It's been two years since Prince Harry did the once seemingly unthinkable and made it official with Meghan Markle, an American actress when they met.
But nearly four years to the day before the royal wedding to end all royal weddings, critics and viewers everywhere were stunned by a naivete of a group of women—some actresses, some not; all American—appearing on a reality TV show under the assumption that the man whose affection they were all vying for was that of Prince Harry himself.
We're talking, of course, about I Wanna Marry "Harry".
And though the show, which debuted on Fox on May 20, 2014, didn't last long—it turns out audiences weren't too keen on watching women be lied to and the show was yanked from the schedule after just four episodes—it certainly made quite the impression.
While at first glance, the show seemed to resemble a deceptive version of The Bachelor, I Wanna Marry "Harry" actually had more in common with a series that Fox had mounted a decade earlier, 2003's Joe Millionaire. On that show, a group of single women looking for love were told they were competing for the affection of a millionaire bachelor, when, in actuality, he was merely a working-class construction worker. His true identity wouldn't be revealed until there was just one woman left, and if she agreed to stay with him despite the ruse, they'd win a million dollars.
While that show seemed to have an experimental quality attached to it—could a love connection overcome a lack of perceived status?—there was no such argument to be made about its faux-aristocratic successor. There was no prize to be won on I Wanna Marry "Harry" if the love connection survived the truth. And what was the winner supposed to learn, exactly, after producers bent over backwards to trick her into thinking she might be falling for one of the world's most famous princes?
Was love even the point here? Or just watching hapless women make fools of themselves?
Because, to be clear, the man tasked with being the face of the ruse wasn't exactly cast due to his desire to find love.
Matt Hicks was working for an environmental consultancy firm when he landed the gig, having performed a few "small 'Harry' jobs" prior to this one, as he told Variety in 2014. Producers found him through a Prince Harry lookalike website. He was one of over 100 lookalikes producers interviewed for the job.
As he told the trade publication, throughout his interview process and even upon being offered the job, he'd only been told that the show involved royal lookalikes. "On the fourth or fifth interview they were like ‘Great, so you've got the job,' and then they told me the premise of the show and I was like 'Say what?' he told Variety, adding that the idea sounded "absolutely ridiculous."
With a week to go before meeting the contestants, he was put through a crash course in becoming Harry. "They put me through learning everything there was to know about him, from his schooling, his history, his military career, his friends, where he hangs out in London, previous scandals, ex-girlfriends," he told Variety. "I just had to do a lot of research and find out everything about him so when I was in date situations and these girls asked me questions I had something to fall back on." He was also giving intensive training on activities a royal such as Harry would be intimately familiar with, such as horseback riding, fencing, etiquette, ballroom dancing, clay pigeon shooting and fly fishing.
At first, the 12 contestants weren't explicitly told Hicks was Harry. They were just told they were joining a Bachelor-esque show in Europe. And once Hicks arrived by helicopter, they were instructed to call him "Sir" and "Royal Highness" as the staff at the castle in the secluded British countryside where filming took place treated him as though true royal blood ran through his veins. As eventual winner Kimberly Birch later admitted, she and many of the other girls never truly believed Hicks was Harry, even when production switched gears halfway through and had phony butler Kingsley (really an actor named Paul Leonard) flat-out tell them they were in the presence of Prince Harry, a move made by the local British production team as nerves mounted over the fact that very few women involved seemed to be buying into the lie.
"After Kingsley [actor Paul Leonard, as the show's butler-in-residence] sat us down and told us, 'This is him,' production was like, "'t's such a great relief to let it out, that, yeah, this is Prince Harry, but this doesn't mean you have to treat him any differently,'" she told Splinter in 2015. "They did a great job. I'll give them that."
And the lengths they went to essentially gaslight the women into playing along, she alleged, were wild. "They actually had a therapist come on set at one point and talk to a few of us who were saying it wasn't him. We found out later that it wasn't a real, licensed therapist. It was just someone from the production team," Birch said. "'You have to learn how to trust your mind. I understand that you're in a different country, and you don't know what's going on, but you have to trust the people here. It's not good for you to keep questioning.' It was really crazy."
Audiences never got the chance to see the show through to its conclusion, as Fox yanked it after just four weeks due to dismal ratings. (The remainder of the series was made available on Hulu and Fox's website.) But the fact that the fake Harry picked Birch, an actress, has only grown more amusing in light of real Harry's own romantic developments in recent years. While her relationship with Hicks went—surprise, surprise—nowhere, Birch admitted that she felt a sense of vindication when Harry married Markle.
"Someone recently was like, 'Remember when you were criticized for being so naive and dumb to actually believe that Prince Harry would end up marrying some American actress and then, you know, here he is marrying an American actress,'" she told Cosmopolitan.com in 2018. "It's ironic, but it makes me feel a little better about the show — because I know we got some backlash about how dumb and naive and stupid we were to think that would actually be something he would do."
Sometimes life's funny like that.