Thursday 5 December 2019

Sarah Caden: 'Prince Andrew's loose talk may yet sink the royal ship'

By opening his mouth on British TV, Prince Andrew may have blown it for the merry House of Windsor, writes Sarah Caden

CAR CRASH TV: Emily Maitlis interviewing Andrew last week
CAR CRASH TV: Emily Maitlis interviewing Andrew last week
Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein

Sarah Caden

On last weekend's car-crash Newsnight interview, Emily Maitlis asked Prince Andrew who advised him to visit Jeffrey Epstein in New York in December 2010. By then, Epstein was a convicted sex offender, on parole from an 18-month sentence after serving 13 months in prison.

Prince Andrew explained to the interviewer that he hadn't been in touch with Epstein since before his conviction, since he had learned of the charges against the financier. Still, after Epstein's release, the prince decided he needed to go to see him, just to hammer home the point that they would no longer be in contact.

Prince Andrew explained that he took counsel from staff, friends and family - but ultimately, it was his own decision. Telling Epstein over the phone, he said, in what seemed an attempt to display old-school pluckiness, would be "the chicken's way".

In retrospect, the prince said, it might not have been the best idea to travel to New York and stay with Epstein for several days, during which time he was videoed waving off a female friend at the front door and walking in Central Park with the sex offender.

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"My judgment was coloured by my tendency to be honourable," Andrew said - and viewers winced at the extent to which this man had no idea of the mess he was making.

Not only because his reasoning was laughable, but because he seemed so pleased with himself. And that impression - of self-satisfaction, of self-righteousness and even facetiousness - was what sank Andrew last week.

It's what had ordinary people openly laughing at his performance, baffled by how he was advised to do this; it's what had people aghast at how detached from reality he seemed to be, at how convinced he was of his innate dignity while he presented as a caricature toff buffoon.

And it's probably what plunged him into hot water with the royal family who, by last Wednesday, had insisted he announce that he was "stepping down" from his royal duties. This followed days of criticism of the prince's performance on the BBC.

Over the past few days Andrew quit his chancellorship of the University of Huddersfield after a student-led campaign. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra dropped Andrew as its patron, with the prince also stepping down from the same role at London Metropolitan University. Other various charitable organisations of which he was patron have severed links. And corporate sponsors of his endeavours also fled for the hills.

On Friday it emerged that the aide who orchestrated the disastrous interview would no longer be his private secretary.

Amanda Thirsk, a long- standing aide who was said to have played a key role in persuading him to agree to the BBC interview, will reportedly still work for the prince - though Buckingham Palace displayed all the media savvy that Andrew could not muster, and refused to confirm any details surrounding Thirsk's departure.

Prince Charles, currently on tour in New Zealand, was furious with his younger brother, it was reported, and was the driving force behind this "early retirement" of Andrew. Also, interestingly, it was reported that Prince William was key in the decision to encourage his uncle to step down - because, as it was explained, William has a long-term interest in keeping the show on the road.

Of course, they were right to be bothered by what went out on Newsnight last weekend. We saw what they don't really want us to see, which was, in all its lacking-in-self-awareness glory, an insight into being a royal that went beyond just Prince Andrew's relationship with Epstein.

For if this is what Andrew is really like, with his freeloading, freewheeling lifestyle and sense of entitlement, then could it be that they're all like this? Could it be that if any of the Windsors were grilled for an hour on their various carry-ons, they would emerge as equally awful? And if they're equally awful, the UK public would be bound to ask why the hell are they being propped up by the public purse.

After all, it's been public knowledge for years that Prince Andrew was associated with Jeffrey Epstein, and, more recently, that Virginia Roberts - one of Epstein's key accusers - claims she was "trafficked" to Prince Andrew and had sex with him three times, twice when she was 17.

This information has been out there for years, not doing Andrew any favours, but not exactly destroying him, either.

Until he opened his mouth.

Not only his words, but his manner, blew the whole thing apart. For a start, there was his remarkable sense of ease at the start of the interview. He explained, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, that it was "a stretch" to call him and Epstein "friends" - instead, it was just an accommodational convenience to have him as an associate.

Yes, Andrew said, he stayed in Epstein's homes in New York, Palm Beach and on his private Caribbean island - often his host was away, but insisted the prince stayed anyway.

"And I'd say, 'That's very kind of you, thank you very much indeed,'" said Andrew, in a tone that suggested one would be a fool to turn down an invitation like that, regardless of who it came from.

He talked proudly of Epstein's ability to bring together "extraordinary people", obviously counting himself among them.

His eyes popped with incredulity when Maitlis suggested Epstein had Prince Andrew as guest of honour at a party to celebrate his prison release during that New York visit in December 2010.

It wasn't a party, he explained, it was dinner of "only eight or 10", as if unaware that this sounded more intimate and friendly and weird, given he says he went to NY to sever all ties. He said he never thought anything of the comings and goings of young girls in Epstein's house because he's so used to living in a palace surrounded by staff. Invisible people, don't you know, not worth noticing.

On it went, the prince's belief that if he says something, people will believe it to be so seeming utterly unshakeable. He never partied. As a royal, he never engaged in public displays of affection. He never sweated, for God's sake. He guffawed a couple of times at allegations, waved his hands in exasperation, seemed to wonder why Maitlis insisted on returning to certain points he'd covered already.

By the next morning, UK newspapers had pictures of Prince Andrew dancing in nightclubs, with his arms around various women, looking a little hot - and, yes, sweaty. And we wondered again at the man's bizarre self-confidence.

What Prince Andrew overestimated last week was the extent to which he commands respect. Or, rather, he overestimated how such full and naked exposure to his character might affect the respect he has commanded to date.

Again, one wonders why he was trying to get "out front" by doing this intereview. And why did no one shout stop?

Either way, just one hour face to face with nice Emily Maitlis seems to have finished Andrew. His car crash was not allowed to injure the royals at large and he has been seriously demoted, a move that has to hurt Andrew, a man who has always struggled to accept his lower royal ranking. Further, for a man who has always fought hard to maintain the status of his daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, it must be hard to accept that he has been the architect of their inevitable future relegation.

Of course, while he loses his senior-royal status, travel expenses and other income, Andrew retains his reported £250,000 annual income from the Queen's private funds - so he's not slumming it with the rest of us or anything awful like that. Though he has lost his Buckingham Palace office.

For one so delighted with oneself only a week ago, Prince Andrew must be sore and sorry for himself today.

At the end of last weekend's interview, Emily Maitlis revealed last Monday, Prince Andrew expressed interest in a second sit-down, to cover his charity work more comprehensively. She wasn't, Maitlis added, waiting for the phone to ring. And she certainly isn't now.    

Sunday Independent

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