Will Megxit be welcome in Malibu?

Will Megxit be welcome in Malibu? The Sussexes are said to be house hunting in the seaside playground of A-listers but will their move make famous residents leave over fears of rising security costs

Many years ago, when she was striving to become a renowned actress, Meghan Markle would sometimes jog with her mother along the Los Liones Trail, a winding mountain track offering breathtaking views of the Malibu coast.

According to an old friend, she would gaze down at the sumptuous mansions that dapple the chaparral-clad foothills and line the silken beaches, and fantasise about becoming sufficiently rich and famous to own one.

It seemed an unattainable dream. Even a modest Malibu home costs several millions, and Hard Rock cafe founder Peter Morton recently sold his waterfront palace for $120million, a record sum for Los Angeles County.

The closest Meghan had come to living in this ultimate A-listers’ enclave was when she was little and her father Thomas was doing well enough as a Hollywood lighting director to buy a chalet in a smart suburb, 17 miles away.

Now, albeit by marrying a prince rather than becoming a film star, it would seem that Meghan has finally made it to Malibu (Harry and Meghan are pictured in Australia in 2018) 

But now, albeit by marrying a prince rather than becoming a film star, it would seem that Meghan has finally made it to Malibu.

This week, this narrow, 21-mile sliver of paradise, threaded between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, is thrumming with intrigue over the rumour (well-founded, according to the Daily Mail’s sources) that she and Harry are house-hunting there.

From Simon Cowell to Sting, Jennifer Aniston to Julia Roberts, Bob Dylan to Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Malibu is so cluttered with movie legends, rock idols and tycoons that, ordinarily, the advent of one more celebrity couple wouldn’t raise a plucked eyebrow.

Yet such is the hoopla around the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s sudden flit from Canada to California — and the unseemly eagerness of estate agents to hook them as clients at a time when the property market is at a standstill — that everyone is talking about their arrival.

Since the beaches are now cordoned by yellow police tape, and the restaurants and bars closed, the coronavirus lockdown has given the couple the privacy they claim to crave.

Yet such is the hoopla around the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s sudden flit from Canada to California (pictured)— and the unseemly eagerness of estate agents to hook them as clients at a time when the property market is at a standstill — that everyone is talking about their arrival

They have not yet been spotted, but word has it that the couple have hunkered down with ten-month-old Archie in one of several Malibu properties owned by the mega-rich oil mogul John B. Hess. Last autumn, in a ceremony described by one guest as ‘the finest spectacle Rome has seen’, Mr Hess’s son, Michael, 33, was married to one of Meghan’s closest friends, fashion designer Misha Nonoo, so this would make sense.

Well-connected Malibu resident Tracey Ross, who ran a renowned Sunset Boulevard boutique that clad the likes of Courtney Love, Robert Downey Junior and Dylan, has heard they are looking for a bolthole in two secluded places.

One is Serra Retreat, an ultra-private neighbourhood nestling in a canyon, close to a spiritual centre run by Franciscan friars. The property that has reportedly taken their fancy there is Petra Manor, a 12,249sq ft mansioned once owned by Mel Gibson, and rented for an eyewatering £11,000 a night by Kylie Jenner of the Kardashians.

It was bought in 2012 by actor David Charvet, who starred in the TV series Baywatch (scenes of which were filmed in Malibu). He’d torn down the original house and rebuilt a European-style mansion on the plot boasting ten bedrooms and eight bathrooms. It is then, considerably larger and grander than Meghan and Harry’s former home, Frogmore Cottage.


Other celebrities in the area include Simon Cowell (pictured left), recently seen nipping to the Vintage Store for groceries in his Rolls-Royce, and fetching them back to his $25million palm-shrouded pad. Right: Reese Witherspoon who also owns property in the area

The other area is Point Dume, a wild ocean bluff where Chris Martin and his girlfriend Dakota Johnson live.

Other celebrities in the area include Simon Cowell, recently seen nipping to the Vintage Store for groceries in his Rolls-Royce, and fetching them back to his $25million palm-shrouded pad.

Low-profile residents (yes, there are a few) among Malibu’s permanent population of just under 13,000 also seemed ready this week to extend a warm welcome to the Duke and Duchess, who are still revered as ‘royals’ in these parts, despite resigning their duties.

