Princes put their foot in it, to dismay of royal family
As Queen Elizabeth enjoyed her traditional Christmas at Sandringham, she was entitled to feel that life was good. The royal family had put the 1990s - that tragic and very troubled decade when monarchists came close to despair - far behind it. There had been no major scandal. The arrival of Kate Middleton, the mother of one bonny son, with another on the way, has been a breath of fresh air.
In September, the queen is due to overtake her great-great grandmother's record of 63 years and 15 days on the throne. She is held in greater love, admiration and respect in Britain even than Victoria was. And yet, barely six days into the new year, the Republican cause, after a long series of well-deserved setbacks, is celebrating its best week of the 21st century. A lot has changed, not for the queen herself, but for the royal family. It is back in trouble, having suffered two setbacks that do not bode well for the future. The first of these concerns Prince Charles. Clarence House had been co-operating with 'Panorama' - the BBC current affairs programme that notoriously interviewed Diana, Princess of Wales not long before she died - for a film called 'Reinventing the Royals'.
It deals with that very difficult period after the princess's death when Prince Charles, with the aid of his PR maestro Mark Bolland, set about mending his public image. These are deep waters and the prince was spectacularly (though characteristically) unwise to get involved.
The film hints at tensions between Mr Bolland and Prince William, who reportedly called the PR man "Blackadder". It suggests the young prince felt he was exploited as part of a campaign to improve his father's standing with the media.
Be that as it may, Clarence House exponentially increased the film's impact by attempting to block it. James Harding, the BBC head of news, has cravenly given in and postponed the screening of the film. The broadcaster cites Clarence House's failure to hand over archive footage, but surely it has plenty of its own?
This episode raises fresh questions about Charles's judgment. However, it has been overshadowed by the spectacular allegations, made to an American court, that Prince Andrew was involved in some kind of sexual relationship with an under-age girl who, according to accounts, was being used as a "sex slave" by an American billionaire called Jeffrey Epstein.
These allegations have been denied in the strongest terms by Buckingham Palace. However, even if the prince's denials are accepted, the proven facts are grim enough. What was the prince doing, in the first place, with Epstein, a paedophile who was jailed in 2008 for soliciting young girls for under-age prostitution? The two men were close enough friends for Epstein to have been a guest at Windsor Castle (for the queen's birthday party!), Sandringham and Balmoral. Even if this were put down to gross naivety, nothing should excuse the fact that the Duke of York remained in touch with Epstein after he emerged from jail (the two men were pictured strolling through Central Park in New York together).
Prince Andrew has a record of misjudgments of this nature. Nobody knows, for instance, why he makes so many visits to Azerbaijan, where critics say his repeated trips are a significant propaganda resource for the country's notorious President Ilham Aliyev. Prince Andrew has a penchant for rackety dictators. Questions still swirl around the sale of his home to the son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan for £15m, way above the apparent market price. (© Daily Telegraph, London)