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Meghan and Harry’s tacky Netflix move

Once upon a time, by which I mean the late 90s and aughties, writing about the royal family meant dutifully reporting on hats and plaque unveilings and which Chelsea private members club William and Harry were currently teetering out of in the wee hours.In the decade since then things have gotten a lot more interesting…

Once upon a time, by which I mean the late 90s and aughties, writing about the royal family meant dutifully reporting on hats and plaque unveilings and which Chelsea private members club William and Harry were currently teetering out of in the wee hours.

In the decade since then things have gotten a lot more interesting with weddings, babies, and the ignominious allegations about Prince Andrew’s involvement with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

However perhaps nothing has had a more seismic impact on the house of Windsor and its future than the romance between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Nearly a year ago today, the couple was in South Africa and appeared alongside Nobel Peace Prize Archbishop Desmond Tutu with their baby son Archie. It was a powerful moment laden with symbolism, the first bi-racial senior member of the house of Windsor meeting one of the greatest anti-racism and human rights activists of the last century.

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And today? Today, news broke that as part of their rumoured $130 million deal with Netflix they would be filming a reality show for the content giant. A source has told the Sun that the duchess wants the world to see the “real her” and that “It will be tasteful. They want to give people a glimpse into their lives.”

The fact that in only 12 months, Harry and Meghan have gone from dignified global statesmanship to Kardashian-esque small screen exposure is quite simply head spinning, no matter how “tasteful” or not the show turns out to be.

Even six months ago, as the couple set up home in Los Angeles after officially quitting as senior working members of the royal family, it would have been nearly unthinkable for them to take this baldly Hollywood step.

While it has been reported that the series will chart their philanthropic endeavours, it is hard to imagine that the streaming giant would be happy to shell out the mega bucks for hour upon hour of the couple earnestly starting down the barrel of the camera and banging on about their cause du jour.

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For the Sussexes, the calculation would seem to be they can earn a small fortune while also casting themselves as true 21st century humanitarians – a win win for a duo who both a) have a whopping $14 million mortgage and a retinue of bodyguards to pay for and b) are getting set to debut their new charitable entity Archewell next year.

However, no matter whether it might make strategic, practical sense, there is no denying that there is a certain crossing-of-the-Rubicon quality to the Sussexes’ foray into reality TV. Like it or not, those two words conjure a certain tacky shabbishness and the danger is that the ‘reality TV’ stamp could dramatically cheapen their image.

The initial pearl-clutching response to today’s reality show news will be that the rebellious couple are debasing themselves in the pursuit of mammon. Whether you buy that or not, actively courting publicity by the very same means that made Kim Kardashian a household name is hardly an exercise in gravitas.

Harry and Meghan, over the last 18 months, have time and again crossed lines that no HRH has ever crossed, from truculently keeping details of their son’s birth under wraps to their sensational decision to quit as full-time working members of the royal family, allegedly “blindsiding” the Queen in the process.

With each of these moves they have incrementally been more and more daring in their boldness in terms of ripping up the royal play book however pretty much nothing, aside from their initial quitting, compares to the jaw-dropping shock of this latest twist in the Sussex saga.

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While the royal family has, on rare occasions, allowed cameras behind closed doors, such as the infamous 1969 documentary The Royal Family, the key difference is that they were not paid.

Likewise, the goal of this and other small screen outings has been to promote the Queen or the royal family, straightforward exercises in ginning up public support. Harry and Meghan’s series is a similarly baldfaced PR grab but with the less noble goal of driving up their celebrity stock.

The sagacity of the couple’s reality series aside, this latest move seems unlikely to help improve the couple’s already fraught relationship with the Windsors.

Earlier this month when news of the Sussexes’ Netflix deal was first announced, the Sun reported that William and other senior royals were “livid” with Harry for going into business with the producers of The Crown. (Season four which will feature the introduction of Lady Diana Spencer and will depict her battle with bulimia is set to air in November.)

Or, as PR expert Mark Borkowski has said, “the big hits on Netflix are ones based in reality so it makes sense. But this is something the Royal Family will find hard to stomach.”

Let’s be honest: Given everything, It is nearly impossible to conceive that the Queen was ever going to offer her full-throated approval of her beloved grandson and his wife letting their lives be turned into TV fodder however the timing of all this TV news could not be worse.

Only days ago, Harry managed to seemingly get the palace off-side after appearing as part of a Time magazine TV broadcast and defied long standing convention and strayed wildly into political terrain.

“This election I am not able to vote in the US,” he told viewers. “But many of you may not know that I haven’t been able to vote in the UK my entire life. As we approach this November, it’s vital that we reject hate speech, misinformation and online negativity.”

While neither Harry nor Meghan expressly voiced their support for Joe Biden, his comments and her exhortation that the upcoming vote will be the “most important election of our lifetime” were widely interpreted as a plea for voters to oust Donald Trump.

In the wake of this move, the palace put out a terse statement saying, “The Duke is not a working member of the Royal Family and any comments he makes are made in a personal capacity.”

The broader implication was clear: The palace was trying to put as much distance between London and Santa Barbara’s most outspoken new residents as possible.

Then on Sunday, the UK’s Times reported that senior royal aides felt that Harry’s comments “violated” the terms of the ‘divorce’ agreement that the couple had negotiated with the Queen in which they promised that “everything they do will uphold the values of Her Majesty”.

“The [royal] family are all wringing their hands,” a royal aide told the paper.

As part of the deal hashed out in January, Harry agreed to step down from his honorary military roles however the Queen left the door open for his potential reinstatement. “There were some things that Harry hoped he could opt back into. He dearly wants to hang on to the Royal Marines and the military appointments. That will be harder now,” an aide has said.

“There is a strong view that the family really does need to put more distance between them and Harry and Meghan,” a source close to the family told the Times. The story also quoted one courtier telling a friend: “This is only going in one direction now — permanent exile.”

This reality series project will also serve to make something of a mockery of the couple’s repeated complaints about privacy. In 2016, Harry called out the “wave of abuse and harassment” that Meghan was facing; in October last year, Harry launched a powerful broadside against the press, dubbing the fourth estate a “powerful force” and that his “deepest fear is history repeating itself”. In a statement published on a stand-alone website Harry wrote, “There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying.” In January in a statement about their exit, the Queen referenced the “intense scrutiny” the Sussexes had faced.

Whatever sympathy there might be left for the Sussexes’ and their lamenting about their lack of privacy could very well evaporate now. After all, Greta Garbo didn’t purr “I vaaaant to be alone” and then invite a studio’s worth of cameras into her living room to record her daily efforts with the whiskey bottle.

While Netflix has offered no details about the series, there are a million and one questions: If Harry and Meghan do return to the UK for the Remembrance Day service in November, will the cameras be trailing in their wake? What about if Prince Philip passes away during filming?

And then there are the bigger, existential head scratchers: British essayist Walter Bagehot famously cautioned in the 19th century that when it comes to the royal family, “We must not let in daylight upon magic.” (Imagine what he would have made of Instagram then …)

So, will hours and hours of Sussex Vision ramp up their global popularity? Or will letting the service’s 190 million subscribers into the couple’s private world, even if that just means getting to watch them earnestly setting up meetings and hugging charity workers, render them all too dangerously normal?

Here’s betting that either way, the Queen won’t be tuning to the Sussexes’ show or the new season of The Crown. Luckily for Her Majesty, a lifelong Doctor Who fan, she has a festive special of the time-travelling series which is set to air later this year to look forward to, no Netflix login required.

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

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