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Word that Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have struck a deal with Netflix came with a lot of fanfare for the couple, who have stepped back from their senior roles in the Royal Family and are living in California.
“It’s a fantastic deal for Netflix and a phenomenal deal for the ex-royal couple,” British PR expert Mark Borkowski said in an interview. “If they get it right, if they surround themselves with the very best people … it could be the motherlode for them.”
But there are a lot of “ifs” and uncertainty in how they might hit that motherlode. Few details accompanied the announcement of their deal with the popular streaming company, which has seen hits such as The Crown.
“Producing content is very difficult,” said Borkowski, noting the years it can take to create a successful show, and how it requires surrounding yourself with the best people who can do all elements of production, from writing to the most technical of details.
Harry and Meghan’s multi-year deal will focus on nature series, documentaries and children’s programming. They say they want to focus on issues that elevate diverse voices and are life-affirming.
There’s no sense this content will come quickly.
“Disney will tell you, you’re not making that overnight. There’s a long journey and you need people with the necessary scar tissue to help you,” said Borkowski.
The Netflix deal is the first major signal of how Harry and Meghan intend to build their financial independence.
“This Netflix deal could be the perfect vehicle for them, if it works out as they intend,” said royal biographer Penny Junor, author of Prince Harry: Brother, Soldier, Son.
“Harry and Meghan have always said they want to make the world a better place. That was one of the things that brought them together in the first place, and as working members of the Royal Family, they were ideally positioned to do that,” she said.
“Then they gave it all up and the big question mark for me was always how, given their extravagant lifestyle, they could be financially independent on the proceeds of charitable work.”
Junor wonders how the kind of programming they intend to produce “will get the sort of viewing figures that Netflix will presumably want for this sort of money.”
“I find it hard to see how this could be a permanent income stream for Harry and Meghan.”
They aren’t the first royals to look to the entertainment industry — in at least one high-profile instance, it didn’t go well.
But circumstances were different for Harry’s uncle, Prince Edward, when he founded Ardent Productions in 1993.
“Prince Edward faced the challenge of balancing his role as a senior member of the Royal Family with running a television production company, whereas Harry and Meghan have already stepped back,” said Toronto-based royal historian Carolyn Harris.
Edward’s work as a production director for Ardent brought him into conflict with the Royal Family when he focused on royal subjects and “was seen to interfere with the privacy of members of the Royal Family,” Harris said.
She noted reported tension between Edward and his older brother, Prince Charles, when an Ardent crew followed Charles’s son William at university, going against an agreement with the press to give William his privacy.
WATCH: Prince Harry and Meghan sign a deal with Netflix:
“If Harry and Meghan were to produce content concerning the Royal Family, that might lead to conflict,” said Harris. “But if they produce programs focused on their philanthropic interests, similar to the recent Disney Elephant documentary narrated by Meghan, there is unlikely to be conflict with the Royal Family.”
Borkowski predicts it could be 18 months to two years before the first significant production under Harry and Meghan’s deal sees the light of day.
“They seem to be in a happy place [in] America, getting on with their lives,” he said. “They’ve got space and freedom to make the right decisions. There’s a long road ahead of them.”
Paying back for Frogmore
It has always been a source of tension — how much taxpayers should pay for the royals.
Recently, Harry and Meghan were at the centre of the debate, over security costs when they were Canada in late 2019 and early 2020, and the cost of refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, the U.K. home they moved into just before their son, Archie, was born in May 2019.
The cost of that refurbishment to the British taxpayer — £2.4 million from the Sovereign Grant — caused considerable consternation in the U.K., but Harry and Meghan have now paid it back.
The payment will “help to repair the damage their … leaving has done to their relationship with the British people/taxpayer,” said Junor.
“Most people don’t see £2.4 million in all their working lives, and I think they felt very aggrieved that the taxpayer was asked to pay this for a couple who then abandoned what people saw as their duty.”
Junor said the £2.4 million price tag was brought up repeatedly in the tabloids, and “was damaging to the institution of monarchy — as all negative stories are.”
“So I am sure the family will be relieved that this particular problem has now gone away.”
Harry and Meghan are “very relieved and very pleased” to have paid off the debt so quickly, a source close to the couple told Vanity Fair’s royal correspondent, Katie Nicholl. The Netflix deal left them in a position to do so, the source said.
