Don’t worry, Harry – Andrew is still the Windsor family black sheep

He can be stripped of his titles, the grand uniforms and any public duties; but he can’t be airbrushed out of the family

Sean O'Grady
Friday 28 April 2023 08:05 BST
New Prince Andrew documentary discussed on Good Morning Britain

According to Emily Maitlis (and she should know), the late Queen realised that her favourite son, Andrew, had made a hash of his famously disastrous Newsnight interview before he did.

Maitlis says in the second episode of a new two-part documentary that the monarch, usually as wise as her second son was foolish, could see that the interview he’d done was a mistake – but by then it was all too late: “It was only on the Saturday when the Queen had reportedly read the whole transcript that he received a tap on the shoulder by his security detail. And they said, I think, ‘Sir, you might have to come with us’. It was after the Queen had seen what the interview contained that I think it dawned on her before it dawned on him.”

That’s not so surprising, given that we now see that he lacked judgement to an extraordinary degree, and that the friendship he forged with Jeffrey Epstein was, in a very crowded field, the biggest royal blunder in the history of the House of Windsor. It wasn’t just an affair or some dodgy cash; it led to accusations of serious criminality and hurt to innocent people. It reverberates to this day.

The Queen then gave Andrew the nod to try and make his case, and to use the palace as a location for an attempt to close down the accusations – all of which he denies – against the troubled prince for good.

It’s a tragic sequel to the Epstein affair, because it was one of the very few errors the Queen made in her long reign, and perhaps it was out of a sense of simple maternal kindness. It was, unfortunately, a case of misplaced faith in any case.

A grievous error indeed it was, because Andrew made such a terrible fool of himself. It was probably never going to go well, but the performance was such toxic mix of implausibility and scandal that it was like watching a self-immolation. It would have been far better, purely from the point of view of Andrew himself, if he’d just let it drag its way through the courts until the inevitable expensive out-of-court settlement was arrived at, as indeed it eventually was.

Ever since – and even after Andrew settled the suit that Virginia Giuffre brought against him – his status, role and future remain troublingly unresolved.

In a sense he doesn’t matter, because he is of no constitutional importance and no longer plays a role. Yet he is a constant source of shame to his family and the institution he failed so badly, and they simply don’t know what to do with the bloke.

He can be stripped of his titles, the grand uniforms and any public duties; but he can’t be airbrushed out of the family. Whatever happens, he is always going to be the son of Elizabeth II, brother to Charles III and grandson of George VI.

Because the British monarchy is set up along “family” lines, with the ceremonial and charitable works normally divvied up among the Firm, Andrew keeps popping up. It happened at the funerals of Prince Philip and then the Queen, and it’s going to happen again at the coronation.

Andrew is a far worse distraction than Harry and Meghan ever could be. "Present but not involved" should be the best way to frame Andrew’s appearance at the great occasion.

Even now, with a matter of days to go, it’s not clear how minimal and low-profile Andrew’s role on his brother’s big day is going to be. The same goes for Prince Harry. Nor has the order of service for the coronation been published.

That suggest that there are still discussions going on between Buckingham Palace and Lambeth Palace about how big a part other faith groups can play in the proceedings, whether they can offer prayers, and the tricky issue of what sort of pledges he’s going to make about defending the faith.

A few years ago he indicated he’d given up on his ambition to be “defender of faith”; but how exclusively Anglican, or Christian he’s going to be seems not to have been yet determined. All we do know is that he will want to get his way.

Insofar as the coronation matters – and it should be a special day of national celebration – there are some decisions, large and small, to be made about this looming event, with its global audience projected at 100 million. It’s just as well that Andrew isn’t involved in making them.

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