I believed them. When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided to bow out of royal duties and head for a new life abroad, like most concerned and dispassionate observers I thought they would truly go to ground. I imagined a little cabin in the Canadian woods, where Harry could chop wood, plaid shirt tied around his waist, while Meghan perfected her flapjack recipe. At night they’d sit round the fire and do impressions of Nicholas Witchell.
To those of us who believed the people’s party prince and his Hollywood-actress wife were really thinking of eschewing the limelight, this summer has been a series of disappointments. In June it was reported that the Sussexes had bought a $15m house in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, such an out-of-the-way spot that it only has open-top bus tours of celebrity homes a few times a day.
Then at the start of September Netflix announced a multiyear deal with the couple to make documentaries, docuseries, feature films, scripted shows and children’s programming. No figures were given, but sources close to the deal said $100m had been mooted.
The most recent twist is the story, reported earlier this week, that the package their representatives offered Netflix included home video footage recorded during the wrangling over their stepping back from royal duties.
A spokesperson for the couple has since denied this but the prospect still looms of a kind of Kardashians-style, behind-the-scenes diary about what it’s like to say farewell to the Queen. We imagine Harry in the gloom of a bedside lamp, tears streaming down his face as he comes to terms with the fact that he will no longer be HRH. Meghan sorting through the fancy dress box, asking him if he thinks he’ll need the uniform again. Playing Call of Duty while rejecting the call of duty. That sort of thing.
Sources said this kind of programming was the “pound of flesh” Netflix would take in exchange for letting them make a lot of worthy and more boring films about their charitable interests and other good deeds.
While there was no truth to rumours they might play themselves in The Crown, there are plenty of other Netflix series in which the Sussexes could do a fine job. Tiger Prince would be a natural sequel to Tiger King. Baby Archie will soon be old enough for a role in Stranger Things, a series about innocent children caught up in sinister global conspiracies. It’s about time Chef’s Table visited some more down-to-earth restaurants. They could start with the Pizza Express in Woking.
Your level of outrage about the Sussexes heading to Netflix probably depends on how fussed you were about them quitting royal duties in the first place. The most indignant reactions argued that Meghan and Harry were taking the perks of being British royalty without having any of the obligations, such as attending rugby matches, dancing in Jamaica or sitting next to Prince Philip at Christmas.
In reality, their new life won’t be so different from the old one. They’ll still be paid lots of money and live their lives in the full frenzied scrutiny of the tabloid press, it’s just that they’re no longer being paid by the British taxpayer. It’s a better deal for the British public than if they had simply gone to ground in a remote village.
We still have the Queen, Charles, William and Kate for the sombre head-of-state work, and still most of the entertainment provided by Harry and Meghan’s all-too-public travails. In effect they have outsourced themselves to American tech investors, and we ought to applaud them for it.
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