Royal expats explain what their lives are really like in America

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Harry and Meghan - Albert Nieboer/Getty Images
Harry and Meghan - Albert Nieboer/Getty Images

Harry and Meghan might be the most visible recent royal émigrés to the US but they are by no means the only ones who have decided to settle down Stateside.

Besides the Duke and Duchess of Montecito, Princess Martha Louise of Norway has confirmed plans to move to Los Angeles to be with her partner Shaman Durek, and Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie-Chantal of Greece have just moved back to New York City after a long stint in the UK - recently snagging a 13,000 sq ft, 10-bedroom, eight-bathroom Hamptons house, in the process.

It might seem surprising that royals love living in America when, unlike many other immigrants to the US, every door at home is open to them.

But there are advantages, namely freedom from the constraints of protocol. And Americans love royals: they welcome them with open arms and are less attentive to gradations in royal hierarchies, which may be pronounced in their home countries. Life in the US with a recognisable last name can be pretty easy, especially because no one asks too many questions about life in the old country.

There are three reasons royals tend to come to the US: for diplomatic purposes (as in the case of Sheikha Rima al-Sabah of Kuwait whose husband is the Kuwaiti Ambassador to the US and Princess Rema Al Saud, the first female Saudi Ambassador to the US); to complete their education at the finest Ivy League schools; or because they’ve left home under a cloud, exiled for political or economic reasons.

Princess Martha-Louise and her boyfriend Durek Verrett - Alamy 
Princess Martha-Louise and her boyfriend Durek Verrett - Alamy

Regardless of the reason they moved, royals who remain in the US share a common sense of commitment to their country of origin.

“I have a high sense of duty”, says Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia, the jeweller and author of Once Upon a Diamond who now lives in New York. Even though the Kingdom of Yugoslavia ceased to exist from 1941 onwards, Prince Dimitri was brought up with the expectation that if he needed to return home to fulfill his obligations, he would do so immediately.

“Once you are in that position, you are not a celebrity, you are a role model,” he says. “That’s what you are paid for - you get your Civil List and you get to live in amazing luxury and privilege. Your only duty is to be dedicated to the crown and the country.”

Despite being related to all eleven reigning families in Europe, Prince Dimitri has embraced a more casual existence than he would have led in Europe. He enjoys meditation and having his friends over for a cocktail before going out for dinner. His friendship group includes a combination of European transplants and creatives from the worlds of fashion and art. “I find Americans very simpatico, sweet and friendly - not bitchy or complicated,” he says.

Princess Gelila Selassie and her two sons
Princess Gelila Selassie and her two sons

Princess Gelila Selassie’s decision to come to America was tied to the political upheaval in 1975 in Ethiopia when Emperor Heile Selassie was overthrown in a Marxist coup (and later killed) She and her former husband, Prince Ermias Sahle Selassie (grandson of Haile Selassie) and their twin boys, Princes Sahle Selasse and Fiseha Tsion (Christian and Rufael) settled in Washington D.C. Sent to college in Philadelphia at 18, she was introduced to her future husband through her family (her father was on the Supreme Court of Ethiopia). Her sons were born in Washington D.C.

While Princess Gelila no longer has a political role in Ethiopia, she is still involved in charitable work in her country, notably setting up a jewellery business employing local women to create pieces she sells in the US. The Princess finds most Americans welcoming but she was teased when she first arrived for her use of British words such as ‘rubbish’ and ‘crisps’.

“There weren’t a lot of international students. You stand out, you stand out a lot,” she said. Sent to college in Philadelphia at 18, she was introduced to her future husband through her family (her father was on the Supreme Court of Ethiopia). The Selassie social circle includes Prince Felipe of Spain and Prince Pavlos of Greece, both of whom studied at Georgetown University.

As for society hobnobbing, Princess Gelila is of sufficient stature to receive an invitation from the Spanish embassy if a member of that royal family is in town but, for example, she doesn’t automatically get invited to the White House every time the administration changes. This Princess objects to social climbing and points out that she does not donate to Presidential campaigns (normally the way to snag a Washington D.C. invite).

