue mixing in quasi-royal titles, they need to follow more austere measures, we’re told they’re unfussed. As far as they’re concerned, Hollywood is a long way away from Buckingham Palace – and different rules apply.

“They’re being told not to take it too far,” we’re told. “But Harry and Meghan are always going to do what they want to do – that’s just who they are.”

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