Royal Roundup: Paradise Papers & Prince Philip’s Retirement

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So, the Paradise Papers. In case you missed it, these are 13.4 million confidential documents leaked to a German newspaper last week, which contain sensitive financial information for a number of high-profile people regarding offshore investments they’ve made. Unfortunately for the British Royal Family, they’ve been wrapped up in the narrative and speculative conversations about their finances rarely stem from or lead to good things.

Most importantly, it’s important to note that nothing illegal transpired. This is an issue of optics, quite frankly, and the age-old distaste that many members of the general public have for the nuts and bolts of how the upper class maintain their wealth. The Queen and the Prince of Wales – the two members roped into all of this – are rich. They have hundreds of millions of pounds. They hold land in Great Britain. And many aspects of their lifestyle are tied to public funds. In other words, it’s not difficult to suss out why there are sensitivities. But still, no one here has broken the law.

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Let’s start at the top: The Queen derives her income from the Duchy of Lancaster, which was discovered to hold funds in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Roughly £10 million of the Queen’s private money was invested offshore. Per BBC:

A small amount ended up in the company behind BrightHouse, a chain accused of irresponsible lending, and Threshers, which went bust owing £17.5m in UK tax. The Duchy said the BrightHouse holding now equates to £3,208 and it was not involved in fund investment decisions. It added it had been unaware the stores featured in the investments.

The chief finance officer of the £500m estate, Chris Adcock, told the BBC: “Our investment strategy is based on advice and recommendation from our investment consultants and appropriate asset allocation…The Duchy has only invested in highly regarded private equity funds following a strong recommendation from our investment consultants.”

[…]

The documents show the Duchy of Lancaster put £5m in the Jubilee Absolute Return Fund Limited in Bermuda in 2004, with the investment coming to an end in 2010. In 2005 the Duchy agreed to put $7.5m (£5.7m) in the Dover Street VI Cayman Fund LP. Documents show the fund invested in medical and technology companies.

The connection to rent-to-buy firm BrightHouse began in 2007 when the US company running the fund asked the Duchy to contribute $450,000 to five projects, including the purchase of the two UK High Street retailers. This included an interest in London-based private equity firm Vision Capital, the company which acquired 100% of BrightHouse and 75% of the owners of Threshers off licence chain.

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So, this isn’t great. But the problem is less wrongdoing from the Queen and more that her advisors should have been cognizant of some of these issues and understood part of their job was to spare the monarchy embarrassment. She’s not just another client. And lest we think they believe that’s outside their remit, they don’t. It’s outlined clear as day in the Duchy’s annual report.

As for the Prince of Wales, it’s a little dicier. Not only did he invest offshore into a Bermuda company, but he campaigned for a rule change that would benefit said company. The issue at hand is climate-related, a passion of Charles’s for decades and thus, there is a long paper trail underlining that he would likely have been in the mix on this regardless of his investments. Unlike the Queen, however, it’s a harder argument that he wouldn’t have been actively been aware of his Duchy’s (Cornwall) investment decisions.

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The issues at play here are the extent to which there is a clear conflict of interest, as well as one of transparency. There are renewed calls as to what visibility the government – and the public – should have into the financial dealings of the RF as a result, though it’s early days and it’s unclear where all of this will land.

The problem with increased transparency is to what extent it’s actually helpful. Yes, I am all for eyes on the BRF and yes, they should be beholden to some sort of check regarding their financial decisions due to their very specific role. That said, you’re essentially talking about waving red meat in front of a hungry pack of dogs, the majority of whom don’t understand what they’re seeing. We’ll see how this plays out.

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Moving on to the Duke of Edinburgh. The Daily Mail ran an article last week that Prince Philip has been spending the majority of his time since retiring at Wood Farm on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk. As a reminder, Sandringham is one of the Queen’s private homes outside of London that the BRF generally uses each year to spend an extended Christmas holiday. It’s been in the family since Edward VII – then Prince of Wales – used it as one of his primary residences after he married Alexandra of Denmark in 1863.

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The future George V lived there with his wife, Mary of Teck, and his children in York Cottage – a smaller residence on the estate – at the turn of the 20th century, thus making it a near and dear place in the heart of the Queen’s father, George VI, who grew up there.

Wood Farms is another such smaller residence on the estate and one that has regularly been used by members of the BRF regardless of whether the Queen has been staying in the “big house.” The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge used the house when they were still dating for occasional shooting parties, while the Duke of York’s ex-wife has occasionally stayed there so as to be close to her daughters during the holidays. Philip, in particular, has frequently stayed in the house over the decades for smaller occasions, hosting friends and getting out of the rigidity of palace life.

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At first blush, it may seem questionable that Philip is choosing to spend so much of his retirement away from his wife. But before we start wildly speculating about the state of the royal marriage, I think the truth lies firmly in the last point above. Nobody likes Buckingham Palace. Literally no one. Yes, the Queen has to spend a portion of her week there, but for years now she has been opting to leave for Windsor Castle as soon as her public duties permit. Philip, too, detests BP and is choosing to take his retirement seriously. This is less about leaving home and more about actually leaving the office, which BP essentially is.

The Queen is joining him at Wood Farms when she can, and the two do stay at Windsor together when possible. But yes, a consequence of Philip’s retirement is that the two are spending more days apart than they used to. But after 70 years of marriage – and given how much the Queen is still working – I’m not inclined to question the foundation of their relationship.

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Per the DM:

“One has to say it is surprising for a couple who have been together for so long to be spending more time apart as they reach such a remarkable landmark in their lives. But as a courtier explains: ‘The Queen feels the Duke has earned a proper retirement. She knows him too well — if he was still at the centre of royal life he’d feel he had to be involved. Being at Wood Farm means he’s not too far away, but far enough to be able to relax.’

[…]

“What is plain to those who surround this elderly couple is that the Queen and Philip have settled comfortably into a new rhythm of married life. She does miss him, though, especially at the breakfast table, which they always shared. Now, she sits alone and is rarely seen before the daily 11am meeting with her private secretary.

“The younger royals, particularly Princess Anne and the Countess of Wessex, have been spending more time with the Queen since Philip’s retirement. There is also a ‘granny rota’ for the grandchildren, who make sure they are around more, especially at teatime.”

Phases of life and such. I do think, however, that what this illustrates is that there is a very real possibility of the Queen stepping back even further from additional public duties as time goes in. As we’ve discussed before, in addition to being the longest reigning monarch she is also the oldest and the institution will have to adapt to the fact that the the Queen is in her 90s. The Prince of Wales will continue to take on more and more responsibility and I’m still not convinced a regency plan – even an informal one – isn’t in the cards.

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