JANET STREET-PORTER: Somebody needs to draft Harry an exit plan

JANET STREET-PORTER: I give it a year before Harry is sick of his gilded cage in America’s dullest city. Somebody needs to draft him an exit plan

Harry and Meghan’s new choice of home seems a rum choice.

Santa Barbara is California’s well heeled version of Sandbanks in Dorset, a safe haven for the very elderly and the extremely rich.

There’s little to zero chance of running into anyone impoverished or badly dressed – even the grass looks as if it gets a daily cut and manicure. 

The pavements and beachfront are litter-free, the only pedestrians an army of seniors slowly making their way to their favourite coffee shops for a pick me up after tennis at 6.30am. 

Local inhabitants glide around in their electric cars en route to daily wellness classes.

Harry and Meghan’s new choice of home seems a rum choice, writes Janet Street-Porter

Santa Barbara is like an old people’s home crossed with the Truman show. Too perfect, too safe, and mind-numbingly dreary. A favourite with golfers, polo players and script writers of yesteryear. 

Sure, there’s chic bakeries, pilates studios, farmer’s markets- but you can find them in Folkestone these days.

Poor Harry and Meghan – have they made a dreadful mistake in their determined quest to avoid the beastly British press?

Their flight from the UK has taken them thousands of miles over the Atlantic from one rich suburb to another, from Vancouver Island to a canyon in Los Angeles and now Santa Barbara, perched on the west coast of California between LA and San Francisco. 

In every location, they’ve been surrounded by opulent, style-less mansions designed with panic rooms, hot tubs, wine cellars and zero character. A style the Royal couple have chosen over their other option – a listed mansion in gorgeous parkland in the English countryside.

You might find Harry and Meghan’s never-ending stream of well-meaning but somewhat facile pronouncements about racism and the environment wearying, but it’s obvious the couple are enthusiastic, vibrant and deeply interested in the world around them. 

So why live in a ghetto for the rich and entitled so far from everything that Harry grew up with? Unpredictable weather, green fields, terrible country clothes and picnics in the rain.

Meghan and Harry’s nine-bedroom and 16-bathroom mansion in Montecito, California

What a shame the couple (presumably) hate the British way of life so much that they would swap multicultural England, where every large town has decent restaurants, great pubs, a theatre (hopefully still managing to cling on until the end of the Covid close-down) and a football club with thousands of working class supporters who are passionate fans – for a place populated by geriatrics in elasticated leisurewear who play bridge with their peers inside multimillion dollar homes, each with dozens of bathrooms and more acres of gardens than they could ever maintain without an army servants. 

A place where any younger women are ‘maintained’ to within an inch of their life, where the word ‘casual’ means anything but. 

Dog hairs on clothes? Not in Santa Barbara.

Everyone knows that buying your first home is challenging, and it’s not easy to make the right choice, especially if privacy is a priority- but why would choose to live in a dormitory? 

Bognor on a Monday night has more vitality than Santa Barbara. It’s where show business types retire, or buy mansions ready for that day. Gwyneth Paltrow, Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres might all ‘live’ there, but they’ll also have homes in Los Angeles near where they actually work. 

The palatial residence, set in 10 acres, was put on the market in May 2014 for $36million

Harry and Meghan have moved into the star-studded Montecito neighborhood in California

Santa Barbara is where you go to work out at 6am and do yoga on the beach. The 1920’s architecture is enticing but most of it is fake these days, apeing an era when the city was a secret getaway for naughtiness for Hollywood stars.

The first time I visited was an under-the-radar trip for sex with a Hollywood producer I had met playing tennis. 

We stayed at the exclusive San Ysidro Ranch on the outskirts of town, not that I remember much of the décor. 

The hotel remains discreet, expensive and a favourite with movie stars. It’s where JFK and Jackie spent their honeymoon, and guests include Sir Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. 

You can rent a cute cottage for £2,000 a night and upwards. Personally, I’d rather a night in the Grand in Brighton – at least the nightlife is only a stroll away and the beach is over the road. 

On my visit we ate steak and drank stiff cocktails down town in Joe’s Café (going strong since 1928) – but I can’t see the Sussex’s becoming regulars. 

Poor Harry and Meghan – have they made a dreadful mistake in their determined quest to avoid the beastly British press? 

My next visit was twenty years later, to visit a friend who is a legendary (and highly opinionated) English movie producer. 

He and his wife only know about six locals which suits them fine. They play tennis every day, bridge three times a week, drink cocktails at 5, have dinner at 6 and are in bed by 8.30. 

Mind you, he’s in his late eighties and I doubt his acerbic conversational skills would endear him to the Duchess of Sussex. 

I walked around the manicured gardens on the beach, saw that Arnoldi’s café was still open, but now there’s a host of Mexican and ethnic cafes catering to the thousands of university students who fill the town in term time.

The publication of the excruciatingly embarrassing book Finding Freedom will not have helped Harry and Meghan form an exit strategy, writes Janet Street-Porter

Oprah Winfrey lives in Santa Barbara on a 70 acre estate, in a house with 14 bathrooms (who needs to poo that much?), a library, and an outdoor theatre. 

Maybe Meghan could produce Shakespeare in the parkland for an invited celebrity audience? 

Ellen DeGeneres owns four houses in Santa Barbara – these are Meghan’s local pals – hardly friends you could call on when the babysitter didn’t turn up.

The publication of the excruciatingly embarrassing book Finding Freedom will not have helped Harry and Meghan form an exit strategy if Santa Barbara doesn’t prove the paradise they are hoping for. 

A few chilly winters, too many nights with only the telly and each other for company, and they might even be thinking that Blighty isn’t that bad. 

At least (in the UK) they could pop in a limo and enjoy the best food and culture in the world – even if everything is currently on pause.

You can’t tell me that a couple of pretentious french restaurants, a handful of gourmet Mexican eateries and a steak house are any match for Soho or Shoreditch.

I predict Harry will be desperate to come home by this time next year- let’s hope there’s a way for everyone to save face.

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