In 2011, while visiting the beautiful beachside city of Santa Barbara with his wife, Prince William remarked: “My father, the Prince of Wales, and my brother, Harry, were as green as that grass outside when I told them I’d be here today.”
He could hardly have imagined that little under a decade later his younger sibling would be setting up home in that very same place, following an acrimonious departure from Britain – and the working duties of the Royal Family.
Yet, this week reports emerged that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have purchased a $10 million “family home” in the upmarket coastal city – which bills itself as the “American Riviera” – with the intention of putting down roots. A spokesperson for the couple has since confirmed the move to The Telegraph.
“This is where they want to bring Archie up,” a source revealed. “Where they hope he can have as normal a life as possible.”
As seventh in line to the throne, whether Archie can ever enjoy a normal life – especially in California – is questionable. But, geographically at least, Santa Barbara is an ideal location for his (semi) financially-independent parents: nestled between the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains, it’s just an hour’s drive to Los Angeles, where Meghan still retains a business manager, and an hour’s flight to Silicon Valley.
The latter will enable Harry easy access to the tech moguls he rubbed shoulders with at last year’s Google summit in Sicily – where the prince gave a barefoot speech about the dangers of climate change – as well as plenty of opportunities to continue his campaign against social media. Although the latter is probably unlikely to earn him an invitation to lunch at Padaro Beach Grill – one of Santa Barbara’s many celebrity haunts – with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who’s been spotted there.
Still, the couple already have a number of friends and acquaintances in the neighborhood. Oprah, who attended Harry and Meghan’s wedding in May 2018, and with whom Harry is working on a docu-series about mental health, owns a number of properties in Santa Barbara, including an $100 million estate named “Promised Land”. While Santa Barbara-born pop star Katy Perry and her fiancé, actor Orlando Bloom, have been spotted house-hunting in the area only this week.
Perry and Bloom, who are expecting their first child together imminently, have a number of chums in common with the Sussexes, including Meghan’s close friend the clothes designer Misha Nonoo (whose Italian wedding both couples attended last year) and singer Ellie Goulding, which should make getting-to-know-you drinks a breeze.
Perhaps Santa Barbara’s most famous resident, however, is television host Ellen DeGeneres, who, together with her wife Portia de Rossi, owns numerous homes in the area. She and Meghan already know one another, and it was DeGeneres who famously convinced the then-actress to adopt her first rescue dog, Bogart.
As one of the first people to meet baby Archie last summer (which she wasted no time in recounting on her daytime talk show, telling the audience: “I fed Archie, I held Archie […] He has a perfectly circular head”) DeGeneres will surely invite Harry over to her most recent property portfolio acquisition – a $3.2 million mansion made of two eighteenth-century reconstructed barns imported from Surrey – should he ever feel a twinge of homesickness.
As for Archie, in addition to visits with Auntie Ellen, he can look forward to playdates with some of Santa Barbara’s equally well-heeled families, including Oscar-winner Natalie Portman, whose daughter is just two years his senior, and Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who have two young children and will no doubt be thrilled to host Archie on their pyjama-clad morning walks along the beach, dolphin-watching excursions and trips to the local children’s museum, where exhibits include a DJ turntable and movie sound studio. The Hollywood couple are already friends with Harry’s cousin, Princess Beatrice, and Kutcher has repeatedly gushed about Meghan on his Facebook page, calling her “such a great role model”.
Although locals pride themselves on staying cool when they spot celebrities – whether it’s actress Bo Derek browsing the supermarket aisles or Jeff Bridges (referred to locally as "the Dude", after his infamous character in The Big Lebowski) at the cinema – one British ex-pat describes Santa Barbara as “very gossipy”. The local “mommies” Facebook group is already aflutter with news of their new royal residents, with one predicting Harry will soon be popping up at the local polo club (where Prince William played a couple of chukkers during his visit) and another mourning the couple’s lack of privacy, while simultaneously asking whether anyone could affect an introduction.
Meghan may have to put some work into winning over her fellow mums, however. “I really like him and I hope he is happy,” one commented. “He deserves it… I don't much [care] about her.”
Closer to home eyebrows have been raised at the couple’s choice of sleepy Santa Barbara, which has a reputation for being a retirement destination for the wealthy. There are whispers that it is a “decidedly un-Harry” place to set up home, with its laid-back atmosphere, plentiful psychics and even an occasional “Woke Men” meet-up group, which encourages participants “to slow down, get in touch with what we're feeling, and express it.”
Still, despite mostly consisting of students and retirees, Santa Barbara is used to receiving royalty. In 1983, a year before Harry’s birth, the Queen and Prince Philip visited at the invitation of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who owned a mountain-side ranch there (an ornate plaque still affixed to the courthouse commemorates the meeting). While in 2011 the entire town was transfixed by the Cambridge’s arrival, especially since it was Kate’s first royal tour abroad following the couple’s wedding. The local tourist board even declared it a “Royal Summer”, offering promotional visitor packages and issuing a press release in which they gushed, “...the Duchess would be awed by Santa Barbara's arts-and-culture scene.”
While the city doesn’t quite boast the cultural capital of London or even Los Angeles, Meghan and Harry will find plenty to keep themselves occupied should Meghan’s mum, Doria, offer to drive up for the occasional spot of babysitting. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival is a highlight of the awards season calendar, attracting names like Margot Robbie, Jennifer Aniston and Martin Scorcese. While nearby Hearst Castle, built in 1919 by publishing tycoon William Randalph Hearst and replete with Palladian columns, is the perfect spot to take Archie for a bit of sight-seeing, should he ever feel envious of his cousins’ proximity to Windsor.
Most fitting of all, one of Meghan’s favourite celebrations – Earth Day – was born in Santa Barbara in 1970. Each year, the city, which considers itself an “eco-topia”, hosts a large open-air festival to promote environmental education, although whether that includes any information about residents’ penchant for private jets and helicopters remains unclear. Only last month, the local council denied one millionaire hotelier a permit to install a private helipad on his property.
Still, coronavirus permitting, Meghan and Harry will no doubt look forward to attending next year’s event, which promises fun for all the family. While Archie plays in the Kids Corner and Meghan rubs shoulders with fellow celebrity eco-warriors such as Elon Musk, Daryl Hannah and director James Cameron, Harry can sip on a cool beverage in the beer garden. No one will even care if he slips off his shoes.