You know that old sitcom plot about an average American guy finding out that he descended from royalty and then making a claim for his title? For a Frederick man and his family, that fun little fantasy isn’t merely the premise of a TV show.
Well, OK — in this case, it is totally the premise of a TV show, but it’s more than just that, and it has nothing to do with fantasy.
When local auto repair worker David Drew Howe, star of TLC’s new reality show “Suddenly Royal,” dug into his ancestry as a pet project, he discovered that he is a direct descendant of a royal household from the Isle of Man, a British Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland.
Howe said that according to rules governing honorary titles, he might even have a claim as king over the island through his ancestors, the Delaney family, one of the founding families of Frederick.
“It was kind of, like, surreal,” he said of his reaction to the news. “I didn’t really know what to expect. If you know me well, you would know I’m the antithesis of royalty.”
Always thinking of himself as an all-American guy, he said that he used to make fun of British people on the Fourth of July, giving them “my condolences” for losing the Revolutionary War.
But when TLC caught wind of Howe’s newly found royalty, all of that was about to change as they swept him and his wife and daughter to the Isle of Man to learn everything they needed to know about being a royal family.
With the help of some tutors (not to be confused with Tudors) to teach them the royal ways, the Howe family tries to gain the acceptance of the Manx people in the show.
“No king can rule, can have any significant role in the kingdom among his constituents unless you get to know them,” Howe said. “It’s a bit of a spoiler to give away what our end goal becomes, but it does develop while we’re there. ... I start to see the possibilities, as things unfold, of what kind of role I might have there.”
The family’s outreach to the locals was met with mixed results, but to find out how their relationships develop and whether the family will make a permanent home as rulers of the island, you’ll have to tune into the show, the last episode of which airs on Oct. 21.
For now, it’s fair to say that the Howes have been transformed by the experience.
“I hate to say it, but I looked with maybe a little distain on royalty and nobility and stuff because I didn’t understand it,” he said. “I’ve kind of dismissed the whole pomp and circumstance.”
He said his experience taught him that royal households in Europe are “part of their patriotism and national identity. They are living monuments, so I understand why that becomes an important lynchpin of identity for some people.”
One of his most difficult personal adjustments was to attending the formal dinner parties with strict protocols of decorum, as seen on “Downton Abbey.” He at first didn’t understand why anyone would go through such trouble for a meal, but as he spent more time with the people he met through these gatherings, he became less judgmental of them and their customs.
“I think people are the same no matter where they are in the socio-economic ladder or whatever titles they have,” Howe said. “Some people have the means more than others and don’t have the same financial concerns, but once those things are met, other concerns and fears and things that drive people still exist.”
While their future on the Isle of Man is still up in the air, for the moment, they have settled back into their ordinary lives in Frederick and can often be found at popular locations around town. “I’m not above going to Walmart. When we’re in town, we frequent coffee shops, just about any fine eatery on Market Street — you’re likely to find my stomach waddling out the door after a good dinner,” Howe joked. “We’re everywhere. We’re crazy like that.”
Howe’s wife, Pam, said she would like for everyone in Frederick to “not be afraid to say ‘hi’ if they see us. We’re very approachable,” she said. “We’re normal folks.”
“Suddenly Royal” airs on TLC. The last episode of season 1 airs Oct. 21. Watch past episodes online and on iTunes. For more information on the show, visit www.tlc.com/tv-shows/suddenly-royal/about-suddenly-royal.