No one watching Prince Andrew’s car-crash TV interview could have failed to recoil at the tone of contempt in his voice
No one watching Prince Andrew’s car-crash TV interview could have failed to recoil at the tone of contempt in his voice when the question of why he had stayed in Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion after the sex offender’s release from prison was raised.
It was, he said, a ‘convenient’ place to stay. (He might have added, but didn’t, that the hospitality was free.)
If an icy sense of entitlement could take the form of a man’s voice, this was it.
By then, Emily Maitlis’s gripping Newsnight encounter had already cut deep, gaping wounds into the credibility of the Queen’s second son. But they were, by and large, all self-inflicted.
Not a word of sympathy for the victims of Epstein’s appalling crimes during the interview, not a syllable of understanding about them passed from his lips, and only the briefest of regrets for his friendship with the billionaire paedophile in the first place.
The jaw-dropping insensitivity of it all left millions of viewers, not just in Britain but around the world, asking: why?
Prince Andrew taking a stroll through New York’s Central Park with Epstein following his prison term in 2011
Why on earth had he agreed to do this, and what was he thinking?
Today, after one of the most egregious acts of self-harm by any member of the Royal Family at any time, the question must be: where does the Duke of York go from here?
Andrew hoped that his candour would be transforming, that with 45 minutes of tough questioning from one of the BBC’s star performers, he would demonstrate both his honesty and his relatability.
He also believed it would draw a line under the torrent of negative headlines about his conduct and behaviour.
How naive that seems now.
Driving force: Prince’s private secretary Amanda Thirsk
What emerged from the programme was a prince from another age. From his demonstrable lack of self-awareness, to answers that at times insulted the viewers’ intelligence, Andrew showed the kind of royal he actually is — self-important, patronising and out of touch.
The fact is he has always been like that. When a friend once suggested that to improve his public image amid criticism over his ‘Airmiles Andy’ reputation, he might consider using trains or the Underground, the Duke spluttered: ‘But I am the son of the monarch…’
Unsaid, what he meant was: as a senior member of the Royal Family, he could not possibly take public transport.
But then, this goes to the heart of Andrew’s character. All those years as heir in line to the throne — before Prince Charles had his family — have given Andrew an inflated sense of his own importance.
So what was it that propelled Andrew into Newsnight’s embrace, allowing himself to be exposed to a potentially image-shredding humiliation? After all, there was every good reason not to do it.
Epstein had taken his own life in prison in New York in August, while some would argue the currency of Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claimed that as a teenager she had sex with the Prince three times, has diminished somewhat with every telling of her story.
In the end, it was not the questions put to him by the forensic Ms Maitlis for which the programme will be remembered, but rather the answers and the failure of the Prince to offer even as much as a degree of humility. At times, in fact, the Newsnight presenter let him off the hook.
After pressing him on whether he had sex with Virginia Roberts (as she was then), which he denied, she could have asked if he had slept with any other women under Epstein’s roof. She did not.
Nor did she pick him up on his bizarre explanation about why, when he had travelled to New York to end his friendship with Epstein, he thought it OK to go for a walk with him in Central Park, one of the most public places in the world.
Virginia Roberts photographed with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell in early 2001. For Andrew, far from ending the controversy, he has merely fuelled it
Maitlis might also have explored more forcefully Andrew’s decision to break with Epstein in person. Royals drop friends and acquaintances all the time. Charles does it and Diana used to do it by changing her phone number. All Andrew needed to do was stop taking Epstein’s calls and the message would soon have got through.
Instead, he chose to do it in person, and the temptation undoubtedly was to enjoy one last stay in the tycoon’s opulent home.
She could have pressed him on massages: had he had any, and where? We know that Epstein’s massage rooms were illustrated with crude pictures of naked women and discarded sex toys. Had he noticed anything?
To her credit, Ms Maitlis was suitably taken aback by the crass and convoluted explanation he offered about seeing Epstein in person to end their friendship in 2010 — two years after Epstein’s jailing for prostituting minors — as being one of honour.
And she gaspingly challenged his use of the word ‘unbecoming’ to describe the actions of the child sex offender. It was one of the rare occasions when she drew an apology from the Duke.
(Although he even managed to mangle that by earlier suggesting it was ‘unbecoming’ for a member of the Royal Family to consort with a paedophile, failing to see that it would be wrong for anyone to fraternise with a child sex offender.)
But mainly his manner was far from regretful. At the end, Maitlis gave him every opportunity to say something, anything, which would have allowed him to display a rare glimpse of humanity.
Surely, as the father of daughters himself, he would have seized that opportunity to say something about Epstein’s sickening offences towards women. He chose not to. Maitlis even asked him if he had anything to feel apologetic about in his friendship with Epstein. He did not, or perhaps he could not.
