Prince Andrew: He's just trying to massage export figures

As yet another relationship lands him in trouble, the Duke of York vows to turn over a new leaf

Even as the film telling how his grandfather's sense of duty and honour helped him overcome a crippling stammer was being showered with accolades in Hollywood, knives were being sharpened for the Duke of York. There is a fair chance that, had King George VI witnessed this weekend's headlines linking Prince Andrew to a convicted paedophile, no amount of therapy would have helped.

Pictured in a daily paper with his arm round the waist of a 17-year-old "erotic" masseuse, the Duke, 51, looked relaxed and comfortable. It is unlikely he was quite so comfortable if he read the accompanying story. It questioned his fitness to carry out his role as a special trade representative of his mother's government.

The masseuse was Virginia Roberts, a native of Florida who revealed the details of her relationship with the Duke, whom she met while working for the billionaire US businessman Jeffrey Epstein. While there is no suggestion of any sexual activity between the Duke and Ms Roberts, it was alleged he enjoyed massages from young women as a guest at Epstein's Florida home.

Sources close to the Duke let it be known that following the latest furore, he was cutting his ties with the controversial businessman. If correct, then it was an abrupt end to a friendship which has lasted since the early 1990s and has been cordial enough for the two men to be pictured as recently as last December walking together in New York's Central Park.

During their friendship, Epstein, 58, was accused of sex offences by a number of under-age girls and was sentenced to 13 months in jail in 2008 for soliciting a minor for prostitution.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the matter yesterday but a royal source was quoted as saying: "It would be fair to say that you are not going to see photos of the Duke of York with Jeffrey Epstein again." In a letter to a newspaper yesterday, the Duke's Private Secretary, Alastair Watson, noted: "There has been widespread comment on the Duke's relationship with Jeffrey Epstein.... The insinuations and innuendos that have been made in relation to the Duke are without foundation."

Andrew's friendship with Epstein is the latest in a series that is causing critics to question publicly the Duke's fitness for public office. Last week, Labour's justice spokesman, Chris Bryant, said Prince Andrew was a "very close friend" of Saif Gaddafi, son of the Libyan dictator. Bryant also linked him to convicted Libyan gun smuggler Karuk Taituni and asked David Cameron whether it was time the Duke's services were dispensed with.

Bryant's question brought a rapid warning from the Speaker, John Bercow, who said that MPs' references to the Royal Family should be "very rare, very sparing and very respectful. We have to be very careful in our handling of these matters."

Such attitudes mean that questions or debate about Prince Andrew's role as the UK's special representative for international trade and investment has been limited. Hitherto, it has been confined to criticism of the extravagant style in which he and his entourage travel. The latest figures show he spent £500,000 on hotels and flights in the year to April 2010. Not for nothing is he known as "Airmiles Andy". His other soubriquet, "Randy Andy", reflects the divorcee's colourful social life.

Mr Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, will try to table further parliamentary questions this week about the Duke's public role. Royal critics and constitutional experts alike will be watching closely to see if and how far the authorities in the House permit him to shed light on this shady corner of government business.

Outside Parliament, the Duke has repeatedly provoked controversy. Sir Ivor Roberts, a distinguished British diplomat, has remarked that Prince Andrew is rude to foreign dignitaries, while another senior diplomat described him as "boorish". His behaviour abroad was noted by Tatiana Gfoeller, the US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, whose report that the Duke called the Serious Fraud Office "idiots" for investigating bribery claims around the al-Yamamah arms deal were revealed by WikiLeaks.

That outburst prompted Vince Cable, the Secretary of State for Business, to remark that it would be better if the Duke avoided matters such as anti-bribery laws. Mr Cable, who has said the Duke does a "valuable" job, refused to comment on whether he should continue in the role. Senior ministers are said to be concerned that further revelations about the Duke could damage his reputation as a flag waver for British business abroad. Aides to the Duke, who is fourth in line to the throne, anxiously canvassed support from the government yesterday. An email said to be from the Duke's staff, sent inadvertently to a newspaper instead of the Ministry, asked: "Will UKTI stand behind him? We need some government backing here." His defenders back his work as a trade emissary hailing his "valuable and unsung" contribution to British industry, notably in the Middle East.

The Duke is said to believe that he and his family have been unjustly targeted by intrusive tabloid newspapers. This may have some substance: last year, his former wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, was filmed by the News of the World arranging to receive £500,000 for obtaining access to the Duke and his business contacts. His staff denied he was aware of the deal. The 19th-century journalist Walter Bagehot argued that the Royal Family's strength was in bringing down the "pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life".

Some critics claim that "Randy Andy's" antics increasingly resemble those of a black sheep. Even supporters fear his behaviour may undermine the very institution his grandfather helped to reinvigorate in the public's affections.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits