The life of a royal is far beyond most of our aspirations or even hopes. Royals live in a distinctly different world of titled prestige, duty and hierarchy. It’s a world most of us cannot even imagine, especially if we’re not from a country with its own royal family. Yet even if we don’t understand the mysteries of royalty, the public is nonetheless endlessly fascinated by what the royals get up to: it’s not just Diana and the Duchess of Cambridge who have provided us with tabloid fodder, either. From medieval times the monarchy and their surrounding nobility have been a bulwark of gossip and expectation.
But what does the monarchy really get up to behind closed doors, and how is it that they maintain their lavish lifestyles? The British royals are not only one of the world’s best known royal families – they’re also one of the most expensive, second only to the Netherlands. They are the owners and trustees of the country’s ancient palaces, and art collections which together are valued at billions of dollars. Aside from ancient wealth they receive an annual grant from the government to carry out their public duties while some have additional incomes. There are, of course, downsides to being a royal: as descendants of the Crown, they are not entitled to vote or engage in political life. The lack of privacy in daily life for the royals means their every move is scrutinised and they must have protection officers with them at all times.
Overall though, it does seem like the British royals have a pretty sweet deal in many ways, with fortune, favour and fancy integral to their lifestyles. The royal accounts, like any other public spending in the UK, are published annually, and detail the highs and lows of spending in the House of Windsor. We’ve taken a look at the royals’ books, along with some other moments in recent royal history to see just how much of the tax payers’ money the royals spend and how they spend it.
10. $667,120: The Value of the Royal Drinks Collection
The first to make our list is also perhaps the oddest: the Royal Family have over half a million dollars’ worth of wines and spirits stored. The Royal Family is not allowed to accept gifts from private groups, so unless some of this stash was gifted as part of an official visit or from personal friends, they Royals have bought the alcohol themselves. Even more interesting, however, is how this value looks when contextualised over time. $667,120 is the value of wines and spirits owned by the royals in 2013: in 2012, the figure was $833,500. So unless that missing $150k of booze was gifted to others, it was must have been drunk by the Royal household and their guests. That would’ve been one hell of a party…
9. $1.67 Million: The Cost of the Royal Barge, Gloriana.
2012 was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, marking 50 years of her reign over Britain and the Commonwealth. To celebrate, a number of events were organised throughout the country: palaces were restored, exhibitions were mounted and the nation reflected on their Queen. Part of the major celebrations saw a flotilla of small crafts take to the Thames, with the centre point being the newly commissioned Royal barge, the 94 foot Gloriana. The Gloriana was the first barge in almost one hundred years to be commissioned by the Royal Family and cost £1 million, or $1.67 million USD. For such a hefty price tag, you would expect many years of service from the vessel, but alas, just one year after the Diamond Jubilee, the Gloriana’s engines failed causing the barge to drift into the low bridges on the Thames at Kew, London and requiring rescue from the lifeboat authority.
8. $7.5 Million: The Cost of Travel for the Royal Family in 2013
With national and international travel a vital part of Royal life, it’s no surprise to hear their travels expenses run fairly high. $7.5 million is the cost for both national and international travel for the Royal Family as part of official visits and engagements. Engagements can range from a trip to the local Tube station to commemorate 150 years of the London Underground, to the more exotic foreign visits enjoyed by the Royals. The purpose of these visits can be anything from trade – Prince Andrew, the Duke of York was previously a trade envoy for the United Kingdom – to diplomatic engagements with Commonwealth nations and others. Of this $7.5 million, around $333,560 was spent on train travel in the UK, as well as a hefty $4.5 million on helicopter maintenance.
7. $16.7 Million: The Cost to the Taxpayer of the 2011 Royal Wedding
The Queen may be the head and heart of the Royal Family and indeed the State, but it’s Kate and Wills who are the Royal Family’s superstars. Their 2011 wedding saw the news cogs grind to a halt as the world was transfixed watching the Royal newlyweds. The Royal Family, and to a lesser extent Kate’s family the Middletons, did foot the bill for much of the wedding: Kate’s dress, jewellery, guests’ dining and accommodation as well any rental, catering and temporary staffing costs would have been covered by both families’ personal finances.
But an event that saw much of West London closed to the public and the accommodation of a public appearance on Buckingham Palace’s famous balcony came at a cost the taxpayer. $11.67 million was the total cost, spent largely on security for the event which would have required months of planning. The remainder was forked out by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, who organised the decoration of the Royal procession, as well as any stewarding and press access. But if you are a British citizen, don’t feel short-changed. The press had to pay a cool $100,000 for a spot in front of Buckingham Palace, while the wedding itself boosted tourism in the UK by an approximate $3.34 billion.
