Growing up, my relationship with the royal family was as such: every seven years or so, a member of the family would have a wedding. My mom would put the wedding on our TV and say “wow isn’t [insert royal bride here] so beautiful?” I would say “yes [insert royal bride here] is so beautiful.” Then we would turn it off and eat lunch.
Until (embarrassingly) recently, my understanding of the royals was that they were fancy influencers who lived in a castle. You can imagine my shock when I found out that Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, the duke and duchess of Cambridge, were just now, in the year 2021, starting their own YouTube channel.
On May 5, the duke and duchess announced the launch of this channel. Unfortunately, they will not be posting any scone mukbangs or “what’s in my horse-drawn carriage?” tours. The channel will “focus exclusively on their royal engagements and initiatives,” which seems just vague enough to be a YouTube success. Separately, the larger royal family has had a YouTube channel since 2007, where they post riveting content like “The Duchess of Cornwall discusses the importance of books and reading on Commonwealth Day 2021.”
William and Kate’s announcement comes in the wake of The Oprah Interview, in which Meghan Markle spoke about, among other topics, the racism she experienced from both the British media and from the royal family themselves. In the same interview, Prince Harry (husband to Meghan) said that, while he has been able to distance himself and his family from the royal institution, his father, Prince Charles, and brother, Prince William, “are trapped,” and he has “huge compassion for that.” He’s not wrong. In fact, many believe the limits placed on members of the family constitute a violation of human rights.
Is this YouTube channel William and Kate’s way of clearing their name? Revealing to us all that they are not, in fact, trapped?
If the role of the royal family is to work in public service and serve as a face for the nation, why did it take William and Kate this long to meaningfully engage with a social media platform that has been around since “Hollaback Girl” topped the charts? On the other hand, the timing feels a bit too convenient, given the recent allegations. The decision to start a channel seems overdue, the decision to start a channel now seems dubious.
The royal family is a family, but they are also a business. You can apply to work for them (anyone looking for a job as an upholsterer?), or follow The Royal Household on LinkedIn. In a piece for The New York Times, London bureau chief Mark Landler writes that this family organization — also known (creepily) as “The Firm” — is now, following the Oprah interview and the allegations therein, “a business in crisis.”
The Royals are historically not very open with their lives, which only makes people want to know about them more. In 1969, a documentary created to humanize the family premiered on the BBC and it’s said that so many people watched it at once that a water shortage broke out in London during the commercial break when everyone went to the bathroom and flushed the toilet at the same time.
The public’s hunger for Royal news created a media culture that terrorized Princess Diana and eventually played a role in her death. Princess Diana didn’t have Instagram or YouTube. She couldn’t control her own narrative the way that people on the internet can today. She was overwhelmingly popular, but still fell victim to a media environment that picked at her constantly, and a family that was not offering enough help. It makes sense that her son, Harry, who at 12 years old had to parade around the city behind his mother’s casket, would want to protect his wife from the institution that treated his mother so horribly. It seems The Firm and the media conglomerates that depend on its existence have not learned from its mistakes.
On May 21, Apple TV+ premiered “The Me You Can’t See,” a documentary series focusing on mental health, hosted by Oprah and Prince Harry, featuring appearances from many other celebs. On May 28, Oprah and Harry are hosting a follow-up town hall conversation to discuss the film and its themes. As usual with this sort of project, it’s unclear how meaningfully helpful and relatable it is for these absurdly wealthy celebrities to discuss mental health. Regardless, it is clear that Harry, now separate from the royal entity, has a lot more to say, and many more avenues by which to speak out.
After Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview, the royal family released a statement. “The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately,” it read in part.
The very first William and Kate YouTube video, which is only 25 seconds long and has racked up over 3 million views, begins with William turning to Kate, pointing to the cameras in front of them. “By the way, be careful what you say now because these guys, they’re filming everything,” he jokes. The second video on their channel features a phone conversation between the duchess and a four-year-old leukemia patient that is so sweet it made me shed a single tear onto the mousepad of my MacBook Air. This video is part of an ongoing series on the channel in which the duchess speaks on the phone with participants from the Hold Still Project – a collaboration with National Portrait Gallery designed to “create a unique collective portrait of the UK during lockdown.” Though it’s been up-and-running for about a month, the channel only houses a small handful of videos, none of which meaningfully delve into the lives of the duke and duchess themselves.
The modernization of William and Kate’s media presence is late, and its goals are murky. Their family business, famously private and cold, has been rocked by the departure and criticism of two of its members. Now they are letting us in, but only as far as the entryway. Nevertheless, millions are watching.