A child born into a royal family cannot be unborn from it, merely hidden away in the hope that people forget about him. That has been the sentiment expressed by leader writers across much of Britain’s print media in relation to Prince Andrew, the second son of the Queen and Prince Philip.
By virtue of his birth, he has lived a life of enormous privilege, far removed from the struggles of everyday folk. And, it would appear, very far removed from understanding the suffering of ordinary people. That was the universal conclusion following his disastrous interview with Emily Maitlis on BBC Newsnight in which he managed to combine overbearing self-importance with sanctimonious self-pity.
Andrew invited sympathy from viewers for the adverse publicity that has surrounded his protracted friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein – but expressed none for Epstein’s many victims. His lack of regret over associating with a convicted sex offender was lamentable, but his lack of empathy for the victims was truly shocking.
To suggest that Andrew’s judgment in agreeing to a BBC interview was flawed would be an understatement. It was catastrophic. Encouraged by his former wife Sarah Ferguson and, according to media reports, contrary to the advice of his former PR adviser Jason Stein, Andrew had actively pushed for the interview to take place. In presenting a catalogue of questionable claims, half-truths and obvious falsehoods, he manifestly failed to convince the British public with his performance: in a survey of 1,600 adults carried out by YouGov for The Times, just 6 per cent of people thought he was telling the truth.
The reaction has been swift and severe. Corporate sponsors of the Prince Andrew Charitable Trust and the Pitch@Palace initiative have been making a rapid exit. Nearly half of the 35 worldwide sponsors of Pitch@Palace have already pulled the plug on their support and funding. These include: KPMG, Aon, Standard Chartered, Gravity Road, Bond University, RMIT, University of Wollongong, Murdoch University and Fondation Rideau Hall. More, such as AstraZeneca and Barclays, will inevitably follow.
Recognition from Buckingham Palace that the Prince Andrew brand is now toxic, perhaps terminally, came with the announcement that he will undertake no public duties and receive no public money from the government-issued sovereign grant for the foreseeable future. His withdrawal from public life means that 189 charities which have his backing will no longer receive his patronage. The decision was nominally presented as Andrew’s, but the Queen and his elder brother, Prince Charles, forced his hand. The implication was clear: he had become a liability. In what amounted to a resignation statement, Andrew added that he was “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”
Attention now shifts to the US legal system as Andrew prepares to give formal evidence to a US criminal investigation into Epstein. Having been arrested in July 2019 on federal charges relating to the sex trafficking of minors, Epstein died in a New York jail cell the following month. In 2008, he had pleaded guilty and was convicted by a Florida court of procuring an underage girl for prostitution and of soliciting a prostitute. Epstein was convicted of only two crimes thanks to a plea bargain: federal officials had identified 36 girls, some aged 14, whom Epstein had sexually abused. He served 13 months in jail.
Epstein’s death denied the women whom he raped and sexually abused at his residences in New York, Paris, Florida, New Mexico and the US Virgin Islands, the opportunity to receive justice in the US criminal courts. Lawyers acting for the victims are now actively pursuing a different route through the civil courts.
Andrew’s part in the Epstein story goes back to their first meeting in 1999, when they were reportedly introduced through his friendship with Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell. Soon afterwards, Andrew entertained Epstein at Balmoral and they continued to see each other several times a year. In 2000, Andrew and Ghislaine were seen with Epstein at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and again at Winsor Castle to mark Andrew’s 40th birthday.
Events of the following year are critical. Virginia Roberts, who was then 17, claims to have had sex with Andrew “three times, including one orgy”, with the first encounter allegedly taking place in Ms Maxwell’s London home. A photograph of Andrew with his arm around Roberts’ waist at Maxwell’s home has been widely published. Roberts also claims to have had sex with Andrew on two further occasions: at Epstein’s New York home and at an “orgy” on his private island in the Caribbean.
Should he be required at some point to give evidence on oath in a US courtroom, Andrew will find the questioning of someone like David Boies, who is representing Roberts, to be unlike anything he has ever experienced. A relatively straighforward interview with a thorough, but respectful BBC journalist is as nothing compared to hours of skilled cross-examination from a top-drawer courtroom litigator. When I interviewed Boies in New York, his forensic skill and razor-sharp mind were self-evident.
Andrew is completely unused to being held accountable for anything: he has never had his integrity or honesty challenged in a public forum. To be cross-examined by someone of Boies’ calibre is therefore likely to be an extremely unpleasant ordeal – and one for which he will be woefully unprepared. Not only that, but his modest intellectual ability, as underscored by the BBC interview, will render him incapable of adequately dealing with robust and relentless questioning. In short, he could easily be crushed.
Despite their divorce in 1996, Andrew and Sarah have maintained a close relationship and the couple have often been photographed with their two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie. In this context, I have some personal experience. My late father, George Carman QC, advised Sarah and Andrew in the late 1990s, not long before he first met Epstein.
Sarah asked my father to meet her at a friend’s house in Walton Street, Chelsea. When her Coutts overdraft had reached telephone-number proportions, the bank was applying greater pressure for it to be reduced significantly. Fergie, as Sarah was commonly known, thought that the Queen might help: she wanted her Majesty’s assistance, but was afraid to put the question herself. Her solution was to ask if my father would go to Balmoral to argue her case in person to the Queen and Prince Philip. My father, who had previously advised Fergie and Princess Diana on separate defamation matters involving British newspapers, could not believe that she was serious. ‘She must be off her head,’ he said incredulously.
At Fergie’s request, he also spoke to a nervous Andrew, who gave qualified support to the idea since he was in no position to help himself. Andrew was very keen to do everything he could to help his former wife, but was worried about how his parents would react to the suggestion of George Carman appearing in front of them, asking them to help reduce their former daughter-in-law’s enormous overdraft. On this occasion, his anxiety was well-placed. When Andrew made an approach for my father to have a private audience with the Queen to plead for money in order to bail out Fergie, the response was negative. She was not amused.
By comparison with Epstein, this episode is trivial. But it does illustrate one thing: Prince Andrew’s judgment is deeply flawed. The media and the public who have sat in judgment on Andrew in recent months have inevitably reached the same conclusion. We wait to see whether a US court may ultimately do the same and with what consequences.
Dominic Carman, journalist, writer and legal commentator. www.dominiccarman.com