Sarah Ferguson has praised her ex-husband Prince Andrew as the “best in the world”, as he vehemently denies allegations of having sex with an underage girl.
The Duchess made her first comments four days after the Duke of York was reportedly named in US court documents as having sex with a woman identified as Virginia Roberts on three separate occasions while she was still a minor under US law.
Ms Roberts is said to have been "procured" for him by American billionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who she accuses of using her as a "sex slave".
Prince Andrew categorically denies the allegations of any involvement.
When asked if she would be standing by the Duke during a ski trip, the Duchess, 55, who divorced Prince Andrew in 1996, reportedly told the Daily Mail: "The York family is a tight unit. We've always been a tight unit.
"He is the greatest man there is. It was the finest moment of my life in 1986 when I married him. He is a great man, the best in the world."
She reportedly made the comments as she left the luxury ski chalet in Verbier in Switzerland, where she had been holidaying with Andrew, 54, and their younger daughter Eugenie.
Buckingham Palace has taken the unusual step of issuing staunch denials of the allegation that the Prince slept with Ms Roberts on three occasions between 1999 and 2002 in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island during an orgy.
Prince Andrew: Life in pictures
Prince Andrew: Life in pictures
1/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew, Duke of York arrives at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 November 2014 in London
2/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York (L) speaks to Queen Elizabeth II on the Queens stand during Derby day at the Epsom Derby Festival, in Surrey on 1 June 2013
3/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew with his daughters Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice on the Balcony at Buckingham Palace, 2013
4/15 Prince Andrew
Princess Beatrice (C) poses for photograph with her parents, Britain's Prince Andrew, the Duke York (L) and Sarah Ferguson following her graduation ceremony at Goldsmiths College, in London, 2011
5/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew’s ‘pointless plunge’ down the Shard was the moment to take stock of his usefulness
6/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew is the first royal to take and tweet a selfie
7/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Al-Khalifa at Royal Ascot in 2010
8/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew with Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan in 2009
9/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the first day of his state visit to London
10/15 Prince Andrew
Duke of York in his uniform
11/15 Prince Andrew
Britain's Prince Andrew speaks to the press during a meeting with Turkish Businessmen at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul on 26 May 2004
12/15 Prince Andrew
Wearing a traditional Guatemalan ceremonial jacket, Britains Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, turns on the tap innaugurating an irrigation system sponsored by the European community on 7 March 2002 in Nevaj, Guatemala
13/15 Prince Andrew
The newly wed Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and his wife Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, wave to crowds on 23 July 1986 from the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London while Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Mother look on
14/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew and Prince Edward with their governess, Lavinia Keppel, at the Children's Book Show in Westminster, London on 7 November 1969
15/15 Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew (bottom left) with his parents Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and siblings, Prince Charles, Princess Anne, and little Prince Edward at Windsor Castle, 1965
The accusation is reportedly contained in a motion filed in a Florida court as part of a lawsuit over how federal prosecutors handled the case of Epstein, who was jailed for 18 months in 2008 for soliciting a minor for paid sex.
Sarah's comments came as reports surfaced claiming Epstein used "aggressive witness tampering" on employees who later avoided answering questions about sex claims relating to the Duke of York.
According to the Daily Telegraph, Epstein is said to have paid the legal fees of witnesses who have refused to answer direct questions about whether young girls were "provided for sex" to the Duke.
The newspaper reports that one invoked the Fifth Amendment and stayed silent when she was asked about the Duke of York.
And the Daily Mail reports that court papers allege that Epstein went to great lengths to stop some of the young girls he allegedly abused from speaking to the FBI.
He reportedly "tracked them down" and promised to "look after" them if they did not speak.
Prince Andrew has since flown back to Britain amid the controversy surrounding the claims but is expected to return to Switzerland in a few weeks to join prime ministers, business leaders and economists at Davos, the venue for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting.
A royal aide was quoted by the Press Association as saying: "The civil case is an ongoing process that won't end any time soon. However, since 2012 the Duke has worked very hard to establish and refocus his working priorities on education, technology and enterprise and he will carry on with that work.
"It's fair to say that the Duke of York is nothing if not resilient. He will be keen to push on with the work he's been doing in recent years."
Ms Roberts, a US citizen, waived her anonymity in an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2011, in which she claimed she had been sexually exploited by Epstein - a former friend of the Duke.
In the US court papers, she goes further and alleges that between 1999 and 2002 she "was forced to have sexual relations with this prince when she was a minor" in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island owned by Epstein.
The accusation is reportedly contained in a motion filed in a Florida court as part of a lawsuit over how federal prosecutors handled the case of Epstein, who was jailed for 18 months in 2008 for soliciting a minor for prostitution.
In a strongly-worded statement, a Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts.
"The allegations made are false and without any foundation."
Additional reporting by PAReuse content