Sarah Caden: 'What happened when Prince Andrew met the paedophile?'
After decades of royal redemption, Prince Andrew threatens to wreck it all, writes Sarah Caden
It is 27 years since the annus horribilis of Elizabeth II's speech to commemorate the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne.
It was not, she said, "a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure", focusing specifically on the fire that had massively damaged Windsor Castle, but obviously alluding to so much more.
It had been quite a year, even with the distance provided by passing time.
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That year, Princess Anne's marriage had ended in divorce. Bitterness in the marriage between Charles and Diana had seen them really outdo themselves, with the publication of Diana: Her True Story, which had revealed his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles. The content of phone calls between Diana and her lover James Gilbey had been published. Diana and Charles had, ultimately, separated.
And Andrew, often reported to be the Queen's favourite child, was also in the news.
His marriage to Sarah Ferguson had always played second fiddle to that of Charles and Diana, but when it ended, the headlines only added to the horribilus quality of the annus. In particular, of course, were the photographs of Fergie, impossible to unsee, sunbathing topless in St Tropez, having her toes sucked by her then "financial advisor" John Bryan.
Even if it's only in their own heads, the royals hold a position of respect. Certainly that has diminished in this century and the last, but without it, they are finished. And public semi-naked-toe-sucking seemed to sink them so low that even the Queen had to admit that things were going badly.
- Britain's Prince Andrew denies seeing any sex crimes during time with Epstein
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- ‘I hope Prince Andrew will come clean about Epstein’
The annus horribilis seems a long time ago now, but the royals seem on the brink of one again, having come back so dutifully from it over the past two decades.
A turning point was, of course, when Diana died. Though it was tragic for those who lost her and for her lost life, the royals undeniably redeemed themselves around that time and after. The way the Queen comported herself, the commitment they made to Diana's boys, the gradual clawing back of respect, even the ultimate acceptance of Camilla.
And now, through the younger generation, the glorious unions of William and Kate and Harry and Meghan seemed to signal great hope for the future.
Then again, that's what seemed to be on the cards when Charles and Diana and Andrew and Fergie had their fabulous big days, filling the streets with devoted subjects. And, as we've recalled, look how that ended. Horribly.
The drama around Harry and Meghan, which has become a habit rather than a flash in the pan, has potential to turn into a headache. What it does is draw unwelcome attention to the royals and they don't like that.
They had an attention-seeking spouse in their midst before and while Diana couldn't be blamed for Anne and Andrew's marriages, they're unlikely to want to go there again. All reports that Harry and Meghan have been told to behave in a more royal fashion seem plausible, given what the family went through in the past.
It's not just the young bloods who are cause for concern, however. Andrew - once known as "Airmiles", one time even "Randy" - is back to cause his mother a headache. She may be now in her 90s, and he may now be in his late 50s, but the boy still has the ability to rock the establishment to its core. Not just with a scandal, but with a scandal that cannot be explained away as youthful folly, a romantic mismatch or a socially unacceptable misstep.
Andrew's association with the late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is at least that. We have seen pictures of them together. They seem to have been friends, though obviously no one close to Prince Andrew would refer to them as such now.
They first met, according to Andrew, in 1999. They were close enough that Andrew travelled as a guest on Epstein's private jet that year, it is reported. The following year, Epstein and his friend Ghislaine Maxwell, whom it is alleged facilitated his proclivities, were guests at Windsor Castle at a party to mark Andrew's 40th birthday. It has been reported that they were regularly together socially over time, both in the US and at Sandringham and on the Queen's estate in Norfolk.
In 2005, reports surfaced of allegations of child sexual abuse against Epstein. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution. Andrew was photographed with him again in 2010, and, also in that year, was snapped peering out of a door of Epstein's New York home in 2010, apparently greeting a female arriving to the door.
None of the above is a crime. It is, however, an unfortunate association, particularly once Epstein found himself in legal hot water. And not just because a prince shouldn't consort with a criminal, but because of the nature of the crimes. A paedophile, typically, tends to be a social pariah. Andrew had young daughters at the time. That, at the very least, makes a person rethink.
In 2015, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Epstein's primary accusers, named Andrew as part of a civil case in the US. She said Epstein told her to give the prince "whatever he wanted". She was 17 at the time. The details of the encounter, which included a bath together and, here we go again, some toe-sucking, were struck from the court records ultimately but have resurfaced again.
There was another allegation of touching a girl's breast in Epstein's apartment.
Buckingham Palace have strenuously denied all allegations against Prince Andrew. Last week, Virginia Roberts Giuffre said that he "knows exactly what he's done".
Photographs of Andrew with his arm around Roberts, his hand on the bare skin between the top of her jeans and the hem of her strappy top, have been dismissed as fakes. Andrew's fingers, it has been reported, are much chubbier than those in the photograph.
Andrew has admitted he made a mistake. He should not have had anything to do with Epstein after 2010. He has huge sympathy for Epstein's victims. He has done nothing wrong, more than have a misguided association with a bad person. That doesn't make him a bad person. Though it does reflect badly on his family, who only hold their position because they are considered curiously better than most.
Andrew flew back from holiday late last week to face the music. The optics, it were reported, weren't great. As this scandal made the royals suffer, he was off sunning himself in Spain. And with Fergie no less. Funny how hols with Fergie is somehow the benign and respectable option.
Everyone can be redeemed eventually, or maybe not. Another annus horribilis may only be getting started.