Get your pen and paper out, we are going to talk numbers.
Here’s the first one: 25 million. That’s the number of households who are expected to watch season four of The Crown in the coming weeks.
(Over 80 million have already tuned in for seasons one to three thus far in case you’re keeping count.)
What that means is 25 million households will watch Prince Charles cruelly berate and callously humiliate his wife Diana, Princess of Wales; 25 million households will see the young mother pushed to the brink psychologically by an unfeeling family time and bear witness to the extreme suffering and agony of her eating disorder; and 25 million households will witness the Queen reduced to a distant bourgeois housewife eternally clutching her handbag as she fails her children again and again.
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Here’s our second number: $130 million. That’s the amount of money that Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are reported to be set to be paid by Netflix in a “megawatt” content deal they signed in September this year which will see them create TV series’ and documentaries for the streaming giant.
And it is this collision of worlds – of wills and wallets, of royalty and Hollywood, of history and creative license, of money and dignity – that has put Harry and Meghan very firmly and very dangerously on a collision course with Buckingham Palace this week.
On Sunday, the same day season four landed, the palace launched a stinging, high-profile fightback, with friends of Prince Charles delivering a “blistering attack” and accusing the show of “trolling on a Hollywood budget” in what Mail on Sunday royal editor Emily Andrews termed “a series of highly unusual public interventions.”
Per Andrews, this broadside “demonstrates the depth of concern at the very top of the royal family” about the hit series and she reported that “Palace insiders have lined up to slate the Netflix show.”
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Andrews quotes an insider as saying: “This is drama and entertainment for commercial ends being made with no regard to the actual people involved who are having their lives hijacked and exploited.
“At least at the start of reality shows like The Only Way Is Essex they admit that some scenes have been invented for entertainment,” a palace source biting told the Mail.
“There is no sense of telling carefully nuanced stories – it’s all very two-dimensional. This is trolling with a Hollywood budget. The public shouldn’t be fooled into thinking this is an accurate portrayal of what really happened.”
The fury and indignation is hardly a surprise: Season four depicts Charles as a signet ring-twiddling beast who treats his wife with malice and contempt in between bedding the eternally jolly Camilla; that is a portrayal that threatens to undermine two and a half decades of good PR and to see him revert to public enemy number one.
However, it is not just Charles’ camp who are seeing red over The Crown, with a source revealing that “The Duke of Cambridge is none too pleased with it. He feels that both his parents are being exploited and being presented in a false, simplistic way to make money.”
Here’s where things really and truly get stuck in the craw: Harry and Meghan have signed on to work with the very same company that has created this elaborate, expensive, and fictional Molotov cocktail of a series.
The current season of The Crown has been in production since early 2019, long before Harry and Meghan decided they wanted out of full-time working royal life. Similarly, it has never been a secret that this latest offering would cover the ’80s and the disintegrating marriage of Charles and Diana.
That this season would take an unflinching look at such deeply painful events, events which are very much in contemporary memory and which would prove upsetting and hurtful for many people is totally unsurprising.
In light of all this, what beggars belief is that the Sussexes have chosen to throw their financial and professional fortunes in with the same company who is monetising his family’s suffering and especially his mother’s anguish.
“There are raised eyebrows about Harry taking millions from the company that’s behind all this,” an insider has told the Mail.
“After all, where do much of Netflix’s profits come from? The Crown.”
One estimate has put the costs associated with the Sussexes’ new independent life, from assistants to gardeners to travel expenses, at $6 million annually.
No matter what the actual dollar amount, what is clear is that they need to start pulling in some nice, juicy pay cheques to keep the family in organic kale and professional Instagram photographers.
However, surely any – scratch that, all – of the other streaming behemoths with deep pockets such as Apple and Disney would have been falling over themselves to throw vast fortunes to be able to boast about having the Duke and Duchess on board and beavering away at making them worthy content.
Factor in, too, that Harry and Oprah Winfrey have been working on a series about mental health for Apple since at least April 2019.
So, why in the name of god (AKA Oprah) did they therefore turn to the company that has humiliated Harry’s family to help them pay their Diptyque candle bills?
Harry and Meghan must have understood the broader implications of choosing to work with Netflix, a company whose artistic credentials and commercial success are in a significant part down to a long-running show that skewers his family.
While this will have to remain a perplexing, existential question, what seems less ambiguous are the consequences their choice will have for their relationship with The Firm.
Given the fraught state of affairs, with report after biography after report having covered in extensive, heartbreaking detail the breakdown of Prince William and Harry’s bond, the Netflix deal seems unlikely to do anything but worsen the breach between them.
Muddying the emotionally fraught waters even more is that also over the weekend, Harry made a surprise appearance on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing to wish one competitor, a former Invictus Games medallist, good luck.
The issue here is that the public broadcaster is currently in the firing line over the role that doctored bank statements played in getting Diana to agree to her bombshell 1995 Panorama interview, which ultimately led to the Queen pushing she and Charles to divorce.
Time and again since quitting as senior members of the royal family earlier this year, the judgment of the Sussexes has been called into question. From their comments about the Commonwealth and racism, to their voting invective during the US presidential election to their recent decision to visit a Los Angeles war cemetery with a professional photographer in tow.
The question that remains to be answered is how much of all this can we put down to a wilful disregard for royal feelings and how much is just down to poor, naive judgment and miscalculations given they are now wholly steering their own PR ship?
No matter the answer, the ensuing ramifications are the same: A peeved palace, a couple of (allegedly) p**sed off Princes and a whole lot of questionable publicity.
If there is one lesson that the royal family’s other most famous exiles, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor could teach the Sussexes is that post-royal life, one of the greatest dangers is who one associates with.
The Windsors’ penchant for German jaunts and sponging off the largesse of society figures to fund their lifestyle cast a very long shadow over their reputations.
There is a certain tragedy that The Crown will finish before it catches up with the tumultuous, historic events leading up to 2020: Imagine what the show’s creative powerhouses could do with such a year of family drama, anger, hurt feelings, and private jet travel!
The mind and the production budget boggles.
Here’s a final number: Three.
That is, the tally of crowned heads current and future, who must be eternally relieved that in 2022, the fifth and final season of The Crown will arrive and this particular PR nightmare will finally be over.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.