Harry and Meghan will continue to use Frogmore Cottage, which is close to Windsor Castle, as a base when they are in the U.K. But that has created consternation for some, too.
“Harry and Meghan have ended their active involvement in royal duties and now live in the U.S., yet still expect the British taxpayer to provide them with luxury accommodation, always available for whenever they choose to visit,” said Graham Smith of Republic, a U.K. group that campaigns for an elected head of state to replace the monarchy.
Support for women who are victims of domestic violence has long been a priority for Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, but she made a direct appeal the other day.
“After six months of lockdown, it is clear that COVID-19 is not the only pernicious disease that has been attacking our society,” she wrote in the Guardian newspaper.
“While many aspects of our lives are now slowly returning to some kind of normality, we must also remember there are those for whom the lockdown of fear and abuse remains. It is therefore vital that we continue to do everything we can to help them in whatever way possible for as long as is necessary.”
It wasn’t the first time she took such an approach to raise awareness of the issue.
“Camilla has made efforts to increase coverage of this issue in the media,” said Harris, noting Camilla also spoke about her charitable initiatives in a radio interview with the BBC earlier this year.
Camilla’s interest in the issue is longstanding: she became president of Women of the World in 2015, Harris said, spearheading initiatives to help sexual assault survivors. Two years ago, she visited VIFFIL-SOS Femmes charity in Lyon, France, which provides housing for victims of domestic violence.
Four years earlier, while in Canada, Camilla spent time in Dartmouth, N.S., visiting with Alice Housing, which assists women as they leave domestic violence.
Camilla’s interest in the issue follows in “the footsteps of centuries of royal women who supported causes that helped vulnerable women and children,” Harris said.
“During the medieval period, royal women might distribute alms, receive requests for assistance from women in need or extend patronage to convents.”
Queen Victoria’s daughters also supported charities that promoted women’s health and economic self-sufficiency, including Princess Louise, who supported education for working-class women during her time in both the United Kingdom and Canada, where she lived from 1878 to 1883 while her husband, John Campbell, Lord Lorne, was governor general.
Royals in Canada
When members of the Royal Family come to Canada, they may arrive with the fanfare of an official visit, sometimes to mark a significant anniversary or special event. Canada Day can be a significant draw.
Other visits are billed as “working” or “personal” or “private,” and can focus more directly on charitable interests or patronages held by the royals, often taking place with less media attention.
Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, have made numerous personal and private visits, including an eight-day trip in 2012, which saw them take in more than 50 events in Ontario and Nunavut from Sept. 11 to 18.
Several of the visits by Edward, including the 2012 trip, have included events to present Duke of Edinburgh awards, the youth award program launched by his father in 1956 for which Edward has assumed much of the responsibility.
Cristina Olteanu of Richmond Hill, Ont., received her gold Duke of Edinburgh award from Edward in Toronto on Sept. 18, 2012.
Meeting and speaking with him after the ceremony “really motivated me to continue giving back to the community,” she said at the time.
“I really felt the sadness. I’d absorb the jobs I’d gone to. Sadly with the air ambulance, you get a lot of deaths and I didn’t realize the impact…. We’ve got to somehow change that culture [to] where we feel it’s OK to say, ‘Listen, this was horrendous, I really didn’t enjoy seeing that, it was really brutal.’ How do we talk about it?”
— Prince William talks about his time as an air ambulance helicopter pilot and the need to offer mental health support for first responders during a visit to Belfast this week.
It’s a shorter summer break in the Scottish Highlands for the Queen this year. She and Prince Philip are scheduled to return from Balmoral Castle next week and spend time on her Sandringham estate in Norfolk, north of London, ahead of her return to Windsor in October, when she also hopes to resume some appointments at Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth and Philip were isolating at Windsor Castle until they went to Balmoral last month. Usually, the Queen is at Balmoral throughout September. [ITV]
That stay for Elizabeth and Philip on the Sandringham estate will take them back to their early years together, writes Richard Kay in the Daily Mail.
Camilla had a chance to see dogs trained for the detection of disease get put through their paces to learn to sniff out COVID-19. [ITV]
A statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, will be installed in a garden at Kensington Palace on July 1, 2021. The statue, commissioned by sons William and Harry, will be installed on what would have been her 60th birthday. [BBC]
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