Saturday 7 December 2019

Sinead Ryan: 'Why did Prince Andrew agree to arrogant BBC interview?'

Said to be the queen's favourite son, Prince Andrew has been described as unpleasant and spoiled. But it was arrogance that led to the ill-fated appearance on the BBC

In the spotlight: Prince Andrew at Ascot Racecourse in June this year. Photo: Toby Melville/Reuters
Sinead Ryan

Sinead Ryan

There's a rule of thumb in PR when a public figure messes up: put your hands up, take it on the chin, vow to do better. Move on.

Prince Andrew did none of these things on Saturday night, even though interviewer Emily Maitlis gave him every opportunity.

Known for her tough questioning of politicians on Newsnight, it was Andrew's private secretary Amanda Thirsk who negotiated the deal with the BBC which reportedly took six months to get over the line (for which read, 'To get his mother to okay it'). Andrew's spin doctor Jason Stein resigned ahead of the piece, after his advice not to do it was ignored by the wilful prince.

Given the car crash viewers witnessed, Thirsk herself may not be long for the palace either.

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It was thought Andrew was initially reluctant, and perhaps he should have gone with his instincts. It had the hallmarks of everything that could be misjudged in a royal scandal: sex, power, celebrity and a wayward prince.

He wasn't the first (Diana, Sarah, Harry, Meghan) and he won't be the last to believe he can beat the headlines. And what headlines they were.

Prince Andrew and Virginia
Prince Andrew and Virginia

What happened?

A friendship with Ghislaine Maxwell (daughter of disgraced media magnate Robert) from the 1990s led to Andrew's introduction to her boyfriend, Jeffrey Epstein. He was a paedophile trafficker of underage consorts masked as a successful businessman billionaire. He had a private jet (nicknamed the 'Lolita Express'), a private island, several homes and contacts to the American business world; anything and everything that money could buy, he bought.

Andrew had the one thing he couldn't: royalty.

Royals are born into obsequiousness, given an unearned voice, trained in soft power, a glow precedes them into every room. Avoiding sycophants and hangers-on, those who want to orbit and bask in their halo, can be difficult, but is essential.

Andrew's poor judgement began long before the Newsnight interview.

Epstein had been under suspicion for years. At any time, Andrew could have walked away; he didn't.

Caught by the lure of the kind of 'privacy' Royals yearn for but only mega money can buy Andrew enjoyed the vast Upper East Side mansion, Palm Beach residence and private Virgin Island which Epstein owned.

To the 'playboy prince' it must have seemed an ideal set up. Constantly in the tabloids courtesy of his former wife, Sarah Ferguson's travails, or his penchant for freebie trips earning him the moniker 'Airmiles Andy', getting away from it all for unseen and unphotographed fun was irresistible.

That there were constant streams of nubile teenage girls roaming around in bikinis appeared to have bypassed him. "There were hundreds of people, in and out", said the bewildered prince on TV; he 'assumed' they were 'staff'. He has staff himself, lots of them, he told Maitlis, although in Buckingham Palace it is likely they are older and wear uniforms.

He said staying in Epstein's houses was 'convenient' when travelling. Nothing rang an alarm bell with him at any stage, which led viewers (and an incredulous Maitlis) to conclude he was either stupid or blind.

"Nobody who was around him [Epstein] was in any doubt", quoted Maitlis' associates of Epstein's. Andrew looked clueless.

One of those underage girls, Virginia Roberts, claimed to have been hired for the purposes of 'massage', and to have sex with Andrew.

Her testimony, in court under oath, was specific, direct and compelling.

Andrew has 'no recollection' of ever meeting her. Moreover, he was in a Pizza Express in Woking during one of the alleged instances, which provided one of the lighter moments of the interview, along with his evidence that he couldn't have 'sweated profusely' as Roberts had claimed, because a vague medical condition prevented him from so doing.

Indeed, he added if he did have sex he would have remembered since "for a man, it is a positive act, you take a positive action". Women watching winced.

After Epstein's arrest in 2005 the FBI found no fewer than 34 underage girls employed to 'massage' Epstein up to three times a day (in fact, there were over 80). Charges were preferred the following year and it is inconceivable that Andrew, with all his privilege of lawyers, PRs and advisers cannot have known this.

In 2008 he pleaded guilty and spend 18 months in jail.

Andrew took one good decision in cutting off contact with Epstein but inexplicably reintroduced himself in 2010. He says it was in order to confirm face to face why they couldn't be friends. This, despite not having spoken during his incarceration, he nevertheless felt it was 'honourable' to meet the released paedophile in person (an event which was photographed) and for which he has 'racked his brains' ever since in an effort to explain why.

The rest of us are left racking ours as to why he agreed to the interview.

Andrew: The Second Son

Second sons of monarchs have had a wretched role. The first-born gets the title, the palaces and the destiny. Their place in history is secure.

Subsequent children are royal but without power, unemployable yet need to be kept occupied. Traditionally the armed services followed by minor ribbon cutting was their lot, and so it has been for Andrew.

They are expected to take a suitable wife and keep their heads down; their only duty to support their elder brother.

Unfortunately, Andrew, considered the queen's 'favourite' and spoiled son, is equipped with an arrogance acquaintances have described as unpleasant, demanding and entitled. His marriage was a disaster, and his wife, Sarah Ferguson, became tabloid fodder for years.

He was well regarded as a Naval officer and served in the Falklands war with honour.

Since his return, he has taken on the role of roving business ambassador which saw him making dubious links in the Middle East, and elsewhere, along with good works empowering young entrepreneurs at home.

What Next?

Christmas at Sandringham is a joyful affair for the queen, gathering her wider family around (amounting to over 50) for lunch, dinners and charades. She is said to truly relax there.

This year will be overshadowed by Andrew's exploits. He normally attends church on Christmas morning with his daughters and other senior members of the family. Non-attendance is not an option, so stiff upper lips will be the order of the day.

Privately, his brother Charles is furious and he has already expressed his desire for a 'slimmed down' monarchy when he succeeds to the throne, sidelining his siblings and their children who are expected to get a job. Andrew's actions will do nothing to appease that.

Next year will not see any let-up. Andrew's elder daughter Beatrice is getting married and he will insist on maximum pomp and ceremony for the occasion as befits a 'blood princess'. Interestingly, he is the only sibling of Charles who chose HRH titles for his children and has railed against them working for a living; instead he would prefer for them to carry out charitable works on behalf of the Queen.

He pays for their private security, although it is moot whether they actually need any.

Irish Independent

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