Indeed, he did the opposite, speaking of the ‘opportunities’ that came his way because of the businessman which ‘were actually very useful’.
This was raw, breath-taking, yet toe-curling stuff, and it is hard to see how Andrew can possibly recover. His hope — and it can only be that — is that by casting doubt on some of the evidence which has been laid against him in relation to the sex allegations, he may have discovered a chink of light.
However, even then, he was hardly convincing.
While his memory that he had never been to the bar at Tramp, the West End nightclub, does ring true — Andrew rarely buys his own drinks, a police bodyguard normally does that — his bizarre claim that he could not sweat puzzled many viewers.
In her affidavit, Roberts says he was sweating, but according to Andrew, he suffered from a medical condition contracted during the Falklands War when, as a helicopter pilot, he suffered an overdose of adrenaline.
But dragging his daughter into the narrative as he explained why he could not have been in Tramp with the then 17-year-old Miss Roberts on March 10, 2001 — one of the dates on which she has claimed they had sex — was risky.
Viewers were left wondering why he had such a strong memory of taking Princess Beatrice to a friend’s birthday party at Pizza Express in Woking, Surrey, while admitting to no recollection of being photographed with his arm around the bare midriff of Virginia Roberts.
Somewhere, there will be a record of the excursion to the pizza joint. Like other senior royals, the Prince is accompanied at all times by armed police bodyguards.
Details will have been entered into a pocketbook as ‘Purple Four One’ — Andrew’s Scotland Yard call sign — and travelling to Surrey with Woking in a bracket perhaps alongside. The times will also be noted.
Andrew could easily have said that his protection officers could verify his movements that day.
Those details might also reveal that there was plenty of time left that day after the birthday party for the Duke to go on to London to meet Roberts. Which brings us back to the infamous photograph.
Andrew claimed that it had been taken upstairs at the Belgravia mews home of his friend Ghislaine Maxwell, who is also in the picture. But, in the same breath, he told Newsnight he had never been upstairs at Ghislaine’s home.
If that is the case, how does he know it was upstairs? And what about his claim that the informal outfit he was wearing in the picture — open-neck shirt and casual trousers — were his ‘travelling clothes’?
In London, he insisted, he wore a suit when he went out at night. But some eight months earlier, in July 2000, I wrote a piece about Andrew. He had been on a visit to China White, a then fashionable London nightclub, and he had been photographed leaving it wearing jeans and an open-neck shirt.
Today, after one of the most egregious acts of self-harm by any member of the Royal Family at any time, the question must be: where does the Duke of York go from here? Pictured: Prince Andrew interviewed by Emily Maitlis on Newsnight
Many will see Andrew’s Saturday night self-immolation as an act of great folly, to rank alongside other TV royal extravaganzas, such as Diana’s Panorama confession and Charles’s admission of adultery to Jonathan Dimbleby.
Certainly, the Andrew interview was kept secret, much like Diana’s. We know he sought and obtained the permission of the Queen, but other members of the family, including Prince Charles, who has taken a dim view of his brother’s lack of judgment over Epstein, were merely informed as a courtesy.
Yesterday, amid the fallout, it emerged that aides to the Prince had been at loggerheads over the wisdom of doing the interview.
Formidable private secretary Amanda Thirsk, a former banker, was the driving force behind the project. She sat in on the interview, encouraged him to use his own words, and was convinced it would show the Prince as ‘authentic’.
But she had to overrule PR consultant Jason Stein, a former adviser to Amber Rudd until she left the Cabinet, who had been implacably opposed to the idea.
He had only recently been drafted in and proposed a more long-term strategy to rebuild the Prince’s reputation, including charity work and two set-piece newspaper interviews to mark his 60th birthday next February — one in Britain and one in America.
He urged the Prince to reject the Newsnight overtures because he feared it would backfire.
But Miss Thirsk, who has run the Prince’s private office for seven years, was convinced it was the right strategy. For more than a year, she had been leading the negotiations with Newsnight producer and ex-barrister Samantha McAlister — a former European debating champion whose persuasive skills proved invaluable.
With recriminations flying about the interview, it was not just Andrew’s judgment that was being questioned, but also those who thought it was a good idea.
All the same, Thirsk believed the programme offered the chance to get across two major points: one, to discredit the Roberts allegations, and two, to explain precisely the story behind the Central Park photograph.
‘The idea was that he would come across as authentic and people would see he had nothing to hide,’ a friend of the Duke told me.
It may, in theory, have seemed a good idea, but Andrew cannot think on his feet, nor is he a natural communicator. Brave as this may originally have seemed, it does now seem a strategy that has backfired spectacularly.
Simply picking up the pieces of his official life and carrying with on his royal duties now looks problematic. For Andrew, far from ending the controversy, he has merely fuelled it.