‘It sure would be nice to see them come in here,’ smiled an assistant at the local shop, where it is not unusual for Pierce Brosnan or Dustin Hoffman to drop in for a few items to top up the fridge. However, for the resort’s reclusive stars, the prospect of Harry and Meghan encouraging the paparazzi already in their midst will be less appealing.

A major advantage of living in Malibu, 30 miles north of Los Angeles, is that they have hitherto been able to lead relatively normal lives, untroubled by the celebrity photographers in other affluent areas such as Beverly Hills.

There are several reasons for this. There is only one road in and out of Malibu, the tortuous Pacific Coast Highway; and parking on the smaller side streets without being moved on is near impossible.

Then there is the undulating, thickly wooded landscape, which forms a natural and fragrant cocoon around homes on the landward side.

From Simon Cowell to Sting, Jennifer Aniston to Julia Roberts (pictured), Bob Dylan to Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Malibu is so cluttered with movie legends, rock idols and tycoons that, ordinarily, the advent of one more celebrity couple wouldn’t raise a plucked eyebrow

For those living on the more expensive shoreline, the only drawback is that the beaches are, by law, open to the public at all points within tidal reach.

Meghan and Harry may be relieved to hear that Messrs Hoffman, Brosnan and Danny DeVito have banded together and found a clever way to keep the hoi-polloi at a distance.

In a King Canute-style project that has pushed the tide-line further away from the rear of their houses, they have built an unsightly £12.5million barrier of boulders inside which the public are not permitted to enter. When environmental activists complained, the local homeowners’ association — a privileged clique — successfully claimed that the barrier was vital to prevent coastal erosion and deflect huge Pacific rollers battering their walls.

Nonetheless, celebrity news agencies still flourish and socialite Lady Victoria Hervey, who has homes in Malibu and London, is not alone in surmising that some celebrities will be irked by Meghan and Harry’s arrival.

‘It might make other famous residents move out. They wouldn’t want the extra security,’ she ventures. ‘You’ve got much bigger stars than Harry and Meghan living there, like Cher [who recently declared that photographers were making her a prisoner in her home]. Do they want neighbours who will be attracting that?’

Fashionista Tracey Ross thinks not. Recalling how Goldie Hawn abruptly sold up after one incursion too many, she told the Mail: ‘It’s very local and everybody is very protective of each other.

The other area is Point Dume, a wild ocean bluff where Chris Martin (pictured) and his girlfriend Dakota Johnson live

‘You can let your hair down and you don’t have to be made up all the time. I think that’s why people like it. I see [famous] people in the market all the time; it’s no biggie — nobody cares.

‘The people who look the poorest are probably the richest. The local Malibu people who just want to surf and enjoy the lifestyle are real Malibu royalty.

‘And they are probably not thrilled about having people like Meghan because they don’t want it to get all fancy.’ They certainly don’t. Though there are upmarket eateries, such as Nobu, and the architecture — an amalgam of Moorish, traditional Spanish and avant-garde, with huge slabs of glass and teak — reeks of opulence, the ambience is otherwise so laidback as to be horizontal.

When the pandemic ends, Meghan and Harry will surely be regulars at the Little Malibu Beach House, a branch of the Soho House chain for which the Duchess’s friend Markus Anderson is a consultant. Its website urges members and guests to ‘dress down’, so that they won’t look out of place.

Whether chilling with an iced mocha at Paradise Café or stocking up on joss sticks at the Country Mart, everyone slops around in their scruffs, which will suit the self-described ‘hippy-dippy Californian’ Meghan just fine.

Keeping a pet is also de rigueur here: the more exotic the better. Owners are served by the Malibu Feed Bin, a quirky store selling pet food and outlandish accessories for every type of animal, from horses to chickens. Henry Fonda was once a customer, and dog-lover Meghan will probably become one, too. As the Mail has discovered, however, this may prove slightly embarrassing.

Several years ago, when he lived in nearby Topanga Canyon, her half-brother Thomas Junior kept a litter of pot-bellied pigs, and would buy feed from the Bin.

But owner Kasey Perry told us how a cheque he gave her bounced, since which time his name has remained on her blacklist. ‘It took forever to collect the payment,’ she said, showing us the list. ‘I feel sorry for Meghan having any connection to that man. He did eventually pay it,’ she said, hastily adding that the Duke and Duchess would be welcomed, and served with discretion.