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with Princess Reema bint Bandar al-Saud

She explains that royals abroad share common ground: “We are raised with respect and to be polite. Even if you aren’t in power, you bring that discipline with you.” Between royal expats, says Princess Gelila, “there is a silent understanding.”

Prince Dimitri and Princess Gelila are certainly coveted guests - they are invited out more frequently than your average person and surround themselves with visiting aristocrats and other well-connected Americans - but day-to-day they lead lives which, if not normal, are not as exceptional as those of reigning Monarchs.

One exiled Prince and Princess who live extraordinarily well - to the standard of ruling monarchs - are Prince Pavlos and Princess Marie Chantal of Greece. Heiress to the Duty Free fortune created by her father, Robert Miller, Marie Chantal (worth $2bn according to recent reports) and Prince Pavlos have recently returned to the US after many years of living in London.

Crown Prince Pavlos and Crown Princess Marie Chantal Greece - Patrick van Katwijk, 2017/GettyImages
Crown Prince Pavlos and Crown Princess Marie Chantal Greece - Patrick van Katwijk, 2017/GettyImages

Parents to five children, their primary residence is a large townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, though (as mentioned above) they now have an additional 10-bedroom house in Southampton. Private jets are this family’s go-to transportation choice - Princess Marie-Chantal recently shared a picture of herself on Instagram with the Italian fashion designer Valentino Garavani (who designed the dress for her 1995 wedding) flying private. But the Greek duo are not above a little adventure: they took their children in a camper van across the American West on holiday a few years ago.

Then there are stateside Royals who live a more public life, including Sheikh Salem and Sheikha Rima al-Sabah, the current ambassadress, of Kuwait. A former journalist, the ambassador’s wife Sheikha Rima al-Sabah has been a Washington D.C. power hostess for the last 20 years.

Every year she throws a huge party and invites the crème de la crème of the Washington social scene, including Laura Bush, Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, Ben Affleck, Leonardo di Caprio, Michael Douglas and Angelina Jolie. Presidents routinely attend, even President Trump, who would otherwise only eat in the White House or the Trump Hotel.

Shaman Durek and Princess Martha Louise of Norway - Daniel Perez/Getty Images
Shaman Durek and Princess Martha Louise of Norway - Daniel Perez/Getty Images

“No one else does a private dinner with Hollywood stars like that in Washington D.C.,” says Kevin Chaffee, longtime scribe of Washington Life Magazine. He believes that royals are drawn to Washington D.C. because the city offers a ‘unique experience’, even in the U.S. Not least because security operations here have been down pat for decades. Many young royals (for whom security concerns can be something of a hindrance elsewhere) are sent to Washington for their studies, in part so the embassies can keep an eye on them.

“The reason the royals come here is to be as incognito as they can - but if they get invited to something they can be ‘royal’” says Chafee. Unlike in their own country, where citizens know exactly who they are, “they can have it both ways. [Although] they can’t get away with too much.”

The Sussexes have had a very public move to the USA
The Sussexes have had a very public move to the USA

Freedom from the fish bowl holds great appeal, as does a degree of anonymity. Even the Sussexes blend into their surroundings when they go to the San Vincente, LA’s ultra-exclusive private members club, for example. News of the Duke of Sussex’s lunch there with American philanthropist Wallis Annenberg may have been leaked to the press (the club launched a probe into the leak) but to most members - a list which includes Steven Spielberg, Jennifer Aniston, Tracee Ellis Ross, John Mayer, Sir Mick Jagger, Harry Styles and Jennifer Lopez, the Duke’s presence won’t have been particularly noticeable.

“The fact that Harry was there is no big deal,” said one member. “There are celebrities in there all the time. [The Sussexes] are not any more famous or celebrated than any other A-list star having a tasty lunch.” After all, their neighbours in Montecito, Santa Barbara, (Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom) are no less stratospheric.

Perhaps that’s the real reason the royals are moving to America: if you are already as celebrated and well-connected as you can be in your home country, the biggest luxury of all is surely a little normality. The Sussexes may have abandoned their duties on UK turf, but they’ve won the chance to give their children a more typical childhood than their cousins Princes George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis will enjoy. Albeit it an absurdly fancy Californian version of childhood.

With research by Precious Adesina

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