When it comes to expensively indulging their whims, the British royal family holds their own.

The Queen spends a literal fortune on her racehorses, Prince Charles is believed to have parted with some serious dough to acquire the jewellery his great-great-grandfather Edward VII gave his mistress Alice Keppel, who was his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall’s great-grandmother, and someone has been forking out for the commercial quantities of hairspray Princess Anne gets through.

Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex might have long flown the coop for all the vitamin D and paycheques they can get their hands on but they are not immune to this particular royal habit.

For two people who now earn their own millions, albeit by coming up with a slate of pallid streaming fare, they are strangely willing to continue to pay the rent on their UK home, Frogmore Cottage even though they have spent only one single solitary night there together since 2019.

For years now, they have called California home: First, living in borrowed Tyler Perry’s $26 million Los Angeles bolthole and then getting their very own starter mansion in Montecito, an area about an hour and 45 minutes north of Los Angeles.

With 16 loos, a koi pond, designer chicken coop perfect for totally spontaneous TV moments, and their very own mortgage, they clearly saw their future Stateside.

All of which is why it was curious when it was revealed in February this year they had agreed to renew their paid lease on Frogmore Cottage.

Now, we have gotten a big, fat clue about why they have agreed to keep shelling out for a house that they never use: Harry might just want back into the royal family.

Last week, while in the Netherlands for his hugely successful Invictus Games, Harry was doing his PR bit for the event and sat down for a TV interview with the American Today programme.

True to form, he managed to veer far away from the safe territory of anodyne comments about bravery and the healing power of sport to take a swing at this family back in Blighty.

Host Hoda Kotb asked about his recent flying visit with the Queen.

“Being with her, it was great,” he said. “It was just so nice to see her. You know, she’s on great form. She has always got a great sense of humour with me and I’m just making sure she’s protected and has got the right people around her.”

Immediately his “protected” comment set off a multi-day media storm given that this same man so intent on “protecting” his grandmother is also the very same person who has spent the last year telling the world how neglectful, institutionally racist and all round rotten the palace is.

But lost in that hoopla was another thing he said to Kotb, who was lobbing him softballs like a nervous under-3s T-ball coach. “You make her laugh, that’s what she always says. Did you do it again?” she asked.

Rather than simply taking the question and using it to paint himself as Number One Grandson, again, he managed to get in seriously eyebrow-raising non-sequitur.

“Yes I did. I had tea with her,” Harry said. “It was really nice to catch up with her and, you know, home for me now is, you know, for the time being, it’s in the States. And it feels that way as well.”

See what he slipped in there? “For the time being.”

As I would like to imagine the Queen muttered, pausing mid-slice of lavishly buttered marmalade toast at her breakfast table and in her impeccable French, très intéressant.

This is the first, clear public indication Harry has given that he and Meghan might – and a very heavy emphasis on the “might” here – be open to one day spending real time back in the UK.

Remember, this after all was their original plan when they first dropped their nuclear bombshell of an Instagram post announcing Megxit way back in January 2020, writing: “We now plan to balance our time between the United Kingdom and North America.”

The sticking point here, and with their DIY demi-royal plans, was that the couple had cooked up this royal restructuring over their own cups of oat-milk chai tea, far away from Windsor and without the Queen’s okay.

What followed was the nonagenarian monarch putting her tiny foot down and reading them the riot act: They could be in or they could be out but they couldn’t have their Battenberg cake and cash Netflix’s cheques too.

So, off they strode into the sunset to seemingly spend their days doing … god knows what. Aside from Invictus, the duo has managed to not release any major charity or professional project in two years.

For Harry, that exit from official working royal life came at a high price, namely, the formal stripping of his honourary military titles as captain general of the Royal Marines, honourary air commandant, RAF Honington, and commodore-in-chief, Small Ships and Diving, Royal Naval Command in January 2021. The loss of those ties hurt, with a source telling the Times back then, “He is very upset to be in this spot.”

“His military work is one of the most important things to him.”

The tantalising question now is, does Harry have a more substantial return to Britain on his vision board?

Over the last few months, there have been a few breadcrumbs supporting this idea.

This month, Harry and Meghan made that fast and furious trip to see his family on their way to the Netherlands, meeting with his father Prince Charles and also the Queen. While the visit seems to have been measured in hours not days, it was the first tiny green shoot we have seen in terms of the trans-Atlantic rift that has overshadowed the palace for years now.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, Shaheed Fatima QC, who is representing Harry in his legal stoush with the Home Office over his official protection being taken away, said: “This is and always will be, his home.” (Okay, that argy-bargy over his protection is a sticking point but surely could be sorted out tout suite if the Sussexes indicated they were thinking about actually moving back to Britain part-time.)

Then there is Harry himself because it is looking increasingly like being so isolated and disconnected from his family and friends has taken a toll. How long has it been since you have seen a photo of him laughing or not looking like the red-headed equivalent of a thunder cloud? For a man who has ostensibly ‘found freedom’ he does not look like someone revelling in the joy of emancipation.

In 2020, legendary primatologist and Sussex family friend Jane Goodall revealed that Harry was “finding life a bit challenging” while late last year, a close source confirmed to the Telegraph’s Celia Walden that “he has lost touch with many of his friends in the UK”.

Given this situation, it would make sense if Harry still held onto some hope that one day some of the trans-Atlantic ice might melt and that the Sussex family might be able to spend time back in Windsor.

There is another, much sadder situation that could see the prodigal duke return.

Society insider and royal biographer par excellence Tina Brown has recently said that she thinks when Her Majesty passes away, “Harry will very much want to come home at that point.

“He will not want to be sitting there in Montecito when the whole of the UK is in mourning. I think he will feel enormously left out and sorrowful if he can’t play a part in that and I think it will behove Charles and William to use that moment to get him back.”

However, before we all get misty-eyed imagining this heartstring-tugging scenario, there are some obstacles to overcome, the biggest being what the duke himself is cooking up right now. Later this year, Harry will release his memoir which, some reports have speculated, could see him paint targets on the backs of Charles, his stepmother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and his brother Prince William.

No matter whose dirty laundry he decides to air, telling all in return for a reported $29 million cheque obviously wouldn’t help the intra-family entente become any more cordiale or pave the way for Harry’n’Meghan show to make any sort of real return to the UK.

(There is also the pesky fact that his cousin Princess Eugenie, her husband Jack Brooksbank and their baby son August now call Frogmore Cottage home too. Still, with more than 140 royal grace-and-favour homes on the Crown’s books, I’m sure that situation can be worked out easily enough.)

Still, I find something kind of affecting about Harry’s “for the time being” line. Anyone else get a palpable hit of the decidedly wistful in his words? Even HRHs who can’t actually use their HRHs can get homesick.

So, here’s what I think: Hope springs eternal, as do the 40 direct flights from Los Angeles’ LAX airport to Heathrow.

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

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