'I thought dating like Prince Harry would be a blast' - I Wanna Marry Harry star defends show criticised for being cruel
When Prince Harry lookalike Matt Hicks was offered the chance to star in a new dating series to woo 12 wannabe princesses, he jumped at the chance. Keeley Bolger has a (semi) royal appointment with the cheeky ginger.
The door opens and a neatly dressed young man looks up and smiles. Stripy shirt tucked into chinos, blue blood seemingly coursing through his veins and light ginger hair carefully coiffed away from a familiarly royal face, it comes as a shock when his name is offered.
"Matt," he says, with a steady handshake and regal grin.
Such is Matt Hicks' resemblance to the fourth in line to the throne, that the environmental consultant from Exeter is now the princely face of a new ITV2 dating series, I Wanna Marry 'Harry', which is currently being shown in the States and airs on Wednesday nights here.
As the name suggests, this show is built around the hopes of 12 single American women who long to wed their own prince charming and are sent to a plush country pile to vie for Hicks' affections, someone they've been told is "important".
In person, it's easy to see why the women would believe that Hicks is, if not Prince Harry, someone of status. Carefully spoken, neatly turned out and with impeccable manners, he exudes that polished princely persona that you could imagine setting hearts aflutter.
The women are never told that Matt is Harry, but equally, they're never told that he isn't. And to add to the intrigue, Hicks drops tantalising hints to his assumed identity, casually mentioning that he has a brother, trained at Sandhurst, and has just become an uncle.
Warned to respect "Sir's" privacy by not prying into his identity, the women skirt around the issue, afraid of offending him by asking outright if he is indeed the royal, leaving Hicks to go into "flirt-divert" mode and change the direction of the conversation.
Manors, helicopter rides, beautiful women... you don't have to dig too deep to find Hicks' motivation for signing up to the show.
"The attraction? I was a 23-year-old bloke when I signed up to it. I thought it would be an absolute blast," he says with a laugh. "I went onto the show because I thought it would be an awesome time, and if I found romance along the way, all the better."
Though he won't reveal much about the romances, he promises there are some flirtations in the series, which was filmed over six weeks last summer and saw Hicks take a crash course in all things Harry, including polo lessons.
Up until a month ago, Hicks, who was approached by a production company who'd seen his profile on a lookalike website, was living a normal life, going to work and living with mates.
But a month before the programme started in the States, he was sent on his own "whirlwind" royal tour of America visiting "six cities in six days", rubbing shoulders with music royalty at the American Idol after show and doing countless interviews.
So far, the series has received mixed reviews across the pond, with criticism levelled at the series for conforming to stereotypes of Americans and for being "shameless".
But Hicks is taking it in his stride.
"It seemed to split opinion," he reasons. "Some people didn't like it but it's that TV - you're always going to get those [opinions]. Even the ones who were criticising it, saying it was terrible, have said they're completely engrossed and have to watch it."
The Washington Post dubbed the show "cruel" for duping the women, but Hicks thinks otherwise.
"It's deemed trash TV but at the same time, I know it's entertaining. It's all done for a bit of fun," says the Brit, who dyed his naturally fair hair redder to match Harry's hue.
"I went into it knowing exactly what I was doing, and anyone criticising it or questioning the morals or ethics is just taking it a bit too seriously."
That said, he admits that his parents were initially a bit wary of the project.
"My parents don't watch this sort of TV," says Hicks. "My mum is very cautious in that it's her little boy doing it. She said, 'Have fun, don't do anything you don't want to do, but make the most of the opportunity', and I think my Dad just finds it extremely bizarre! But he's just jealous of the travelling I've got to do so far."
This summer, Hicks is taking time off work to travel around South America with his best friend, but he hopes if the series does well - and it's been snapped up in South Africa, Canada and Australia - that it could lead to new ventures.
"I'm open to ideas," says Hicks, who jokes that if he could date any celebrity lookalike, it would be actress Mila Kunis.
"I think this will open doors and opportunities should hopefully come my way. In terms of the Harry lookalike work, that's got a relatively short shelf life and if I go down that route I could be pigeonholed very quickly.
"It'd be very cool if someone sees me on camera or whatever and likes the look [of me]; I'd be very interested in going into the TV world in a hosting or presenting role. We'll see what comes my way."
While he's had a bit of ribbing from his mates about the series, though "not as much" as he expected, Hicks concedes that the show has now made dating difficult for him.
"I've set the bar pretty high, haven't I?" he says, laughing. During the series, he takes dates to "private beaches, on hot air balloon rides and speed boats down the Thames".
"I can't imagine the next girl I take on a date will be best pleased with a drink down the pub," Hicks adds. "No, it'll be fine I think. Normality suits me, which is good."