When it comes to the house of Windsor, they have a long and particularly poor history in terms of monogamy, clear driving records and all things videotape-related.
Because if there is one thing we have learned over the course of the last odd 50 years, it is that time and time again the combination of an HRH or seven and the moving image only leads to PR headache after PR nightmare.
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There was the truly infamous 1969 royal feature length doco imaginatively titled Royal Family that offered such a plebeian vision of the reigning family that it threatened to smite every last drop of vestigial majesty.
Watching Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith making a salad dressing and using tupperware did nothing for the monarchical cause.
Despite the endeavour being 18 months in the making, upon its debut Queen nearly immediately realised her grave mistake in giving the project the green light and to this day, the actual film has been locked away in an archive in Windsor Castle.
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In the 80s, Her Majesty’s youngest child, the often overlooked Prince Edward, had visions of becoming a filmmaker and with stars in his eyes persuaded his Mama and various family members, including Prince Andrew, Sarah, Duchess of York, and Princess Anne to take part in It’s A Royal Knockout.
It was a demanding endeavour which threatened to squander every ounce of remaining dignity the British monarchy was clinging to.
Watching the Queen’s children, dressed as vegetables and chucking fake hams at one another was a spectacular exercise in small screen debasement that today’s reality TV impresarios could only dream of.
Come the 90s and first Prince Charles and then Diana, Princess of Wales turned to sympathetic journalists for cathartic, soul-baring TV confessionals in their all-consuming battle for public sympathy, dragging the agony and misery of their marriage into the public domain to the detriment of the royal brand.
According to first the Mail on Sunday and then the Sun, the couple is allegedly working on a “fly-on-the-wall” series about themselves as part of their $130 million Netflix deal.
Here’s the particularly juicy kicker: They allegedly have footage filmed prior to their exit from the royal fold.
Duh, duh, DUH! The TV series was coming from inside the palace!
The Mail’s Royal Editor Emily Andrews reports that Harry and Meghan are working on a project that “goes beyond the ‘inspirational family programming’ they initially promised.
“Instead, it will centre on the couple’s first year after splitting from the Royal Family, their new life in California and the reasons why they fled Britain.
“According to a well-placed source, the couple have video footage from when they left their Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage, for the final time and their ‘farewell tour’ at Buckingham Palace. Their representatives are thought to have pitched the footage – including personal videos recorded as they stepped back from Royal life – during negotiations with Netflix.”
Following that, a source told The Sun: “Harry and Meghan’s publicity team have gone into overdrive to quash any notion of them filming a tacky reality series.
“Essentially they are splitting hairs. There will be a fly-on-the-wall series but obviously it won’t be warts and all, or about their personal life.
“They are very keen to highlight their worthy charity work and cameras will film them going from one good cause to another. For example, when they drop food off at food banks – a camera will be there to capture it.”
Assuming these reports are true, the very thought that Harry and Meghan might have been recording the goings on and inner workings of the palace prior to their bombshell exit would surely have the pin striped cadre of courtiers sweating unseemly through their Savile Row suits right now.
So what are we to make of all this?
The big caveat here is that in October, a spokesperson for the couple said that “The Duke and Duchess are not taking part in any reality shows.”
That said, there is a world of difference between some sort Keeping Up With The Sussexes flim-flamery and a self-important personal documentary drearily focused on do-goodery.
If the Sussexes are indeed industriously beavering away right now on some sort of series about their own lives, this sort of pulling back the curtain on royal life for commercial reasons seems like something of a desperate ploy to bolster their image as philanthropists.
When Edward convinced his brother, sister and sister-in-law to dress up in mock Tudor costumes and take part in a series of inane games in front of an audience of millions of gobsmacked Britons, at least it was solely in the name of raising funds for charity.
But Selling Sussex, as one British newspaper waggishly termed a possible ducal TV series, just seems like a crass exercise in both self-aggrandisement and ensuring one’s Coutts bank account stays firmly in the black.
The sticking point here is that it is one thing to want to want to use their platform to maximise their reach and to support the causes and charities they work closely with; it’s another thing entirely to relentlessly put themselves at the centre of the narrative and to keep the spotlight perpetually on them, rather than the actual charities themselves.
If what has been reported is in fact true, there is something inherently uncomfortable about using philanthropy or even simple acts of generosity such as visiting a food bank, as what could look suspiciously like a brand and bank account building exercise.
Here’s another question: Assuming this series does eventuate, once we have all gotten over the sheer, delicious novelty of watching a duke and duchess donning a ladle at a soup kitchen or hugging the homeless, whether the poor downtrodden souls asked for it or not, this entire endeavour just sounds … horrendously dull.
Hour upon tedious hour of watching the duke and duchess compose Maya Angelou-inspired Instagram posts or piously sitting around a table discussing brand synergies and self-actualising and their authentic journey does not sound like compelling or even vaguely interesting viewing.
And beyond all of this, just what would The Boss AKA the Queen make of this particular Tinseltown venture?
When Harry and Meghan quit earlier this year, Buckingham Palace said in a statement “the Sussexes have made clear that everything they do will continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty.”
Given that the 94-year-old’s life has been defined by duty and responsibility, not ratings and streaming stats, it seems unlikely that the Sussexes’ alleged decision to allow a camera crew to trail in their perfumed wake to capture their philanthropic 9-5 quite constitutes upholding “the values of Her Majesty.”
In the months before Diana, Princess of Wales’ death in 1997, having seen the success of her anti-landmine campaign, the 36-year-old was working on a novel and powerful plan for her professional future.
As esteemed biographer Tina Brown writes in The Diana Chronicles, the princess’ idea was “to produce documentaries like the well-received film she had made with the BBC of her trip to Angola … a film every two years, each one the centrepiece of a discrete humanitarian campaign … She would raise awareness of the issue, then produce a documentary in partnership with one of the television channels, and ultimately leave a structure in place to maintain her involvement with the cause.”
Say what you will about Diana, but the woman was a media savant, instinctively understanding how to use her platform to help the less fortunate.
However, there is a vast gulf between using TV to help spotlight a cause and using TV “to highlight their worthy charity work.”
Keep in mind too the recent brouhaha over Harry and Meghan’s decision to visit Los Angeles National Cemetery to mark Remembrance Sunday this month with a professional photographer in tow, a controversy that augurs badly if they are indeed working on a “fly-on-the-wall” series.
If the success of The Crown is anything to go by, we the unwashed masses just can’t get enough of gorging on all things royal.
Whether that will hold true if we are ever presented with some sort of Harry and Meghan: Saving the World-type offering is the $130 million question here
Either way, I doubt the Queen will be watching.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.