It was a typically sunny late June Tuesday on Surfrider Beach in Malibu – families were relaxing on the sand, dipping their toes in the water. A lone cyclist made his way along the beach, pausing briefly to watch the surfers zip between the waves.
There was nothing remarkable about the young man on the bike, apart from his shock of red hair – the only thing that alerted locals to the fact that the Duke of Sussex had crashed their beach day. Onlookers were surprised to see him on his own, without a bodyguard or security team in sight. “He seemed totally at ease and normal,” one eyewitness told Hollywood Life.
This was the first time anyone had caught a glimpse of Prince Harry out and about on his own since he and Meghan made their last-minute move to Los Angeles from Vancouver in mid-March. Jumping on a private jet sent by their new Hollywood producer pal Tyler Perry, Harry and Meghan squeaked across the border just before the North American coronavirus shutdown, and largely stayed holed up in Perry’s £15million Beverly Hills mansion.
That is until this week, when a spokesperson for the couple confirmed to The Telegraph that they made the permanent move to Santa Barbara in July. The self-styled ‘American Riviera’ is home to the upper crust of US celebrity, where huge stars such as Oprah, Ellen deGeneres, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom seek quiet lives in luxury compounds. The Sussexes’ $14.5m property is said to have nine bedrooms, 16 bathrooms, tennis courts, a gym and a tea house.
The news of this splashy purchase comes in the same week that Finding Freedom, Omid Scobie and Caroyln Durand’s biography of the Sussexes, was released. Charting the romance and drama surrounding the couple, the narrative stops before their secretive move to Los Angeles - and their West Coast story so far is very much a matter of speculation
They were only seen in public a handful of times while in Los Angeles, either walking their black Labrador Oz and rescue Beagle Guy – with obligatory face coverings and bottles of sanitiser in hand - or taking part in local charitable initiatives. On Easter Sunday the Duke and Duchess spent the day being driven around in their black SUV to deliver food to vulnerable people in West Hollywood through the charity Project Angel.
In June they donned fetching blue hair nets to pay a visit to the Homeboy Industries bakery, an organisation that helps former gang members transform their lives. Here they prepared pastries alongside the bakery workers.
The Tuscan-style villa they were renting is in the gated community of Beverly Ridge Estates, tucked away high in the hills above the city. It is ideally located for them to visit pals now that lockdown is starting to ease. Meghan’s close friend Serena Williams lives in a similar gated neighbourhood, Summit Estates, a five-minute drive away. Sir Elton John and David Furnish - who are said have been instrumental in helping the couple settle into their new home – are just down the road.
It’s rumoured that Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, moved in to act as an unofficial nanny to the couple’s one-year-old son Archie. “It was the perfect location for them, as it’s near everything – movie studios, shops, restaurants,” says Aouri Makhlouf, a top Hollywood real estate agent with Hilton & Hyland.
Makhlouf, who says he was contacted by an agent working for the couple about one of his properties earlier in the year, thought there was a strong chance that the couple would stay in Beverly Hills or neighbouring Bel Air. “I know they were looking for a gated community, which makes sense as security and privacy are their main priority, and they have a budget of around $20million. Top of my list would have been Beverly Park, where Sofia Vergara and Sir Rod Stewart live, or Mulholland Estates, where the houses are a little more affordable.”
Perhaps correctly, as it turns out, some worried that Beverly Hills may have been too flashy for Harry’s tastes and expected them to end up in a quieter spot by the coast, in Malibu or the smart beachside enclave of Pacific Palisades, where they’d be able to count Ben Affleck and Tom Hanks among their neighbours. The relaxed vibe here would certainly have appealed to the outdoorsy couple, with both the beach and hiking trails on their doorstep.
“It would have been a good compromise for them, because the Palisades are still very high end,” says Rodeo Realty broker Joe Babajian, who’s bought and sold homes for the likes of Beyoncé and Harrison Ford. “I could see them in the Riviera streets, where the lots are big and come with great views of the ocean.”
There are also plenty of preschools that would have been perfect for Archie nearby, including Santa Monica’s Circle of Children (often referred to as ‘Circle of Celebrities’ thanks to its starry cast of alumni who include the offspring of Meryl Streep and Steven Spielberg) and Cassidy, where basketball star LeBron James’s daughter went.
