When the Coronation Commission, which was chaired by Prince Philip, was formed in 1952 to plan the ascension of Queen Elizabeth, someone floated a novel idea: Why not broadcast the grand, bloated spectacle on TV?
For 60 times previously, the august – and lengthy – ceremony had been carried out far away from the prying eyes of the proletariat with only grandees and statesmen (stateswomen? Huh!) stuffed into Westminster Abbey to bear witness.
Now, thanks to the latest in newfangled whizzbangery, all the pomp and circumstance could be beamed into living rooms the length and breadth of the nation.
While initially the Commission resisted the notion, they soon gave way to public feeling (and the urging of Winston Churchill) and ta da! And thus, the age of the sovereign as a mass entertainment spectacle was born.
It was a savvy move, shifting the young, green Queen from totemic figurehead to flesh and blood woman. By making her real and by inviting the masses to be a part of this historic and precious moment, what Philip was actually doing was ensuring they were personally invested in her reign.
But you know what they say: The more that changes, the more that stays the same.
Now, 68 years later, their grandson and granddaughter-in-law William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are doing exactly the same thing.
This week the couple launched their own YouTube channel.
Within a day of launching, they had nearly 320,000 subscribers and their charming 25-second debut video, which featured clips of the couple joking around and chatting to one another, had garnered just under two million views.
The sticking point here is this: They are not the only duke and duchess to have got into the content game of late.
Last year, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, signed not one but two mega deals with streaming giants Netflix and Spotify to create TV series, documentaries and podcasts.
So, just to regroup here. We have two royal couples who are both getting ready to spend an increasing amount of their time cranking out videos to charm the masses and to sell themselves as serious philanthropic forces for the modern age.
Or, to put it another way: Both couples are now getting ready to try and run up wins on the board on the same very fertile, very valuable turf. The battle is now on to see who will go viral first, rack up millions of views first and win over the critics first.
There is a certain apples and oranges thing going on here. While Harry and Meghan are working on documentaries, docu-series, feature films, scripted shows and children’s television for Netflix, thus far the videos that William and Kate have helped produce have included such soporific outings as watching him give a 14-minute speech to something called the charity commission.
As it currently stands, the Cambridge content that lives on the Royal Family’s official YouTube page is just a monotonous clutch of their previous engagements, speeches and tours. However, that could be set to change. The Telegraph reports they are also set to start posting “longer-form videos of their engagements, projects and work with the Royal Foundation.”
The events of the last year, aka lengthy lockdowns and the pandemic, necessitated that William and Kate take their do-good game remote, meaning we have seen and heard them via video chats far more than ever before. They invited people, literally, into their home and lives, dramatically accelerating the seismic shift that was already underway when it came to the royal status quo. Those previously invisible boundaries between William and Kate’s public and private selves dissolved just much touch more.
Similarly, the last year has seen both the Cambridges step up and start to far more vocally and assertively push their chosen causes, namely wildlife conservation and climate change and early childhood intervention. We have seen the duke give a TED talk and front two nature documentaries and the duchess do her first social media Q+A.
Given all of this, I think we can expect their YouTube offerings to be far more compelling human storytelling, and sharing voices other than their own.
All of which sounds ominously close to what the Sussexes are working on.
This is not the first time the Cambridges and the Sussexes have fought something of a social media duel. Cast your mind back to 2019 when Harry and Meghan split off their office and royal presence from Kensington Palace and set up their own staff and Instagram account.
The posts they each shared, the number of likes and comments they each garnered and the curious overlap in terms of when the accounts posted soon became nearly daily fodder for debate and triggered endless reams of comparison.
Like it or not, they were ceaselessly held up against one another.
The same is likely to happen here too.
Every time either ducal duo launches some new video it will be poured over and tracked, forced to exist in perpetual, exhausting competition with whatever the other couple have been producing.
Both couples are now getting set to fight for visibility, viewers, clicks, attention and critical praise in a realm that only one of the quartet (Meghan of course) has any experience in.
What might it take to come out on top, temporarily at least? I’m so glad you asked.
To me, the secret lies in one thing. Access. We want to see into both couples’ lives and living rooms, to be given delicious entree into their worlds and to watch them chat, laugh, and lark about.
It would seem that William and Kate know this. A week ago they put out an overly stylised, professionally produced home movie showing them and their children indulging in some suitably outdoorsy pursuits. Then there was the launch video they debuted in the early hours of Thursday on their newly minted YouTube channel which featured behind-the-scenes clips of the couple bantering with one another, by far and away one of the most intimate and personal glimpses we have ever been afforded into their marriage.
Winning might just necessitate giving punters the voyeuristic thrill and frisson we all crave.
The biggest winner here will be us, the prying public.
In 2021, to the victor go the views.
• 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.
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