6. $30.5 Million: Payroll Costs for the Royal Household
With properties up and down the country as well as almost daily engagements, when you combine the diaries of all members of the Royal Family it’s no surprise to hear that they have a significant amount of staff. $30.5 million is the amount the Royal Family pay their staff, who range from gardeners and footmen, to private secretaries and butlers. The Royal Family have recently come under criticism for failing to curtail the salaries of their top members of staff, at a time when most other civil servants in the UK have seen their salaries reduced. The top payout- unsurprisingly – goes to the Keeper of the Privy Purse, Sir Alan Reid, whose salary for 2013 was $300,200. Additionally, his pension is valued at just over $53,000.
5. $31.7 Million: Prince’s Charles’ Annual Income
We’ve already looked at how much is paid out by the Royal Family to their workers, but this is an interesting insight in how much they take in themselves: the British government allocates funds to the Royal Family to cover maintenance and expenses, but the Royals can also accrue their own income through personal endeavours. The heir to the throne, Prince Charles’ income comes from his business investments as well as his profitable estate, the Duchy of Cornwall. Some of this profit comes from the estate’s own-brand organic goods, Duchy Originals, which are stocked in the upmarket supermarket chain, Waitrose. There is some controversy around this however: while the Prince does pay VAT and income tax, he is not subject to the same tax laws as British citizens, leaving some to question if more of that £31.7 million shouldn’t be handed over to the State.
4. $51.7 Million: The Sovereign Grant for 2013
The Royal Family are allocated an annual Sovereign Grant by the British government to cover the costs and maintenance of their properties, salaries and all other expenses. For 2013, the government allocated £31 million or $51.7 USD.
However this set of figures is also the most controversial: it was recently revealed that the Royal household has been running up unusually high costs in expenses and maintenance to their buildings, and a Public Accounts committee was not pleased with the goings on in the Royal finances. Much of the figures in this list come from those released to the Public Accounts Committee who argue that the Royal Household is not maximising the potential of the Sovereign Grant, and that more must be done to find savings in the budget and curtail these ongoing rises. Evidence of this out of control spending can be seen in our next spot on the list…
3. $55.5 Million: The Amount Actually Spent by the Crown in 2013
That’s right, in 2013, the Royal household outspent itself: while the Sovereign Grant was $51.7 million, the household actually spent $55.5 million. The Royal household claims that there are a number of high maintenance costs associated with the estate, most notably the numerous old castles, which are in constant need of modernisation and upkeep. Buckingham Palace may be one of the most famous buildings in the world, but some of its interiors are decidedly out of date. The boiler in the palace is said to be around 60 years old and in need of repair, while an estimated 40% of Royal properties in total are in need of some form of repair. In spite of the criticism doled out by the Public Accounts Committee, the Sovereign Grant is expected to rise to $63.21 million for 2014-15.
2. $833.9 Million: The Amount the Royal Family Generates in Tourism for the UK
For those of you who have gotten this far in our list and wondered how the British public are not more outraged at the Royal Family’s spending habits, then here is your answer: the Royal Family also generates a significant amount of money for the United Kingdom through their sponsorship of charities, promotion of local and national business and of course by allowing the public glimpses of their gilded lives. Many of the Queen’s residences are opened for various times during the year, when the Queen isn’t around. In addition to this, the palaces that are no longer occupied by the Royal Family- such as Hampton Court Palace, or the Tower of London – remain open throughout the year, allowing a non-stop supply of tourists to flow through their doors. Entry to each of these palaces runs at around $30 a head, so it’s easy to see how the tourism industry indirectly boosted by the Royals brings money, jobs and international attention to the city of London.
1. $13.5 Billion: The Combined Value of the Royal Properties
It’s not surprising that the Royal real estate comes in at number 1 with our biggest price tag, but $13.5 billion is a staggering figure. There are eight palaces in the United Kingdom that are currently occupied by the Royal Family: Clarence House in London is the official residence of the Prince of Wales, and a number of members of the Royal Family live in St. James’ Palace. The Queen herself moves throughout the properties following the traditional court calendar. This includes Balmoral Castle and Holyroodhouse in Scotland, Sandringham estate in Norfolk and of course Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Windsor itself is the largest occupied castle in the world and it’s dining hall alone is 182 feet long. It’s also only a short trip from Windsor to the world famous Ascot races where the Grand National is held. On top of these lived-in properties, there are also the unoccupied palaces and houses that are still owned by the Royal Family. The majority of these are open to the public and range from Henry VIII’s enormous palace at Hampton Court, to Queen Victoria’s romantic getaway spot with her husband on the Isle of Wight.