Prince Harry and Meghan to 'step back' as senior UK royals

In this Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020 file photo, Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex smile during their visit to Canada House, in London. Prince Harry and his wife Meghan 'stepping back' as senior UK royals, will work to become financially independent, they announced Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020.(Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool Photo via AP, file) (AFP or licensors)

LONDON – Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, say they plan “to step back” as senior members of Britain's royal family, a stunning announcement that underscores the couple's wish to forge a new path for royals in the modern world.

A statement issued Wednesday evening by Buckingham Palace, described as “a personal message from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex,” said Harry and Meghan intend to become financially independent” and to “balance” their time between the U.K. and North America.

“After many months of reflection and internal discussions, we have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution," the statement said. “We intend to step back as ‘senior’ members of the royal family and work to become financially independent, while continuing to fully support her majesty the queen."

The 35-year-old Harry, the youngest son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, is Queen Elizabeth II's grandson and sixth in line to the British throne. With his ginger hair and beard, he has become one of the royal family's most popular members.

Before marrying the prince in a royal wedding watched around the world in 2018, the 38-year-old Duchess of Sussex was an American actress known as Meghan Markle and a star of the TV show “Suits.” The couple's first child, Archie, was born in May 2019.

In their statement, the couple did not reveal where in North America they plan to make a second home, but they cited their baby as a reason why they decided to live part of their time outside Britain.

“This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter, including the launch of our new charitable entity," it read.

Hours later, Buckingham Palace issued a second statement, hinting that the first had caught some in the royal household by surprise. The statement said discussions with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were “at an early stage.''