In one bewildering and painful scene in the hit TV drama Succession, Cousin Greg sees his future of ease and wealth turn to dust. His grandfather, Ewan, announces he is giving away his entire fortune to Greenpeace, depriving Greg of his inheritance.
Now Greenpeace is hoping to benefit in real life as well as in the fictional world of the media conglomerate Waystar Royco. Thousands of people have looked into leaving money to the environmental group since the darkly comic storyline about Cousin Greg losing his inheritance and then threatening to sue the organisation was broadcast. More than 22,000 people have accessed online advice about making donations in their wills to Greenpeace. The group’s legacy webpage has also seen a tenfold surge in traffic since the episode was first broadcast earlier this month.
Greenpeace UK’s head of donors and legacies, John Hutchin, says the Emmy award-winning HBO series has brought an important but rarely discussed subject to the fore. “It’s incredible the amount of interest we’ve seen off the back of this storyline,” he says. “Our planet needs protecting now more than ever, and the gifts that people leave to us in their wills really are vital to funding our campaigns.”
Greenpeace UK gets around a sixth of its income from gifts left in wills. This year it expects to receive about £5.5m.
The fifth episode of the current series of Succession, which follows the bitter struggle to succeed ageing media mogul Logan Roy, revels in Cousin Greg’s impotent anguish as Ewan announces he is leaving his entire estate to charity partly to spite his grandson. Greg, a peripheral and permanently insecure family member, then threatens to sue Greenpeace, before his erstwhile confidant, Tom Wambsgans, remarks approvingly: “I like your style. Who are you going after next? Save the Children?”
After the episode was broadcast, Greenpeace digital team changed the group’s Twitter handle to “Gregpeace” and tweeted Nicholas Braun, who plays Greg: “we heard Cousin Greg wants to sue Greenpeace” with a link to advice on donating. Braun replied, in character, “still gonna do it”. Save the Children got involved too, asking Braun if they were next. He responded: “No no, the children are safe.”
The exchange has generated more clicks than any other link shared on Greenpeace’s Twitter account. The original tweet has over 3m impressions. Hutchin adds: “Whether you’re a lifelong environmentalist whose work is not yet finished, or, like Uncle Ewan, you have ulterior motives, leaving a gift in your will is a great way to achieving that.”
In the following episode, broadcast last week, Greenpeace gets another mention. Greg is glimpsed being held aloft by Republican supporters chanting his name, with one calling out: “Fuck Greenpeace.”
In a case of life imitating art, James Cromwell, who plays Ewan, is believed to be a long-term Greenpeace supporter. Cromwell, who starred in LA Confidential and Babe, is a seasoned activist who was jailed after a protest at the site of a gas-fired planned power plant.
Although mainly set in the US, with a strong American cast, Succession was created by British writer Jesse Armstrong, who made his name with the innovative Channel 4 comedy Peep Show. The show’s writing team includes two prominent British writers, Lucy Prebble and Georgia Pritchett. The cast also draws on talent from this side of the Atlantic: the menacing patriarch, Logan Roy, is played by Scottish actor Brian Cox, and Tom is played by English actor Matthew Macfadyen.
Legacy gifts have helped many charities survive as normal fundraising activities have been curtailed in the pandemic. The amount of money donated to charities in the UK has increased over the past 30 years, with gifts rising from £800m in 1990 to £3.4bn in 2020. More than 16% of wills now contain a charitable gift. Analysts expect the baby-boomer generation to pass on large amounts of wealth, with many charities in line to benefit. Research by the charity and bequest analysts Legacy Foresight estimates legacy income will be worth £19.6bn between 2021 and 2025 and climb to £23bn in the second half of the decade.