By Dr Penny Morgan
Penny is a retired zoologist. She now writes thrillers with an animal welfare theme, living in hope that these will become best-sellers and be turned into films. She loves planting trees - you can never have enough of them. She feels passionately that conservation of biodiversity is the only way to save the planet. In this article, Penny explores the themes of royalty and addiction to celebrity.
Are royals the ultimate celebrities? Do they serve as role models, for better or worse? In the age of social media, is there a risk of becoming addicted to fame or experiencing celebrity fatigue? These are all questions worth considering in today's society, where we are constantly bombarded with images and news of famous people.
Celebrity worship refers to an excessive admiration for a famous person, which can lead to an unhealthy interest in their life. It's associated with several addictive behaviours, including problematic internet and social media use, compulsive buying, and gambling addiction. These behaviours can negatively impact school/work performance, social relationships, and cognitive functioning. Therefore, excessive involvement with a celebrity can interfere with cognitive performance, as it limits the ability to focus on things other than the celebrity. As a result, if we consider royals as celebrities, we should be cautious of excessive adoration. However, it's possible that individuals with stronger cognitive abilities are less likely to exhibit high levels of celebrity worship because they can recognize the marketing tactics used. And yet…
The use of celebrities as a marketing strategy to promote brands, including charities, has become commonplace. An obvious example of this is the 'Sussex Royal' brand, which now includes titles for Harry and Meghan's children - Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet of Sussex. The value of these titles is well understood. In 2020, the Archewell deal with Netflix was reported to be worth millions, estimated to be between $100 to $150 million, and Archewell Audio signed a 3-year deal worth $25 to $35 million with Spotify. So, what can we expect Harry and Meghan to say? In their own words, Archewell Productions ‘will utilize the power of storytelling to embrace our shared humanity and duty to truth through a compassionate lens’.
They have also made high-profile appearances, including the bombshell interview with Oprah in 2021 (which they claim they were not paid for) and most recently, Harry's promotional tour for his memoir 'Spare'.
Have the Sussexes become celebrities rather than royals?
The 6-part Netflix show, 'Harry & Meghan', has received a mixed reception. While some sympathize with their struggles with the Royal Family and the tabloid press, others see it as a money-grab.
The US media has been relatively neutral about the show, but some criticism has been directed at Meghan for highlighting her experiences of royal life in Britain. As one gossip magazine noted, she had 'taken a hardship and turned it into content.' Last year, The New Yorker warned that the royal couple seemed fixated on a backward-looking trauma plot. Newsweek has also criticized these deals, stating that 'It is a great deal for them but a terrible deal for the history of the monarchy because they are choosing to sell it at fire-sale prices.'
According to Bob Thompson, a media professor at Syracuse University, 'Meghan Markle started out in a fairly well-populated crowd of American television shows, made a complex transition to being part of the über-narrative of the royal family, and now she's making the transition to being an integrated media power-presence.'
Meghan and Harry are still in the process of metamorphosing into a fully-fledged US media brand, which has been underway since they moved to the US two years ago. They have to walk a tightrope between commodifying their royal links with the American public, while also seeking to carve a path that will eventually allow them to stand as celebrities in their own right, having eschewed traditional royal life. Undoubtedly, though, they have put their titles to good use.
While they are on their way to becoming a mega-brand, transitions are not always easy and not always pretty. This was evidenced by the South Park episode entitled 'The Worldwide Privacy Tour' which appears to mock them.
But have we had our fill? Is fatigue setting in? It's safe to say that the media is obsessed with Harry and Meghan, whether it's positive or negative coverage. Their famous entourage, which includes Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé, Serena Williams, and the Clooneys, certainly puts them in celebrity circles. The 'Harry & Meghan' documentary undoubtedly gave them this status, as it debuted with 81.55 million hours viewed, placing it in the top 10 list of Netflix shows in 85 countries and No. 1 in the UK. However, according to a recent YouGov survey, 68% of 1,691 British adults have a negative view of both Harry and Meghan. Maybe we have grown a touch bored. Maybe the USP is becoming a bit frayed? In a period of high inflation and serious wealth inequality in the UK and US, it's hard to feel sorry for the couple, who seem to complain constantly while living in a home worth $30 million.
According to Greg Jenner, the writer of Horrible Histories, ‘monarchy and celebrity are very different things, yet they are increasingly considered in the same way.’ He added that the Netflix series The Crown ‘to an extent depicts their life as a soap opera, which in turn makes us believe that we know more about the Royal Family than we actually do, and additionally makes them seem more like celebrities’.
As a final observation, Madame Tussauds wax museum has recently replaced the figure of the Queen in their Royal display with Beyoncé !