Never Forget the Time a Reality TV Show Tried to Convince 12 American Women They Were Dating Prince Harry

Meghan Markle will soon — i.e. TOMORROW morning!! — be living out your favorite rom-com plotline, going from American girl to British royalty. (Well, OK, the British part will come a little later after she passes a U.K. citizenship test, but still!) Her love story with Prince Harry has played out like a modern day fairytale, but let’s not forget that, a few short years ago, the idea of an American actress winning Prince Harry’s heart was literally a reality TV punchline.

In 2014, the same year Meghan Markle was launching her now-shuttered lifestyle blog The Tig and working on season three of Suits, Fox debuted I Wanna Marry Harry, a Joe Millionaire-style reality show that asked the question: Are American women dumb enough to believe they’re on a season of The Bachelor starring Prince Harry? (Yes, the show did outright tell them their leading man was Harry, although obviously he wasn’t — more on that later.)

I Wanna Marry Harry was horrible in all the right ways, and didn’t even try to pretend otherwise. Here’s the trailer, if you need a refresher, or if you completely missed the series when it was on the air — it was canceled after just four episodes, after all:

And now that the real Prince is set to walk down the aisle, we tracked down Matt Hicks, the Brit “playing” Harry on the show, as well as three of the show’s most memorable contestants — early favorite/notable skeptic Rose Copeland, villain Meghan Ramsey Jones, and, of course, winner Kimberly Birch — to talk about what it was like to be part of a campy royal dating hoax on national television, and the vindication of seeing the con (kind of) come true.

So, wait, did any of the contestants really believe Hicks was Prince Harry?

While none of the women Cosmopolitan.com spoke with said they were ever fully convinced, some did admit to having moments of doubt.

The contestants were at first instructed to call Hicks “Sir,” for example. “I wasn’t going to do that,” Jones, who now runs a lifestyle blog, said. “I called him Babe the whole time. Even once [the producers told us] he was ‘Prince Harry,’ I was like, ‘I’m not going to be this idiot American on television calling this fake Prince Harry.'”

“[But] then there were times when I was like, ‘Am I crazy? Am I the only one who’s not seeing this?’ You start second-guessing yourself,” Jones continues. “You’re sleep-deprived, you have no cell phone, no TV, no internet. You don’t even have magazines. You have nothing to focus on besides what’s going on in the castle. So there were definitely times when I wondered.”

Birch, meanwhile, says she was never convinced she was dating Prince Harry, but says she didn’t realize who the show’s joke was intended to be on (the contestants themselves) either. “For the majority of the show, I was pretty convinced that Hicks was not who [they said] he was, which made it even more confusing — I just didn’t get what the producers were trying to accomplish with it being a show about American girls dating a fake Prince Harry,” she says.

I just didn’t get what the producers were trying to accomplish with it being a show about American girls dating a fake Prince Harry.

As for Copeland, she says she was never remotely convinced that Hicks was a royal — and recalls trying to talk sense into some of the contestants who were caught up in the lie, to no avail. In fact, when she was sent home in the penultimate episode, it seemed to be a direct result of her rather open skepticism about Hicks’ true identity.

“I think I didn’t play well for the producers and editors because I wasn’t willing to call him Harry,” she says. “I wasn’t willing to go down that road, [and] I think I got knocked off the show because of that. I wasn’t following the script.”

But wait, what about the contestants who were true believers then?

For what it’s worth, Hicks doesn’t believe any of the girls fell for the hoax fully. But Birch says that some girls “100 percent” believed the lie; Jones and Copeland both pointed to one of their fellow contestants in particular, and you can probably guess who that was if you watched the show — which, incidentally, you can in full on YouTube.

“She drank the Kool-Aid, put the sneakers on, got in bed,” Jones says of the duped contestant. “She was signing up for the cult.”

“[She] was very convinced that it was Prince Harry. After getting to know her, she struck me as very naive because she had really never had a boyfriend. She’d really never dated and so she was literally falling for the fairytale,” Copeland adds. “She was straight up talking, ‘Oh I’m gonna move to the U.K.’ and all this stuff. And I told her, ‘Honey, this is a four-week reality show and you’re getting caught up in it. This is delusional thinking.’

meghan and harry

How far did the I Wanna Marry Harry producers go to sell the lie?

Have you seen Lifetime’s UnREAL? Because I Wanna Marry Harry was basically that (minus all the on-set deaths). The show’s producers went to great lengths to trick the women on the show into thinking they were dating Prince Harry — going as far as bringing in a fake therapist to counsel skeptics.

“The producers would do things when the cameras weren’t rolling,” Jones explains. “It would just be us alone in a room with the producers and they’d be like, ‘Sorry, there’s been a security breach so we had to remove [Hicks] to keep him safe.’ I just thought that was a little bit too much of them trying to mind eff us.

When the more subtle attempts to trick the women in the house weren’t working as well as expected, the production team actually changed the game plan in the middle of production, according to Jones, who says she became friendly with producers after filming wrapped. On the show, the girls were actually told outright in the fifth episode that Hicks is Prince Harry — which was not the American production team’s plan.

