Joanna Williams

What’s galling about the Sussexes’ Netflix announcement

What’s galling about the Sussexes’ Netflix announcement
Harry and Meghan (Getty images)
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All year, the nation has been gripped by one mystery. Exactly how will Harry and Meghan fund the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed? How on earth will they pay for the Californian mansion (£11 million), the security detail (£5 million a year) and the costs of the Frogmore Cottage refurbishment (£2.4 million)? Well, now we know.

The couple have signed up to a multi-million pound deal with Netflix that will see them producing ‘inspirational’ children’s programmes and documentaries. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the Obamas, they will reportedly receive an exclusivity fee of £3.7m, up to £1.5m each year as a retainer, as well as fees for each show produced. A nature documentary and an animated series on inspirational women are already said to be in the pipeline.

We can only hope, for their sake, that this venture is more successful than a similar project launched by Harry’s Uncle Ed. Ardent Productions, established by the Earl of Wessex in 1993, was voluntarily dissolved 16 years later with assets of just £40 and a reputation as ‘an industry laughing stock’. But the Sussexes are different. What they have in mind couldn’t be further from the soft-focused documentaries on royal relatives, royal castles, royal warships and royal retainers made by Ardent.

Harry and Meghan’s yet-to-be-named production company will focus ‘on creating content that informs but also gives hope’. As we recover from a global pandemic, and stare unprecedented economic hardship in the face, it would surely be churlish to be anything other than grateful to the Duke and Duchess for giving us hope. They continue: ‘As new parents, making inspirational family programming is also important to us.’ Inspiration as well as hope: so kind.

But forget, for a moment, our hopes. The Sussexes hope that Netflix’s ‘unprecedented reach will help us share impactful content that unlocks action.’ I would love to elaborate on what is meant by ‘impactful content that unlocks action’ but alas I don’t have a clue. What is clear is that the once-royal duo clearly think there is an appetite for woke tv. I have to confess that when my sons were small they enjoyed watching programmes about superheroes, talking trains and a white working class man called Bob who did a bit of building. But perhaps I’m out of touch and today’s tots are all longing for cartoons about inspirational women.

What’s galling about the Sussexes’ Netflix announcement is not the platitudes or even the programme proposals – we have come to expect all this from the quote-a-woke twosome. No, as always, it is the gulf between their overblown rhetoric and reality that grates. For all the talk of giving hope and inspiration and building resilience, it turns out that if you want to head-up a television production company then what you really need is to be born – or marry – into vast wealth. A contact book that includes Hollywood’s finest A-listers, world leaders and former presidents seems to help too.

Like his uncle before him, Harry has no experience whatsoever of working in film or media. Meghan’s stint on Suits and voiceover for a Disney documentary on elephants provides her with some familiarity with life front-of-camera. But it’s all a world away from production.

The message this sends to teenagers about to start a BTEC in media studies at Bolton Sixth Form College or students about to run up huge debts in order to gain a degree in film-making at Manchester Metropolitan University is anything but inspirational. They will no doubt be disappointed to discover that no matter how hard they work, how much hope, determination and resilience they have, to achieve their aims they would be better off marrying a Prince.