We were brainwashed into believing we were marrying Prince Harry on TV show
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Two women who starred on the ill-fated reality show I Wanna Marry “Harry” have opened up about their less-than-glamorous experience behind the scenes.
In 2014 the programme aimed to convince 12 American women that they were dating a bachelor who was secretly Prince Harry. In reality, their “royal” suitor was 23-year-old lookalike, Matt Hicks.
When the programme premiered, the Duke of Sussex had been increasing his royal duties, taking on a number of engagements on behalf of The Queen. This is also the year that his Invictus Games were created, a Paralympic-style sporting championship for injured servicemen and women.
Most importantly though, he was single, as he had just ended his relationship with English actress Cressida Bonas.
While producers heavily implied that Matt was the redheaded royal at the beginning of the show, halfway through they were outright lying to the contestants about his identity.
The audience was made aware of the hoax from the start but for the women competing, the reveal came much much later. They didn’t officially find out about Matt’s true identity until the eighth and final episode when he chose a winner.
Meghan Young (née Jones), from Texas was 26 when she joined the cast and 32-year-old Kimberly Birch from New York—who went on to win the competition—was 24.
They told the Daily Star that they thought they were signing up for a show similar to the Bachelor called Dream Date. They never thought that they would be manipulated and controlled by producers and portrayed as “dumb Americans”.
“We had no phones, no iPad and no computer, we couldn’t even have magazines,” Meghan told the Daily Star.
“We couldn’t have watches either because we weren’t allowed to know what time it was, it was like a prison. Actually, I’m sure prisoners have it better than we did.
“For the majority of the day, we had to sit there in silence. So we would all be in the room together and we had these two babysitters and we’re not allowed to speak at all.
“It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, I literally felt like a prisoner.”
Kimberly agrees, saying the producers brainwashed and gaslit each of the contestants.
“You’re in limbo because you don’t know what to expect each day and you lose track of time because you’re cut off…My way of coping was to just go with it,” she explained.
“Mentally it started getting draining the further on it went because you really don’t know what’s happening and the pressure of staying on grew as you would see more and more girls get cut.
“A part of me wanted to get cut just to be done with it all but you also want to stay on, you want to see what happens.”
She said it’s not that “far-fetched” that contestants started to believe that Matt was actually the prince due to the environment they were in.
Kimberly added: “[You’re in] survival mode so you have to go into that to survive your environment. It’s unethical and could be emotionally and psychologically damaging.”
This being said, neither women have animosity towards the show as they have both been able to make something of themselves since. But they have worried about their co-stars.
“Psychologically I think for some people if you’re not in a good headspace it could be damaging,” Kimberly said.
“I always wondered about Kelley [Andrews] specifically because I know that from the very start she was convinced this was Prince Harry. She had told us that she had quit her job, packed her bags and left everything in a car ready for this to be the next step in her life.
“I don’t know what kind of impact that had on her and I know Karina [Kennedy] was really hurt by the whole show and the lying. I think it affected everyone differently.”
The women were never told what time they would be filming each morning and their sleep schedule changed every day, which meant they were exhausted and easy to manipulate.
They would often be running on five or six hours of sleep and were only allowed one cup of coffee a day.
Kimberly explained: “They’re making sure you’re not getting enough sleep and with all of the stress and the pressure you’re not sleeping well to begin with so that does factor into it.
“It breaks you down, it wears you down, you’re kind of just at their mercy at that point. Even though some of the things we did were fun, it was still rigorous.”
Meghan added: “We were in full isolation before the show, I thought they were trying to make us have a bit of a psychological breakdown before we went in so we’d be a little nutty and make better television.
“It was just very very controlling, I haven’t been that controlled in my life, even as a child living under my parent’s roof in kindergarten I felt like I had more freedom than being on that show.”
All of the women had been told that they were signing up for a programme called Dream Date, which would see them going on five-star luxury dream dates in hopes of finding love at the end.
Meghan was under the impression that it would be similar to The Bachelor and says they weren’t told the show was called I Wanna Marry “Harry” until it was about to air.
Producers apparently used a variety of tactics to convince the women that they were dating the prince, initially trying to not outright lie to them.
They arranged for fake secret service and paparazzi to follow him and organised for fans to ask for photos.
They were told to refer to Matt as sir for the first half of the series before the butler finally told the women in episode five that they were indeed dating 'Prince Harry'.
“Their game plan was that they’d allude to [him being Harry], we’d fill in the gaps and we’d all think he was Harry,” Meghan explained.
“But by the second week of filming, we were all like ‘Who is this redhead?’ None of us thought it was Harry.
“So the butler came in one morning over breakfast and was like ‘I have an announcement, the man you’ve been dating is Harry.’ I never thought it was him because it just didn’t make sense, why would the most eligible bachelor in the world sign up for a low rent show?”
While Kimberly had her doubts, she said that the environment they were in made it easy to second guess yourself.
“Once one person starts going with it everyone becomes really convinced of it and you start questioning your own reality and your own logic,” she explained.
“You have one part of your brain telling you it’s impossible and ridiculous but it’s being reiterated constantly by the group so you’re torn with which direction you should go with.”
Kimberly said her suspicions were finally confirmed after she was driven by a tourist shop with masks of the royal family hanging in the window while on her way to a filming location.
She added: “I saw Prince Harry’s mask, that was the moment I knew. I said to myself ‘This is absolutely not him’.
“I had been doubting it before but I still had a part of me that believed it but this is the moment I knew it wasn’t him. I didn’t really have a problem with [him lying]… I do know some of the girls were really taken aback when they found out that it wasn’t him.”
Meghan, who is still in contact with Matt, says he was told he would never have to lie to the women about who he was.
“He got thrown under the bus and screwed as well. He thought he was signing up to make out with some hot American girls for a couple of weeks and he’d dye his hair red,” she revealed.
“But it turned out that he ended up having to lie and they lied about him. I feel bad for him as well.”
Kimberly went on to win the show and split a prize of £250,000 with Matt.
Three months after the series ended, the producers sent the pair to Palm Springs and had them stay in a house together so that they could get to know each other.
“At that point, I was so detached from the whole situation and I didn’t want to pursue a relationship so I thought that was really weird. I felt really uncomfortable with that,” she explained.
“They wanted us to rekindle our romance and I was in a really awkward position because I didn’t want to do that. We were able to just hang out and talk and have fun but I wanted to scream ‘Guys I don’t want to be with this guy.’”
It may come as no surprise that their relationship didn’t work out in the end.
When the show eventually aired the contestants were labelled "America's most gullible women" by the Times Magazine. The programme was panned and people mocked the women on social media.
Despite this, neither Meghan nor Kimberly have any animosity toward the series, despite the way that they were portrayed.
“Because I made something from [the show] I’m completely at peace with it. I got my own radio and television show, I got a decent following on Instagram and now I’m able to do what I love which is my art and sell it to my followers. I might have fallen into a bucket of s*it but I came out of it smelling like roses and I’m okay with that."
While Kimberly has no regrets, she says she had a really hard time adjusting to life after filming ended.
“I felt like people were watching me and a part of your freedom is taken away in a sense,” she said.
“Yes it’s exciting and for me, in my mind, it was good for my career to get some exposure so I had that element to be excited about but it breaks you down and you become so vulnerable so that’s what allows the producers to manipulate us in the way that they did.”
The Daily Star has contacted Fox for comment.
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- Prince Harry
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