The Duchess of Sussex was in discussions with Netflix about her animated television series in 2018, when she was still a working member of the Royal family, it has emerged.
The series, called Pearl, was announced last week as part of the Duke and Duchess’s multi-year deal with the streaming platform, which was signed in September 2020.
It comes after Prince Harry told Oprah Winfrey in their televised interview earlier this year that such multi-million deals were “never the intention” but suggested their hand was forced when his family cut them off financially after they relocated abroad.
He said that during Covid, a friend had asked “what about streamers?” to which Meghan interjected: “Yeah, we genuinely hadn’t thought about that before.”
But the animated series had been in the pipeline for several years, the Telegraph has confirmed.
The Duchess had been in conversation with Netflix and was working on the project with David Furnish, Sir Elton John’s husband, and a close friend of the couple.
Furnish hinted that the series had been a long time in the making in his statement last week, when he said he was delighted they were “finally able to announce this exciting animated series.”
The series, which is still in development, will focus on the "heroic adventures" of a 12-year-old girl who is inspired by a variety of influential women from history.
"Like many girls her age, our heroine Pearl is on a journey of self-discovery as she tries to overcome life’s daily challenges," the Duchess, 39, said in a statement.
Netflix said the series was created by the Duchess, who along with Furnish will serve as an executive producer, although the main character is not thought to be based on her.
During their Winfrey interview, the Sussexes insisted that the lucrative deals they have signed with both Netflix and Spotify were “never part of the plan.”
The Duke said: “We didn’t have a plan. That was suggested by somebody else by the point of where my family literally cut me off financially, and I had to afford security for us.”
He added: “We hadn’t thought about it… there were all sorts of different options. And, look, from my perspective, all I needed was enough money to be able to pay for security to keep my family safe.”
The couple’s team insisted that any discussions with Netflix dating back to 2018 were exclusively about the Pearl project.
The series was originally just one of many “one-off creative advocacy projects” brought to the Duchess as a working royal.
They included the Together cookbook that raised funds for the victims of the Grenfell fire and Vogue magazine’s September issue, which she edited in 2019.
The Telegraph revealed in April that the Sussexes had also been discussing projects with another billion-dollar backed US streaming service before stepping down as senior members of the Royal family.
The couple had a series of meetings with Quibi, a now-defunct rival to YouTube, from early 2019 until after they announced that they were moving abroad in January last year.
The discussions are understood to have led to tensions with Palace staff fearful they would be accused of “cashing in” on their status, and because the couple were predominantly consulting Meghan’s US-based team of advisers.
A source with knowledge of the situation said: “There were well-developed proposals in place with Quibi from early 2019.”
A royal aide added: “A lot of it was orchestrated by Meghan’s people in America. It was a bit of a secret squirrel.”
Announcing her latest project last week, the Duchess, who is currently on parental leave following the birth of daughter Lilibet in June, said: “David Furnish and I have been eager to bring this special series to light, and I am delighted we are able to announce it today.”
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, Sir Elton John, and David Furnish attend the Launch of the Menstar Coalition To Promote HIV Testing & Treatment of Men
Credit: Getty Images Europe
Furnish and Sir Elton have been friends with the Sussexes for many years.
Meghan is said to have consulted Furnish, a former advertising executive, ahead of her October 2017 interview with Vanity Fair, in which she declared that she and the Duke were in love.
Sir Elton performed at their wedding reception in May 2018 and in December, was also a guest on their holiday special Spotify podcast.
The singer fiercely defended the couple in August 2019 when they were widely criticised for using his private jet to fly to his home in the South of France.