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In 2009, Undercover Princes made its U.K. debut on BBC Three, chronicling the fish-out-of-water antics of three very different royals as they dated and worked blue collar jobs in Brighton, England.
Now, three years later, it’s been given an American edit and narrator for a stateside run on TLC. And one of the many reasons why the original footage of Princes Manvendra (India), Africa Zulu (Zululand, South Africa) and Remigius (Jaffna, Sri Lanka) wasn’t scrapped for new royals hiding out in New Jersey is that casting a show like this isn’t exactly easy.
“The pool wasn’t very deep,” EP Nick Parnes tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Not only were we looking for a prince, we were looking for someone who wanted to find love and also wanted to come to the U.K. to find that person.”
Obviously, there are a limited number of monarchies and royal lines left in the world, so the team behind the series (Kalel/Objective Productions) started by approaching embassies, diplomats and even travel agents about vehicles for communicating with royal families.
“It would take at least 10 phone calls to get to almost the right person,” says Parnes. “You have to go through several levels of royal protocol, and each royal family has its own different way… Sometimes you have to write a letter that has to be sent by royal mail rather than by courier.”
Other times, it proved much easier. Some press secretaries handed out the digits to the royal cell phone and others had direct contacts on websites intended to court publicity. “Each one is so very different,” Parnes adds.
Something quite different about Undercover Princes is that one of its three cast members is openly gay. Crown Prince Manvendra, a member of one of India’s wealthiest royal clans, came out of the closet in 2006.
Parnes admits that it wasn’t originally the series intention to go that route, but when they found Manvendra, they knew they wanted him.
“It happened organically in the casting process,” he says. “However, when we organically found that person we instantly knew that he would be top of the list. We’re pleased that was the case. It was perfect in the end.”
But with all dating-based reality series, love and partnership isn’t often the final outcome. And with so much distance between TLC’s premiere and the original run of Undercover Princes, Parnes admits that a British bride (or groom) wasn’t in the cards for most.
“One of the princesses is in very close contact with someone they met on the show,” he says of spin-off Undercover Princesses (premiering on TLC next month), “so it worked for one of them.”
Producers instead measure the success for the participants in other ways.
“For them, it was a new lease on life,” says Parnes. “They’ve compared [royal life] to living in cages, with all of their airs and graces. They can’t have normal jobs or meet normal people. They’re always held in check. They absolutely loved it.”
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