"It was a grand illusion," I Wanna Marry Harry executive producer David Tibbals tells PEOPLE

By Patrick Gomez
April 02, 2014 11:10 AM
Daniel Smith/FOX

Matt Hicks is a fine, upstanding, attractive, young Brit – but would you believe he was Prince Harry of Wales?

That was just the predicament presented to 12 American girls who were whisked away to a European “castle” to meet a mystery man they would soon be told was the redheaded royal on the new FOX reality show I Wanna Marry "Harry".

“I was terrified to meet them,” Hicks, 24, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “It was quite a lot of pressure because I knew it was all riding on [them believing].”

But Hicks was provided a little assistance in keeping up the charade over the five weeks of filming. He went through extensive training with lessons in horse riding, etiquette, fencing, ballroom dancing and royal history. He was also surrounded by professional servants and a security detail with experience protecting heads of state.

“It was a grand illusion,” says executive producer David Tibbals. “Every girl reacted differently [upon meeting Matt]. But after a little bit of time in that bubble, the ones that were skeptical began to believe.”

For more on how the girls were duped, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.