COMMENT:

We need to talk about toilets. Highgrove House, Prince Charles and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall's privately owned Gloucestershire Georgian pile has six while William and Kate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's lavishly renovated apartment in Kensington Palace has three principal ones.

However, renegade Windsor scion and new California resident Prince Harry has trounced them all in the lavatorial stakes: The home that the and wife Meghan Duchess of Sussex have purchased in Santa Barbara boasts 16 'thrones' offering even the most discerning a former HRH a thrilling variety of options.

It would seem 16 toilets is what you get when you spend a reported $20 million on a home in the upscale neighbourhood of Montecito, along with a library, office, spa with a separate dry and wet sauna, gym, game room, arcade, theatre, wine cellar and five-car garage.

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Harry and Meghan have bought a beautiful mansion, but their new abode is raising eyebrows for one very marked reason. Photo / Getty Images
Harry and Meghan have bought a beautiful mansion, but their new abode is raising eyebrows for one very marked reason. Photo / Getty Images

News of the Sussexes' purchase broke late this week with reports suggesting the couple have been living for six, glorious, paparazzi-free weeks in their new home without the press catching on.

But let's get back to toilets: How many people will it take to clean 16 of them? How much power will it take to power both saunas, the wine cellar a private cinema? And how many ground staff will they need to tend to their vast garden?

While it was expected that the couple would buy a home in California – and they could hardly have been expected to cram themselves into a suburban three-bedroom bungalow – their choice of new digs is problematic.

A look inside Meghan and Harry's $27 million Beverly Hills pad. Photo / Instagram
A look inside Meghan and Harry's $27 million Beverly Hills pad. Photo / Instagram

Over the course of the last year, both Harry and Meghan have nailed their professional colours to the masts of climate change and social justice to their eternal credit.

They deserve plaudits for, in the same vein as his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, eschewing nice, comfortable causes and throwing themselves into the ruck and maul of contentious but hugely important issues.

However, things get tricky when the actions they take in their private life run counter to, or undermine, their causes they preach about. For example when Harry flew on five private jets in a matter of weeks and then the same month launched a green travel initiative.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, said women can look up to PM Jacinda Ardern in the way she “brought New Zealand together to swiftly and boldly tackle Covid-19". Video / Girl Up

Their new house is a similar case in point.

Wealth should not be a disqualifier from engaging with pressing social and political issues but there is a certain tin-eared, Marie Antoinette-esque hue to defining their post royal careers as tackling climate change and then buying a house that must chew through power, or talking about privilege while owning a sprawling garden that is going to require a team of staff to keep in a state of Architectural Digest-worthy perfection?

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Harry and Meghan have every right to a wonderful home where they feel can start their new future. (And to her eternal credit, she actually earned her own dosh.) But the issue is the symbolism of this place – of elitism and a certain rarefied existence divorced from the crushing reality that billions of people around the world are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Texas, thousands of people were filmed queuing for a food bank before sunrise; it has been estimated that tens of millions of Americans are going hungry and in March alone, 21 million Americans lost their jobs.

In this current economic and political context, there is something a bit insensitive if not obtuse about choosing this moment to plonk down vast wodges of money for a home that looks like it is begging for its own Real Housewives franchise.

(A quick side note: Daily Mail reports that the couple personally paid a $6.9 million down payment on the property while The Telegraph in London has reported that they purchased the home without the help of Prince Charles and have taken out a mortgage.)

Not only does it open them to even more accusations of hypocrisy but it makes a bit of a mockery of their supposed desire for normality and to raise their son away from the pomp of royal life.

Yes they need privacy and security thus hedges and land make sense, but do they really need a garden with a man-made stream, "a Japanese-style teahouse perched alongside a koi pond" and a "children's cottage"? (The later, according to The Telegraph reports is "a miniature apartment with its own bathroom and kitchen".)

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As odd as this might sound, this is not the sort of house that Harry was brought up in. The royal family live in grand houses but many of them are far from luxurious. They might be historic and stuffed with Old Masters and priceless porcelain but they are widely reported to be draughty and a bit inhospitable.

(While Buckingham Palace has a cinema, it's used for staff movie nights – and the Queen uses cheap bar heaters both there and in Windsor Castle to save on heating bills.)

Given all this, it's not a surprise that the Sussexes' new pied-à-terre has been raising eyebrows and blood pressure across the Pond, where some Brits are unhappy that the couple has the financial ability to purchase this home despite still owing the millions they have pledged to repay for the renovation costs for their Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage.

(They now pay $33,000-a-month for the home which comprises both a portion for commercial rent and a portion of the $4 million plus they have committed to return to the Sovereign Grant for the home. Former MP and Privy Council member Norman Baker has previously estimated that at this rate, it will take them 25 years to pay off the debt.)

The Sussexes' real estate manoeuvres come after a week that has seen the royals never far away from the headlines thanks to the release this week of Finding Freedom, a biography of the couple written by royal reporters Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand.

Over more than 300 pages the authors set out a sort of revisionist history of the years between Harry and Meghan's meeting and their bombshell decision to quit as senior working members of the royal family in January this year.

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The couple's devoted fans have interpreted it as vindication, proof the duo had been treated shamefully by an unfeeling royal edifice; others have read Freedom as making Harry and Meghan look like ego-driven whingers, propelled by self-righteous indignation when they were not allowed to get their own way.

While everyone from the Sussexes to Scobie and Durand have vehemently denied the royal couple were interviewed, the book's authors' note reads: "We have spoken with close friends of Harry and Meghan, royal aides and palace staff (past and present), the charities and organisations they have built long-lasting relationships with and, when appropriate, the couple themselves."

The book has failed to move the needle or profoundly shift their public image however it has aired some less than salubrious claims about the couple such as that Meghan used to allegedly set up paparazzi shots in her days as an actress and that Harry was impressed by his wife's willingness to pee in the bush during one of their African sojourns.

While the benefits of Freedom's release for Harry and Meghan are dubious at best, the cost for them could be high. Depicting Charles as, at times, more interested in his image than his son's wellbeing, of William as a "snob" and Kate treating Meghan coldly is only likely to warm the cockles of the Windsors left back in Blighty. (The Mirror reports that this book "will leave lasting scars'' on the Sussexes' relationship with the Windsors.)

Meanwhile, lawyers for the Daily Mail's parent company, who Meghan is suing for allegedly breaching her privacy for publishing parts of a letter she sent her father, are reported to be "looking closely at the book" and that given the level of detail in the title, she could be questioned about it in court.

With all of this going on, maybe it is a good thing that Harry and Meghan are now the owners of a Japanese-style teahouse perched alongside a koi pond (and wine cellar). Having to contend with an indignant British public, family hurts aplenty (allegedly) and a cadre of expensive lawyers licking their chops would raise anyone's blood pressure.

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At least we know this for sure: Archie's cousin Prince George will one day inherit the throne – but Archie will inherit 16 of his own.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.