Daniela Elser: Kate and William’s $22 million charity haul trumps Meghan and Harry

Here’s the handy thing about numbers: they are not subjective. There are no grey areas and there’s no room for interpretation, and that can be something of a rarity in the royal world these days.

This week, one of the most interesting pieces of news out of London involved a new, particularly interesting set of numbers found in The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge 2020 trustees’ report. (Stick with me here, I promise we’re going somewhere.)

There, in among long paragraphs about their grant-making policy (yawn) and risk management strategy (yawn-ier still), are some very intriguing revelations about how much money the Cambridges have managed to not only raise but have been quietly giving away.

In 2020, they pulled in $22.85 million (NZD), an increase of 77 per cent on the year before, and then donated the vast majority of that.

The correct response to this fact should be a polite ‘goodo.’ It’s William and Kate’s job to use their extremely elevated positions to help others; it is their 9-5 to hand out six and seven figure cheques and to make sure the dough goes where it is most needed.

No, what is intriguing here is that these accounts throw into stark relief the very different situation which Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, find themselves in, having absconded from the palace and tried to get their own charity off the ground.

Take mental health, which is a key focus of both the Cambridges’ and the Sussexes’ philanthropic work. During the pandemic, William and Kate’s Foundation donated more than $3.3 million to 10 charities to support frontline workers and people struggling with their mental health in the crisis.

Can the Sussexes’ Archewell Foundation say the same?

Essentially, what this week’s Royal Foundation’s Trustees’ report highlights is the apparent disparity between the financial firepower of two couples’ charities.

Which is far from saying Harry and Meghan have been spending their days doing nothing more than vinyasa on the lawn and updating their vision boards; rather, that the reality of their new life would appear to suggest big, sweeping projects are not a possibility right now.

For example, when winter storms raged across Texas this year, Archewell swooped in to help fix a women’s shelter’s roof.

In May it was revealed that the third out of four Community Relief Centres being set up by their Foundation and with renowned chef José Andrés’s charity World Central Kitchen had opened in Mumbai.

In July, they teamed up with Procter & Gamble to donate a pallet of nappies to a Los Angeles charity that helps pregnant, homeless women.

All of this is simply wonderful work – compassion-driven, and which will have made tangible differences to many people’s lives. It’s just that they are not playing on anywhere near the same playing field or scale that the Cambridges are or can.

At the crux of this divide, however, isn’t ambition or desire to do good or a beating philanthropic heart; no, what lies at the heart of this situation is the cold hard truth about what Harry and Meghan, knowingly or not, were actually giving up when they fled the UK for sunnier climes and a new tax code.

It all comes down to money.

Despite the Sussexes having laudably pronounced they wanted to work towards becoming financially independent, facing what that meant in reality would appear to have come as something of a shock to the duo.

“We didn’t have a plan,” Harry told Oprah Winfrey during their palace-rocking TV interview earlier this year. “My family literally cut me off financially.”

“I’ve got what my mum left me, and, without that we would not have been able to do this.”

Later, on the subject of mammon, the Duke said of their big bucks deals with Netflix and the Spotify, “that was never part of the plan” and that “during Covid, the suggestion by a friend was, ‘What about streamers?'”

“Yeah, we genuinely hadn’t thought about that before,” Meghan added.

(Strange that, given that the Telegraph later reported that the Sussexes had a series of meetings with the now-shuttered streaming service Quibi in 2019. Ditto when it was announced that Meghan was working on a children’s series for Netflix in July, the Telegraph reported that the former Suits star had been “in discussions with Netflix about her animated television series in 2018.”)

The reality is, making Netflix series or Spotify podcasts, even with a stellar team amped up on all the cold brew they can guzzle, still requires meetings, brainstorming, emails and shoots.

Added to which, the two streaming giants are reported to have committed to shelling out $180 million combined to have the royal exiles on their books. For that sort of dosh, they are going to surely expect a certain pound or seven of flesh.

All of which is to say, having to earn money to keep the lights on, the gardeners paid and the bodyguards in fresh rottweilers takes time – time that enterprising members of the royal family therefore can’t spend trying to make the world a better place.

Likewise, being able to devote their energy to bringing in big donations. Since launching in October last year, Archewell has not held a single fundraiser, as far has been made publicly known.

Now, a year or two down the road, things might look very different with Covid and the pandemic relics of the past (fingers and toes crossed here) and with the world reopened. Harry and Meghan will be able to focus on cosying up to their AAA+-list chums to raise cash to support their ambitious and exciting philanthropic efforts.

But for the time being, the Cambridges and the Sussexes are operating on totally separate, far from equal, playing fields, one fully established, well-funded and helmed by two people able to dedicate their days to it. And the other? A fledgling enterprise run by two passionate people whose plates also happen to be crammed with commercial projects, a newborn baby and, in Harry’s case, a paying job as well.

Whether Harry and Meghan quite realised it at the time or not, in quitting royal life they were relinquishing the luxury of being able to devote their days to working on the projects they cared the most about. Now real life, or at least the Sussexes’ version of real life that requires finding the money to keep up a koi pond, has reared its unfortunate head. Time is finite; bills are not.

It will be fascinating to watch in the years ahead quite how this financial seesaw might tilt once Harry and Meghan have some more breathing room when it comes to their bank account and schedule.

Money can’t buy happiness, sure, but it can help you build a kick-ass charity. Just watch the Sussexes’ space.

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