Let me lay it out for you, once and for all: Royalty and TV do not mix. Like oil and water or cheap gin and first year uni students, for decades the combination of the House of Windsor and the small screen has been a recipe for disaster.
There is no shortage of horribly perfect examples here.
What shall we choose from? The footage that emerged of the Queen Mother, Princess Elizabeth and the man who would become Edward VIII doing the Nazi salute? The Prince Philip-helmed 1969 doco that corrosively stripped away royal magic? The 1981 engagement interview between Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer when he infamously quipped “whatever love means” or, a decade later, their his’n’hers confessions of adultery on camera?
(Do you want to mention 1987’s It’s A Royal Knockout or shall I? It later emerged that Andrew had tried to push Meatloaf into a moat only for the singer to grab the prince and yell, “I don’t give a s**t who you are.”)
Let’s not forget the time that time in 2019 when Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex used a documentary about their tour of Southern Africa to kvetch about their woes, the duke’s dignity-defying late night TV antics with James Corden in 2021 (including the duke asking a stranger if he could use their loo), or that the duo followed that up with H-bomb that was their own Oprah sit down.
Then there is the royal TV outing to trump them all – Prince Andrew’s cataclysmic Newsnight appearance.
However, all of these Nazi-curious, non-sweating, infidelity-challenged mishaps would not seem to have taught the younger generation of royal family a single thing with the news this week that Mike Tindall, the husband of Princess Anne’s daughter Zara, is reportedly set to appear on the British version of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here.
So, what we have here is someone who appears on the Buckingham Palace balcony about to compete four nights-a-week against washed up X-Factor contestants by doing such things as eating kangaroo anus so he can rake in a small fortune? (Last year’s star recruit Mo Farah was reportedly paid more than $500,000 to take part.)
What could possibly go wrong …
Tindall is, it must be noted, not breaking any rules or traducing any sort of starchy royal protocol here. Anne decided to forgo titles for her children for this very reason – that they might be able to enjoy comparatively normal lives, albeit ones where their spouse occasionally has to occasionally fight off scorpions in prime time to pay for a new kitchen (I’m guessing).
But what the I’m A Celebrity news this week really brought into focus this week is the thorny situation that lesser members of the royal family face when it comes to money. They need it and unfortunately for King Charles, often, their most saleable quality is their proximity to the throne.
Now, for the sovereign and those who will day sit on the throne, money worries are generally something they only understand in the abstract, like lay-by or having to fill out a job application thanks to the combined $84 million in annual profits they enjoy from the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall.
But move only a few spots lower down the order of succession and the situation is far less cheerful.
Take, for example, Queen Elizabeth’s children back when she was in charge. Charles, thanks to his duchy, had tens of millions to play with (lucky Camilla!) but his three siblings all lived on the comparatively miserly allowance of $513,000 (tax free) they received annually from mumsy. (The Sovereign Grant only covers official expenses like travel and office staff.)
Which would be fine for you or I but for royal family members used to living in the lap of luxury, that money does not go very far.
Take everyone’s least favourite Pizza Express enthusiast, Andrew. It has been reported that the reason that he decided to zip over to New York to spend several days hanging out with his pal Jeffrey Epstein in 2011 was because he was looking to cadge $200,000 from the financier to help save Fergie from bankruptcy. (The duchess was in fact more than $11 million in the red.)
As a friend of the duke’s later told Vanity Fair: “Peripheral family members are severely underfinanced and have limited options on how commercial they can be to make money. You can’t take a conventional job without leaving the family, and family duties take a massive percentage of your time.
“The root problem is you cannot have the sovereign’s children out hunting for money … You’re in a constant search for money.”
That “constant search” still extends to the next generation still. Aside from Princes William and Harry, bred from birth for a lifetime of ribbon-cuttings and suburban rec centre openings, the rest of them (Peter Phillips, Zara Tindall, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn) have all been raised knowing they face the ‘j’ word – job.
However, jobs at art galleries and marketing firms aren’t enough to keep a Windsor scion in decent rosé and Chelsea townhouses, leaving them with only option: To trade on their royal status.
And that, for Queen Elizabeth and now King Charles, this has, and will continue to be, a regular PR nightmare.
In January 2020 Anne’s eldest child Peter Phillips rightfully came in for a pasting in the British press for appearing in an ad for a Chinese-state owned milk company. (So too has the late Princess of Wales’ niece Lady Kitty Spencer traded on her adjacency to the Palace by flogging a different Chinese milk brand too.)
Or, there are the Tindalls who are not averse to putting their names to quite the range of products, from CBD oil to Land Rovers to a Covid ‘passport’ app that later prompted safety concerns. (The Daily Mail has previously reported that the couple has made nearly $2 million in commercial contracts.)
Andrew’s youngest daughter, Princess Eugenie, her husband Jack Brooskbank and their son August now live part-time in Portugal where Jack is helping develop a luxury 300-home estate. What, might you ask, exactly qualifies a man whose career high points include running Mayfair nightclub Mahiki and working as a brand ambassador for George Clooney’s Casamigos tequila brand, for such a plum gig? Just might it have anything to do with the fact, by dint of marriage, he is part of the royal inner circle? Handy for the developers that now when anyone writes about Eugenie, the CostaTerra Golf and Ocean Club just might end up being mentioned.
The thing about Mike, Zara, Peter, and Eugenie is that they might automatically make the cut for the Royal Box at Ascot, they might annually summer at Balmoral and be on hugging terms with the King, but to maintain a certain lifestyle, they have very few option aside from trading off their royal connections.
It’s hard to see as, in the years to come and school fees mount, how this situation does not become more pronounced and, for Charles, more of a splitting headache.
Poor bloke. Not only will he have to find a way to handle this incident mess but Mike’s star turn is only going to knock Charles’ upcoming appearance on the BBC series The Repair Shop out of the ratings park. Somehow I think we can predict what is going to be popular with the masses: Watching an 18th century bracket clock from Charles’ Dumfries House be fixed or Mike eating a crocodile penis. Long may reality TV reign over us all.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.