It was more than 20 years ago, but I still remember the “Squidgygate” calls from the Palace press office. After an alleged lover was recorded calling Diana, Princess of Wales by the pet name “squidgy” on multiple occasions, I knew it meant another ruined holiday.
This holiday’s royal surprise is even worse than those unhappy souvenirs of the “Charles verses Di” era. It’s worse just not because the allegations involve dodgy billionaires and underage sex , nor because it’s a mortifying embarrassment for the new homogenised monarchy of the Middleton era – though that’s bad enough – it’s worse because this time the American legal system is involved.
The alleged female victim is invoking the Crime Victims’ Rights Act and has a former US Federal judge in her corner. He is unlikely to wilt under the kind of pressure Buckingham Palace might use to brush off a home-grown irritant.
This situation is scarier than any the Duke of York has faced since he put his helicopter in harm’s way between Argentinian Exocets and the British Falklands Task Force.
He might view it as a more dangerous threat – since such a legal case could drag him through the circles of US law discovery hell, all the while being tormented by media interest that is as prurient as it is global. Think of the reputational damage as Prince Andrew takes the oath at his sworn deposition. He’s technically not a party to the suit (a straw to which Buckingham Palace appears keen to cling) the consequences will be dire and long-lasting.
Given that this legal storm was forecast in the British press as long ago as April last year, the corporate types who now advise the Windsors on their image should have had their crisis plan ready to roll.
Prince Andrew: Life in pictures
Prince Andrew: Life in pictures
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Prince Andrew, Duke of York arrives at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 November 2014 in London
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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
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Prince Andrew with his daughters Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice on the Balcony at Buckingham Palace, 2013
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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
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Prince Andrew’s ‘pointless plunge’ down the Shard was the moment to take stock of his usefulness
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Prince Andrew is the first royal to take and tweet a selfie
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Prince Andrew with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Al-Khalifa at Royal Ascot in 2010
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Prince Andrew with Ilham Aliyev, president of Azerbaijan in 2009
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Prince Andrew with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on the first day of his state visit to London
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Duke of York in his uniform
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Britain's Prince Andrew speaks to the press during a meeting with Turkish Businessmen at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul on 26 May 2004
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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
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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
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Prince Andrew and Prince Edward with their governess, Lavinia Keppel, at the Children's Book Show in Westminster, London on 7 November 1969
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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
Let’s hope their new year improves, though the odds aren’t encouraging. Consider this: even if (as we must all sincerely wish) Prince Andrew’s spokesperson was telling the truth when she “categorically denied” the allegations, one obstinate question will remain. What suicidal urge drives royal people – not just the poor old Duke of York – into the toxic embrace of these rich “friends” like Jeffrey Epstein?
Surely it’s not just the jets, yachts, private islands, night clubs and pervasive sense of entitlement? Charitably we might concede that many of these rich friends support royal good causes, save the taxpayer jet fuel and occasionally use their influence to advance British interests. Dress it up how you like, such justifications are too often cynical or just naive. So heedless royal moths keep homing in on the poisonous flames emitted by the rich and famous.
The Epstein case reminds us that choosing to befriend the obliging ultra-rich is no part of a Prince’s royal duty. It’s a personal choice and carries immense risk.
Because of our constitutional arrangements, whether we like it or not, such risks are shared by all of us. That’s why we depend on the royal folk to choose their risks wisely. In that context, we shouldn’t ignore another princely PR drama, currently eclipsed by the Prince Andrew fuss. The Prince of Wales’s advisors seem to have suppressed a BBC documentary which dares to examine their sometimes questionable attitude to the heir’s image management.
No wonder US observers are turning for guidance to their oracle of all things British, Downton Abbey. The Dowager Countess of Grantham sums it up rather nicely: “The truth is neither here nor there. It’s the look of the thing that matters.”
Patrick Jephson was private secretary to Diana, Princess of Wales from 1988 to 1996Reuse content