The Queen’s commercial portfolio, what we know of it at least, makes for truly fascinating reading.
There is the McDonalds in Oxfordshire (the land anyway), the sea rights for a floating offshore wind farm in Wales that could be worth $180 million in a decade, while the 2017 Panama Papers leak revealed her private estate had invested millions in a Cayman Islands portfolio.
(I’d also like to imagine she sleeps on a mattress stuffed with gold Krugerrands too …)
Here’s betting though she does not own any stock in Netflix, despite shares in the streaming giant having risen stratospherically in value in the past decade.
In fact, while Her Majesty is well known to enjoy a night in on the sofa catching up on the tele (Antiques Roadshow and Eastenders are reportedly One’s favourites) I’d wager the sovereign steers clear of the content behemoth given it has caused her no end of headaches of late.
First, it was revealed the company had agreed to pay her breakaway grandson and granddaughter-in-law, Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, vast, vast sums of money to turn their hands to TV production.
And secondly, the countdown is on for the release of the fourth season of The Crown which will revisit one of the more painful and tortured periods from Elizabeth II’s reign.
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All of which is a shame really: The Queen may well be in desperate need of some light entertainment right now given that in the past week, the 94-year-old has been buffeted by a seemingly endless stream of bad news.
Even monarchs, it would seem, have seen the COVID-19 pandemic hit their hip pockets. This week it was revealed the Royal Collection Trust, which manages the vast trove of art owned by the Crown and the official royal residences, is set to lose $115 million in 2020/21 due to a dramatic drop in visitors and thus ticket sales.
Struggling to flog official royal trinkets such as a $72 commemorative Princess Beatrice wedding mug (seriously) to the hordes of goggle-eyed, gawping tourists who stream through Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Clarence House and Frogmore House every year, they now find themselves short on dosh.
Luckily, Coutts, the bank used by the royal family, has stepped in, giving the RCT a $39.7 million loan to help them keep the lights on the cream teas coming. (There seem to be plenty of Bea and Edo cups and pillboxes left on the RCT website in case you want to start your Christmas shopping early.)
The Queen may also face having to make do with less dosh from the Sovereign Grant. (She currently gets 25 per cent of the revenue from the Crown Estates, with Grant money being used to pay for official royal staffers and travel and the upkeep of the official residences.)
In recent days the UK press has also been gleefully covering a series of revelations from Battle of Brothers by Robert Lacey, an upcoming biography charting the seismic breakdown in the relationship between Princes William and Harry in recent years.
While previous bestsellers have been penned by former tabloid magazine scribes and rent-a-quote royal reporters, Battle of Brothers is a different kettle of Earl Grey. Lacey is an esteemed royal writer and biographer responsible for a number of books about the Windsors and Her Majesty going back to the ’70s. (He also happens to be a consultant to The Crown.) Essentially, it will be much harder to dismiss his reporting on the ructions and crises going on behind palace gates.
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Over the weekend, the Daily Mail in Britain ran a series of extracts from Brothers, proffering up a veritable buffet of juicy titbits.
According to the publication, William was allegedly so angry with Harry he refused to have lunch with him ahead of the Sandringham Summit, while the Sussex Royal trademarks for things including “social care services … counselling services; emotional support services” ruffled feathers and led to concerns the duo was “commercialising the crown”.
Megan and Harry also allegedly filed their lawsuits against three newspapers last year without giving the Queen or Charles a heads up, while the Queen and her former Private Secretary Sir Christopher Geidt came up with a plan for the Sussexes to move to South Africa to “give everyone a breather” and to help meet the couple’s “wish to live an “ordinary” existence.”
Exhausted? Me too – and I’d bet we could add Her Majesty to our number.
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With not only Lacey’s book (out October 16) but Meghan Misunderstood by Sean Smith out in November, the flurry of royal biographies that have been released and are in the pipeline seem set to continue apace.
And this is the bigger inexorable issue: All anyone wants to talk (and read and watch) is Sussex-related. Whether their intention or not, the headline-grabbing twosome continue to hog attention and global interest, pushing the rest of the titled clan into the background.
While this week might mark 10 months exactly since Harry and Meghan announced to the world they’d had enough of a full-time working life of opening things and shaking hands in the name of Queen and country, the Sussexes still unquestionably dominate the royal narrative.
While Lacey’s book, from what has been made publicly available thus far, might seem to paint the house of Windsor in a relatively positive light, the royal family still seems unable to escape the Harry and Meghan-related media maelstrom.
No matter the Sussexes now live an ocean and a continent away, are now financially independent, have paid off their $4 million plus debt for Frogmore Cottage and are no longer working members of the royal family, both their past decisions and current actions continue to monopolise royal media coverage and public interest.
Aside from rolling out William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s adorable three children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis to win over millions of hearts, the house of Windsor seems positively stumped as to how to escape out from under the long shadow cast by the Sussexes.
As Buckingham Palace casts around for answers, Netflix is gearing up to introduce the character of Lady Diana Spencer to the big budget series of The Crown.
Out on November 15, this season of the hit monarchical soap will chart the all-too-brief romance between Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles and then the first decade of their tortured, miserable marriage.
The Diana years were disastrous for the Queen. Like Harry and Meghan decades later, the Princess of Wales was a sort of royal tractor beam, totally dominating public and media interest to the exclusion of all the plodding HRHs who had absolutely zero idea how to compete with her dazzling star.
Beyond that, Diana would later help cast the Queen, Prince Charles and the royal machine (rightly or wrongly) as the bad guys of this particular not-quite-fairytale, first via her collaboration with Andrew Morton for Diana: Her True Story and then later in her bombshell Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995, saying of the royal household, “They see me as a threat of some kind.”
Looking back, watching the footage of Diana walking down the aisle of St Paul’s towards Prince Charles there is an undeniable lamb-to-the-slaughter quality. She was the product of a miserable marriage who at 19-years-old had thought she had found her literal Prince Charming.
The blunt reality, according to a number of biographers, soon made itself known: He had been pressured into tying the knot (Anna Wallace allegedly turned him down twice before he asked Diana), the couple had nothing in common and her lifetime of familial proximity to the Windsors was absolutely no preparation for the expectations and demands of being a working Princess.
Suffering terribly, the Queen, Charles and the royal family had little idea how to help – and in some biographers’ views little sympathy for – their deeply troubled new recruit.
The Brothers Grimm themselves would have been hard pressed to come up with such a bleak, heart-rending tale.
Diana’s death in 1997 only seemed to cement the public view of Her Majesty as cold-hearted and aloof; of the monarch having failed the Princess of Wales in the most spectacular fashion.
That anger slowly dissipated over the next two decades, with the image of the stony Sovereign replaced by one of maternal affection. There were weddings and babies and all that ’90s nastiness faded, publicly at least, into the background.
Now, The Crown looks set to dredge all that back up in the most spectacular technicolour fashion, introducing a new generation (and reintroducing others) to the image of the Queen as a woman driven by duty at the vast emotional expense of her family and who was allegedly indifferent to much of Diana’s suffering.
And here’s what unites the panoply of crises Her Majesty is facing: They are only mounting up, they’re going nowhere and no matter how much she might want to, can’t be ignored for ever.
With the strides the Queen has made to spruce up her image over the last 20 years now under threat and with the clouds continuing to gather over the next generation, the picture is far from pretty for the palace.
Henry II once famously (supposedly) moaned of Thomas Becket, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Today, at least some of the Queen’s headaches would be sorted quick sticks if someone rid her of this meddlesome streaming service.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.