Prince Harry and Prince William stand during the unveiling of a statue of their mother Princess Diana in Kensington Palace, London, on July 1, 2021. Photo / AP
Eat your heart out, William Shakespeare. Yes, he knew a thing or two about rivalries gone bad, feuding families and the corrosive consequences of human hurts left to fester.
But could even he have come up with a tale as outrageous as the one the world is going to watch play out in the closing weeks of this year and starring none other than William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex?
In the past 36 hours, two lots of royal news have broken, thus setting the stage for a scenario that could well end up being as climactic as anything ol’ Will and his trusty quill ever came up with.
As he himself wrote, “from ancient grudge break to new mutiny.”
Come December, both the Cambridges and the Sussexes are going to be in the same country and both are going to be unveiling landmark projects at nearly the same time.
Here’s what’s happened. First, Page Six has reported the head honchos at Netflix want the “at-home” docu series that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been filming to screen after the release of the fifth season of The Crown, due out in November, but before the end of the year.
A source told the paper that “Netflix wants to make sure they get in there and don’t get scooped” by the Duke’s memoir which is also due out around this time.
But here comes the kicker: Guess what else is going to be happening in December? Guess who else will be hogging headlines in the United States right around when audiences are being treated to, potentially, the descent of Harry and Meghan to Kardashian-lite status?
Enter from the wings William and Kate, who are set to touch down sometime early in December on the east coast to launch their biggest US push in eight years.
Specifically, overnight Kensington Palace announced that the second Earthshot Prize, the £50 million ($96m) award set up by Prince William to find solutions for climate change, will be held in Boston in December.
Thus the scene is set for an epic clash of brands, brothers, and approaches to public service, all of which is going to play out on every smartphone and TV screen in the world.
Talk about bingeable content.
If ever there will be a moment that signifies how dramatically divergent the paths that the Wales brothers have chosen are, it will surely have to be one man enjoying the spotlight at a Presidential library while the other is being paid to let cameras inside his kitchen.
William’s awards, an initiative focused on real world efforts to tackle the climate crisis, are set to be held in conjunction with the John F Kennedy Library Foundation.
The iconography of this trip writes itself – we will have the 40-year-old future king striding about the place looking nothing short of world leader-like, possibly paling about with a former president or two, and all the while selling the monarchy as a dynamic and proactive institution.
But this crowning achievement (boom tish) will come right at the moment when the dignity and the seriousness of the Sussexes could be about to be severely – and publicly – tested.
How many people come out the other side of being filmed day in and day out, for months on end, with their poise and egos intact? Will this series help the couple cement their position as humanitarians or will it be a new, ignominious low in their post-royal lives?
The biggest question I wonder here is, would Harry and Meghan have happily given entree to a film crew into their private domain if they truly had a choice?
In 2020, they signed a “megawatt” deal with the streaming giant for a figure that has been put at around US$100 million ($160m) however since then, only two shows have been publicly announced: A documentary about the sporting event for wounded and serving veterans which Harry set up while part of the royal family still and an animated children’s series from Meghan, the latter of which was axed in May.
When news of their “docuseries” broke back in May, a “highly placed Hollywood insider” told Page Six, “Netflix is getting its pound of flesh.” Ominous indeed.
It is hard to overstate how much is riding on this endeavor for the Duke and Duchess.
However, as we now know, right about when the world will be getting its first look at the Sussexes’ Netflix offering, we will also be treated to watching William and Kate take their monarchy 2.0 rebrand to the world stage.
That is a juxtaposition that both couples should be dreading.
And for the Sussexes, having William and Kate descend and looking positively regal, having them launching their global, world-changing campaign while the White House and Hollywood clamors to join them, will only drive home the nebulous and increasingly irrelevant position they occupy in American life.
Not only have Harry and Meghan seemed to struggle to actually turn out the content they have been paid to make but they also seem to be struggling to cement a public identity and a purpose. The problem is that no matter how charismatic they might be, they cannot coast along on their titles forever.
What has become clear is that they are stupendously good at talking about their ambitions and what they hope to do. But then, when we get to the next logical step – the doing – well, the couple has already moved on to their next cause.
Try and identify something they have tangibly achieved beyond a charity donation here and there, for example when they paid to fix the roof on a Texas women’s shelter after it had been destroyed in a storm, and you will be left scratching your head.
In the last two years, the Sussexes have managed to render themselves little more than sound and fury signifying a new press release every now and then.
But the Cambridges should be equally nervous about what lies ahead for them on US soil. When they touch down, it will be right after both Harry’s book and the Netflix TV series have come out, both of which could very well stoke anti-royal sentiment.
One thing the Sussexes have proven particularly adept at since 2020 is having put a target on the royal family’s backs. Their claims of institutional racism and cruelty, of being forced to suffer mental anguish and of “total neglect” have dealt a blow to the monarchy that the institution is yet to bounce back from.
William and Kate might be hugely popular but the substance of Harry and Meghan’s accusations have never been fully addressed and are still lodged in the Zeitgeist. As their disastrous Caribbean tour proved, they can’t smile their way through this situation and hope the world might conveniently forget if they wheel their kids out.
What is interesting is what unites both couples right now in that they are both in the midst of a rebranding effort as they try to set themselves up for the future.
For William and Kate, that has meant amping up the focus and energy given to their long term, legacy-making projects – Earthshot for the Duke and the Royal Foundation Center for Early Childhood for the Duchess, the aim of which is to reduce mental health issues, addiction and homelessness in generations to come.
For Harry and Meghan, their American revamp has seen them pitch themselves as bold leaders willing to speak truth to power, especially if there is a camera in the vicinity.
They have also signed north of $200 million worth of deals with Netflix, Spotify, a vegan latte business, a Wall Street investment firm, a billion-dollar coaching company, and Penguin Random House which in turn has resulted in them producing one children’s book and one single podcast episode.
Come December and William and Kate’s arrival in Massachusetts, what we are going to see is these two versions of royalty go head-to-head: The Cambridges’ earnest remaking of the Crown as an organization focused on optimistic doing and the Sussexes’ constant merchandising of themselves in the pursuit of likes, clicks, downloads and streams.
The world will be watching – along with one particular 96-year-old resident of Windsor.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.