“I could also have seen them at First Presbyterian Nursery School, which is very diverse and progressive,” says parenting expert and author Betsy Brown Braun, who’s advised every A-lister in the city on where to send their kid. “It’s something they need to start thinking about soon, as people here usually apply when the child is about a year old.”
In terms of where they’ll have been hanging out, the press-averse duo would have had to be careful about where they chose and they already had a first rate security team in place, having hired A-list favourite Gavin de Becker, thought to have protected the Beckhams and Madonna over the years.
“The paparazzi here have no pity whatsoever, but the locals generally don’t take any notice of celebrities,” says Makhlouf. “I’ve seen Brad Pitt in Whole Foods and it’s no big deal.”
If they plan on visiting LA from time to time, as they might with several projects on the go, the couple will no doubt also be putting their names down for some of the city’s discreet members’ clubs, including Little Beach House Malibu, part of the Soho House group (the couple famously had their first date at Soho House’s Dean Street Townhouse), and the San Vicente Bungalows in West Hollywood, which is the hardest to get into. “I can’t reveal names but we have a dozen members here who are friends of Harry’s, some with royal lineage, so they’ll definitely be coming here,” shares the Bungalows’ in-the-know maitre ‘d Dimitri Dimitrov.
When he’s not on his bike, Harry is bound to join the state’s thriving polo scene to keep fit. The Will Rogers Polo Club, which sits between Pacific Palisades and Brentwood, is where he is most likely to come for casual matches and to catch up with friends; the annual Veuve Clicquot tournament, held here every autumn, is a highlight on the social calendar and usually features Harry’s close pal Nacho Figueras as the front runner.
“The polo world is generally quite small and very strong friendships are forged through the sport,” says Santa Monica-based polo player Christian Toraldo, who is married to glamorous Brit Tamsin Lonsdale, founder of exclusive private members’ events group The Supper Club.
“It’s also an international sport, so many players here in Cali have likely shared a field with Harry at some point over the years.” The more serious games take place at the Santa Barbara Polo Club, just over an hour’s drive north up the Pacific Coast Highway. William and Kate helped them celebrate their centennial year in 2011 and with their 110th anniversary around the corner, they’ll be keen to get Harry down to add some regal flair.
But while the duke will no doubt throw himself into his new California life, one question remains: just how happy is he? While Meghan has returned to her hometown, with family and a ready-formed squad on hand, Harry has left everything and everyone he knows and loves behind.
Sources close to him have reported he’s been feeling rudderless since being in LA, with good friend Dame Jane Goodall revealing in a recent interview that “he’s finding life a bit challenging just now.” Other reports say he’s “missing the camaraderie” of his military life and that he’s been keeping in touch with friends back in England to stave off his homesickness; it’s no coincidence that the first philanthropic project he launched after arriving in LA was HeadFIT, a mental wellbeing fitness tool for the military.
Getting back to work will certainly help ease his itchy feet. While the couple’s new charitable foundation, Archewell, is currently on hold amid the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, recent reports suggest they’ve applied to trademark the name for “television shows’” and “motion picture films”.
Harry already has some lucrative business prospects in the pipeline, including executive producing a series on mental health with royal wedding guest Oprah Winfrey for Apple TV, and the couple have just signed with prestigious speaking agency Harry Walker, where they’re expected to fetch up to $1million per engagement. Earlier in the year Harry engaged in talks with Goldman Sachs about giving an unpaid speech as a part of an interview series for its employees, while in February he spoke at the JP Morgan-sponsored Alternative Investment Summit in Miami about the impact losing his mother as a child had on his mental health.
While adjusting to his new So-Cal life won’t be easy, it seems Harry’s already starting to enjoy his newfound freedom and relative anonymity, if his recent cycling jaunt is anything to go by – somehow I can’t imagine him being able to ride solo like that down High Street Kensington.
In California it’s his wife, the Hollywood girl returned, who’s the main topic of conversation, with everyone desperate to know which Pilates class she’ll be signing up for (in LA it was Platinum Pilates in Santa Monica) and which facialist she has on speed dial (Kate Somerville).
To the locals, Harry is more of an enigma – and we’re sure he’d quite like to keep it that way. Though there are signs that might change. “As a couple they’re very much at the centre of conversations right now, particularly Harry, because the angle of royalty is something different here,” says Dimitrov. “We’re used to stars, but Harry represents something refreshing and new.”
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