It’s been 13 months since Prince Harry and his American wife Meghan Markle with son Archie moved to Montecito – my home of 30 years next to Santa Barbara, California.
Their arrival caused a near hysteria in a town that, like Georgetown, is well used to super-celebrity residents. In Montecito, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, George Lucas, Kevin Costner and Gwyneth Paltrow are among the numerous celebrities who live normal lives free of media coverage. But suddenly with the arrival of “the royals,” there was an onslaught of paparazzi, helicopters, TV vans and drones, security people and media.
In the year since, they moved into their Mediterranean-style 9-bedroom, 16-bathroom $14 million mansion, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been busy: they gave an explosive live TV interview with Oprah; Meghan wrote “The Bench,” a children’s book; Harry did a documentary on mental health and they negotiated several multi-million-dollar future projects including a memoir to be written by Harry for $20 million. Oh, and they had a daughter, whom they named Lilibet Diana (“Lilibet” from Queen Elizabeth’s nickname and “Diana” from Prince Harry and his brother, the future King of England, William’s famous mom, Princess Diana.)
All this has caused a furor in England, according to Montecito Journal lifestyle columnist Richard Mineards, a British columnist who covered the Royals, especially Prince Charles. Now Mineards finds himself living just a few minutes away from Prince Harry in Montecito.
So, what has been “the Royals’” impact on Montecito after a year?
“Well, the media frenzy is not so great now,” Mineards told the Georgetowner. “The sightings are rare. Harry is seen occasionally driving through the village in his Range Rover and walking his dog on the beach (won’t say which one). But Meghan is rarely seen. Many Montecitans are disappointed they haven’t been more involved in the community – though that may be because of the pandemic.”
That doesn’t mean the nosy paparazzi aren’t around, however.
“Kevin (Costner) was here having his usual milkshake a few months ago, when he suddenly became uncharacteristically agitated,” the 40-year-long waiter at Montecito’s popular village drugstore and cafe on San Ysidro Rd. told this reporter in July. “Do you see them?” Kevin suddenly said to me clearly annoyed. I looked to where he was pointing and sure enough, I saw a man with a huge camera lens lounging against the wall of the park across the street. And then I saw another even bigger lens jutting out the window of the car parked next to the drugstore.”
“They’re probably after Ellen [deGeneris], who is sitting outside,” Kevin huffed before leaving with his son.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that a tourist doesn’t pull up for gas and ask where Harry and Meghan live,” said the earnest young man working the fuel pump at Montecito’s Upper Village gas station. “I just tell them I have no idea.”
That is apparently what most Montecitans say. Even though many know, like Mineards, exactly where they live. But they won’t tell.
Clearly, the Sussex family has a lot of staff: security, gardeners, household, a cook, maybe two nannies, Mineards noted. Certainly, everyone has stories. But few talk.
“My niece just gave Archie his first riding lesson,” a friend of mine whispered to me at my birthday party in July. “She was thrilled, but won’t give any of the details….” We nodded. We both knew the elegant private stables where her niece is the riding master. But we won’t tell where it is.
It’s always been that way in Montecito. As in Georgetown, many famous people have always lived there. But there have never been any “maps to the stars” or tour busses past their homes as in Beverly Hills. Oprah reportedly told Harry and Meghan they could live normal lives in Montecito.
“People here seem to be very sympathetic to the Sussexes,” Mineards noted. But it’s not a big fan thing. Meghan’s children’s book is not flying off the shelf at Montecito’s renown Tecolote Book Store on the upper village green. “Meghan has never come into the shop,” the long-time bookstore saleslady said.
“In England, Meghan is increasingly disliked,” Mineards remarked. “But I have an open mind. I hope Harry and Meghan soon will realize that people here in Montecito will protect their privacy. I can see Archie attending the excellent public elementary school near them and perhaps learning to play polo at the nearby club where good friends of his dad and Prince William play. They will see they can have a fairly normal life here.”
And Montecitans — probably like Georgetowners — won’t tell.