Some people adore the Royal Family. Like the thread that darns the hole in an old sock, for them, the monarchy is the saving grace of our failing state. So reliable is this attachment that when there is a royal event, its audience eclipses that of any other occasion. The Super Bowl numbers pale in comparison: 100 million watched it in 2020; 1.9 billion people watched Prince Harry and Meghan Markle get married.
And where there’s a vast audience, there’s money to be made. The British Royal Family are the fourth biggest brand in the world – after Amazon, Google and Apple. Spying a gold mine back in 2016, Gregor Angus, Nick Bullen and Edward Mason co-founded True Royalty TV, a streaming service exclusively devoted to royal content.
“A lot of the programming I've done over the years has been with the Royals and about the Royals and about royalty around the world,” Bullen, a TV producer and current CEO of the independent production company Spun Gold TV, tells me over Zoom. So, he thought, why not gather it all into one place?
Astonishingly, True Royalty TV is the first of its kind. Royal correspondent Robert Jobson tells me the closest point of comparison was probably Blauw Bloed (Blue Blood), a long-running Dutch programme about the monarchy of the Netherlands. There’s also Majesty – a monthly magazine following the lives of the royal families around the world. However, True Royalty TV, which launched in the summer of 2018, combines the appeal of print gossip with the subscription-based streaming method to deliver a service dedicated entirely to all things royal. Basically: Netflix, but make it monarchy.
Subscribe (for £4.99 a month) and you'll get two types of programme: those the service has acquired, and those they have shaped with production companies. A large bulk of the programming seems to have come directly from the Spun Gold portfolio, which contains a Very British mix of documentaries about poverty, reality TV personalities and Meghan Markle’s wardrobe. On True Royalty TV, viewers are promised titles like The Real Princess Margaret (apparently the service’s most popular monarch), Royal Murder Mysteries and The Windsors at War.
True Royalty TV leaves no royal stone unturned, and the appeal for many will no doubt be coverage of the endless rifts and bloodshed in the British monarchy’s history, but there is some lighter stuff in there too. Viewers can subscribe safe in the knowledge that programmes about Libya’s forgotten king will be there, alongside a documentary called Royal Recipes: Pies and Puddings and a 50-minute feature about Princess Diana’s jewels.
According to Angus, there are five types of subscriber: those who subscribe for Meghan or for Kate, who are transient; Anglophiles; people with a connection to British heritage; and history buffs, who are more likely to stay for the long haul since their interest dates further back than Meghan and Kate’s arrival.
Though Angus and Bullen don’t reveal subscriber numbers, they do assure me they have “doubled” since mid-May. This time last year they were on 10,000, and around 6,000 are apparently joining per month, which puts them at roughly 23,000 subscribers. (This is not as many as the 500,000 they had hoped for when they launched.)
That said, it’s an opportune time to launch a streaming service about the monarchy. Back in January, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced that they would be stepping away from their royal duties to become financially independent. Bullen describes their retreat, and the subsequent fallout, as a “sensational” story. (On the subject of another huge royal story – Prince Andrew's links to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein – True Royalty TV aren't planning any programming.)
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Bullen claims that True Royalty TV has no agenda, but he is critical of Harry and Meghan, a stance that is bound to shape the programmes about them. He doesn't think Meghan is correct in claiming that she wasn't supported by the British press. This, as reported in numerous outlets, is demonstrably untrue, and the marked difference between her treatment and that of Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, was evidence of an insidious racism in the British media.
Now that Meghan and Harry have consciously uncoupled from the royal family, they are even more unpopular with those who don't like seeing the royal boat rocked. On the 2nd of September, it was announced that they had founded a production company and signed a lucrative deal with Netflix.
“There's no doubt that before Meghan Markle married Harry, she was nobody,” says Jobson. “She was an actress, she didn't have all these superstar people around her, and she would never have got a $150 million Netflix deal. Their agenda is to live in a big Hollywood mansion and make themselves oodles of money.”
He says they should pay the taxpayer back the £2.4 million they owe for renovating their cottage in Windsor. Three hours after our conversation, they do.
These sentiments make it clear, if it wasn't already, that even when royals break away from the monarchy people feel an immense sense of ownership over them. Perhaps Harry and Meghan will usher in a new era for the monarchy – one in which they, not newspapers or the TV, have the power to tell their own story; one in which they can reject the confines of their titles.
Although those who make a living feeding off royalty say that the system is always evolving, this time it does feel a little different. The wounded sentiments and the raised voices tell you a great deal about the insecurity that “Megxit” triggered. You can sense an unease. How dare you, they say, as their grip begins to loosen. You belong to us. You're supposed to belong to us.
To a certain extent, True Royalty TV relies on telling stories it can wrap up neatly. Or, as Bullen puts it, package into “fairytale happy endings and big tragedies”. While it might not be reality, it’s certainly TV.