The history of Malibu is filled with colourful stories. Yet though it is synonymous with wealth and fame, less than a century ago it was still a wilderness, settled upon only by the Native Americans who gave it a name.

The true ‘King and Queen of Malibu’ — so named in a book, subtitled The Battle for Paradise —were wealthy industrialist and philanthropist Frederick Hastings Rindge and his wife May, a poor Midwestern farmer’s daughter.

After migrating to Los Angeles in 1887, when it was still a frontier town, they bought a 13,000-acre ranch in Malibu, living in a humble cabin; and after her husband died, May, a committed environmentalist, fought to keep it from the clutches of railroad and property developers. In the mid-1920s, she opened the Malibu Movie Colony — an exclusive estate for stars in the Golden Age of Hollywood, such as Bing Crosby, Gary Cooper, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford.

This is how it became a magnet for showbiz movers and shakers. On a wall surrounding the ‘colony’s’ first tennis court, there is still a photograph of Charlie Chaplin, racquet in hand.

Everything about Malibu — its sublime climate, unspoilt beauty, seclusion, proximity to the major film studios — made it the perfect hideaway. And, of course, it had those dreamy beaches, acclaimed by James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, as ‘the finest ever created’. Where better for Archie to play, and his father to try his hand at surfing?

By the Flower Power era, Malibu was the scene of anything-goes parties, memorable among which was a debauched and fractious all-night Independence Day bash thrown by Jane Fonda in 1965.

It was an event that marked the dawning of a new and very different Hollywood.

This weekend, the newly retired royals will doubtless be whiling away the lockdown by trawling through the available palaces of Malibu. Properties that seemed far beyond reach when Meghan (pictured) went on those long-ago hilltop jogs with her mother

As the older guard, such as Gene Kelly, Lauren Bacall and Sidney Poitier, congregated in one part of the mansion, sipping cocktails and feasting on a barbecued pig, the younger crowd, including Dennis Hopper and Andy Warhol, got high and cavorted to music from The Byrds, the band hired for occasion.

At one point, an exasperated Henry Fonda collared his stoned son Peter and bellowed: ‘Can’t you turn that damn noise down!’ He was met with a vacant stare.

Since then, so many famous names have bought or built homes there that it is almost easier to list the stars who haven’t lived in ‘The Bu’, as locals call it.

In 1992, Frank Sinatra had a house in Malibu designed for the entertainment of cohorts such as Gregory Peck, Jack Lemmon and Dick Van Dyke. It was recently sold for $9.5million.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Reese Witherspoon, Will Smith, Lady Gaga, Courteney Cox, Anthony Hopkins… so the galactic A to Z rolls on and on.

Given her towering social aspirations, therefore, it won’t be surprising if Meghan has grasped the opportunity to live among them.

Harry will doubtless recall how his mother, Diana, was planning to start a new life in Malibu with Dodi Fayed, who had purchased a Tuscan-style beach villa there shortly before they died in 1997. How Meghan and Harry will pay for a mansion costing tens of millions is another question.

The Duchess, for whom the duties of genuine royalty proved too onerous, will surely relish her role as the new Queen of Malibu.

Just along the coast, in Santa Monica, she has an old and trusted circle of confidantes. People such as Pilates instructor Heather Dorak, and ‘Light’ Watkins, the charismatic meditation guru she calls on when she feels troubled.

And of course she will be within an hour’s drive of her mother Doria Ragland’s cottage, in a middle-class suburb of Los Angeles.

Perhaps the only danger is that she might cross paths with her first husband, film producer Trevor Engelson, who has never forgiven her for unceremoniously dumping him seven years ago. He is now married to nutritionist Tracey Kurland, and, as I learnt this week, they are expecting their first child this summer. They live in LA, a 45-minute drive from Malibu.

However, since Meghan has returned to the film industry (she has just done a voice-over for a Disney movie about elephants) they will surely find themselves in the same room one day.

This weekend, the newly retired royals will doubtless be whiling away the lockdown by trawling through the available palaces of Malibu. Properties that seemed far beyond reach when Meghan went on those long-ago hilltop jogs with her mother.

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