Jones says the British production team working onsite panicked and changed course. “The Brits started getting nervous, like, ‘These girls aren’t buying it. We need to come in and tell them it’s him,’” she says. “It surprised me because I think it would have made better television to see which girls are smart and which girls are ding dongs. I think that would have been funnier.”

I never wanted to lie outright and say that I was the prince. I thought that was a bit ridiculous.

Hicks confirms that the original plan wasn’t to directly tell the girls he was Prince Harry. He maintains that he never personally said he was royalty, even after the plan changed. “I never wanted to lie outright and say that I was the prince. I thought that was a bit ridiculous,” he says.

Did the show misrepresent the contestants also?

Let’s just say that producers definitely encouraged the cast to lean into their ‘roles’ on the show. “They definitely stereotyped us from the beginning,” Birch says. “They knew who was going to be the wild one, who was going to be the heavy drinker, who was going to be the narcissistic one.” Birch describes herself as a party girl in real life, but says she played the part of a wholesome, almost naive girl on the show.

“I feel like I got shoved into the sexy villain role,” Jones says. “The way they edited it showed me and [contestant] Maggie Toraason having beef, and me being mean to her — Maggie is the one girl on the show who I talk to regularly. She and I were speaking this morning. So that was annoying.”

Copeland says entire soundbites of hers were pieced together in post-production to fit the show’s desired narrative, a process that’s known as Frankenbiting. “A lot of things that you see me saying, [the producers] pieced my words together,” she says. “I found that they would show the back of my head while I’m talking — I know they edited that. And when I was kicked off the show, they have this whole scene where I confront him and I say, ‘I know you’re not Prince Harry.’ But that actually never happened.”

So, do the contestants have any regrets?

Surprisingly, no they don’t. In fact, all three women told Cosmopolitan.com they wouldn’t go back and change their decision to appear on the show.

That could be because none of the girls went on the show really expecting to find love, let alone a royal. Copeland, who teaches the deaf and hard of hearing for a living, says she auditioned as a favor for a friend in the casting department. Jones says a friend submitted the application for her, and Birch thought the show could be good exposure for her acting career.

They didn’t love being lied to, that’s for sure, but most of them are surprisingly zen about the televised deception, at least four years removed from the show. In fact, most of them have remained friends since filming wrapped and several of the contestants went on a Vegas trip together a year later.

“The only time we were recognized was maybe a year after the show aired, five of the girls, we all went to Vegas together and we were recognized there by some British people, because they said the Brits loved the show,” Copeland says.

Did Matt Hicks feel bad about pretending to be Prince Harry?

The short answer is nope, not really! At the end of filming, Hicks says he had a “25 minute or half-hour chat” with a few of the contestants (including the woman who fell for HRH hard), but says he he didn’t feel bad about lying to them for a month beforehand. As he sees it, it was part of what they all signed up for doing a reality television show.

“There were people who were upset at the time. I was upset at the time,” he says. “It was quite an emotional rollercoaster really, but I think it was alright.” From Hicks’ perspective, girls were upset, but the reason was unclear. “I don’t know if they were upset because they’d been deceived or if it was upset things hadn’t worked out between us,” he says.

“When he met us and saw we were real people and I think he started, not regretting his decision, but feeling bad about being deceptive,” Jones says of her impression of Hicks while filming. “Whenever I had alone time with him, he would say, like, ‘I don’t wanna talk about me. Let’s talk about you.’I think that was part of him not wanting to tell the lie. He was a very nice young man.”

Birch thinks Hicks might have actually been in a tougher position than the contestants — because lying to that many people for that long is hard when you’re not an actor (which, fair). “But knowing that everyone at the end realized what the premise was and the purpose of the show, no one has any animosity toward him or the producers,” she says.

Copeland sums it up succinctly: “His tone wasn’t, ‘Oh I’m sorry,’” she says. “But there’s no ill will. He was just playing along. It wasn’t his fault.”

P.S. Hicks is still impersonating Prince Harry, so look out for that.

Hicks is so not sorry, in fact, that he’s still impersonating Prince Harry from time to time. He says he got “loads” of offers to appear as Harry after I Wanna Marry Harry aired, but he turned them all down in favor of a normal life — until a few months ago.

Earlier this year, an Israeli production company emailed him with an idea for a Schweppes commercial. He signed on. In the commercial, Hicks plays Harry in scenes ranging from his wild, partying days to his new “grown up” persona as Meghan Markle’s partner. Please, for your own sake, watch it below:

“It sounded like a good opportunity. Nice and simple, “he explained. “Not too much acting and a free trip to Israel — it was really cool experience.”

Among the projects he’s turned down in the last four years since IWMH, by the way? Lifetime’s Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance. (Take a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.)

“There have been lots of offers,” he says. “Most of them I’m saying no to, but I’m sure there’ll be another couple around obviously with the royal wedding coming up. I might take on a few more. Just depends what it is.”

Oh, and ow do the cast feel about the real Harry marrying an American?

In a word: Vindicated. For the women of I Wanna Marry Harry, Meghan Markle joining the royal family is proof that even if they had believed they were dating Prince Harry, it wouldn’t have been as dumb as all the critics said, thankyouverymuch.

“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,’” Birch says with a laugh. “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.” But then, of course, he did!

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