Royal announcements used to be laden with pomp and ceremony: trumpets, cannons, ridiculous hats. These days, they’re a much more muted affair – the Prince Andrew episode of The Crown will barely cost Netflix anything compared to some of the lavish sets being built for the current series.
That change was highlighted by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s announcement that they intend to step back from their roles as senior royals and become “financially independent”. The news has shocked the nation – all across England, commemorative tea towels are being clutched to chests, and the rest of the Royal Family is said to be “devastated”.
The couple’s choice of medium was particularly telling. Unusually for a regal missive, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex chose to reveal their decision in an Instagram post – replacing the centuries-old traditions of the British establishment with the much newer conventions of social media. The last line read: “For more information, please visit sussexroyal.com (link in bio)”.
In releasing the news via their joint social media account (a practice usually reserved for your grandparents), the couple have embarked on the same journey that thousands of brands and celebrities have taken over the last decade.
The rise of social media has ended the reliance on traditional media channels for getting your message out. Brands were the first to realise it. Instead of taking out full page display advertisements in magazines in the hope that their target audience would see them, they opted for paid social campaigns, or hiring expensive experts in cultivating the light, jovial, nauseating tone that’s now plastered across everything from train toilets to alt-milk cartons.
Celebrities quickly followed suit. Rather than hiring a slimy Max Clifford-esque PR guru to control your image through a strictly controlled diet of newspaper exclusives and staged nightclub exits, the great and good of showbiz and sport could speak directly to their fans, without fear of their message getting twisted, spun or scrutinised.
It’s easy to see why the couple have opted to join them. The British tabloids have never been shy in violating the privacy of the Royal Family – and Harry has particular reason to despise them given the circumstances in which his mother, Princess Diana, was killed. In October, he put out an unprecedented statement about the media’s treatment of his wife. Like Raheem Sterling and Stormzy, Meghan has found herself criticised much more frequently by the tabloids than other people in similar positions, for some reason.
“Unfortunately, my wife has become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences – a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son,” Harry – or his press officer – wrote.
Now that the pair have seized control of their own message, the next logical step is monetisation. As part of their new roles, the Duke and Duchess will be foregoing their entitlement to the Sovereign Grant – their slice of the £82m millionthat the royals receive from the government each year (although they’ll still hang on to the 95 per cent of their income that derives from Prince Charles’ Duchy of Cornwall – a curious interpretation of “financial independence”).
At the moment, they’re prohibited from earning money, but on the Funding page of their website they outline how giving up the Grant will free them to earn a professional income, alongside their charity work. “Their Royal Highnesses feel this new approach will enable them to continue to carry out their duties for Her Majesty The Queen, while having the future financial autonomy to work externally,” they write.
It seems unlikely that Markle is going to go back into acting – even in this remoulded conception of what being a royal means in the 2020s. Likewise, Harry’s traditional employment prospects seem limited – in a world where people have been fired for posting bikini shots on Instagram, surely cavorting in a Nazi uniform is an instant red flag.
But they do have undoubted star appeal – and millions of followers on social media. There’s a wealth of money to be made with the right #content strategy. Sponsored posts could be a rich source of income – high-end brands will be falling over themselves to associate with the quasi-royals.
Affiliate marketing could be another money spinner – this is where influencers or websites get rewarded for driving traffic to an online retailer with a cut of each sale. Even a few percentage points on the purchase of a private jet could be enough to keep food on the table in the Mountbatten-Windsor-Markle household for days.
In an era of crowdsourcing, and democratised funding for creators, the possibilities are endless. In future, the couple’s Instagram posts might strike quite a different tone to the stifled formality of yesterday’s announcement. “Become a Harry & Meghan Gold Member on Patreon for exclusive access to behind the scenes pictures, videos and a personal video message from Archie (link in bio).”
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