Prince Andrew interview: Faced with the most serious of allegations and a self-made PR disaster unfolding, all he really had to say was sorry, mum

Duke said he had ‘let the side down’ – the kind of soundbite you might expect to be applied to the losing team leader on The Apprentice, not someone accused of hanging around with a high profile paedophile in the worst royal scandal in two decades

Sean O'Grady@_seanogrady
Saturday 16 November 2019 23:54
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Prince Andrew: I stayed at convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's house because I am 'too honorable'

“Sorry, mum”. This is really what the Emily Maitlis’s quiet-spoken, almost conversational disassembly of Prince Andrew actually amounts to. She was a gentle sort of assassin – no hectoring, no interruption, no theses laid out theatrically at inordinate length; just precisely the right questions levelled in the right tone at the right pace. It was as good, in its way, as the famous Panorama Diana interview by Martin Bashir in 1995 (though nothing could be as sensational as that was). I bet she skipped out of the palace after that, a space for the Bafta ready and waiting.

Someone really should let Maitlis and her Newsnight squad loose on Johnson and Corbyn.

Andrew is no help to himself though. He doesn’t offer any apologies or sympathy to Virginia Roberts, or, except very briefly, to any of the alleged victims in the Jeffrey Epstein affair. Indeed, all Roberts gets is a contemptuous burst of princely amnesia. The alleged sexual encounters with her, when she was around 17, were supposed to have taken place in some quite exotic locations, including Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean, and one incident was supposedly an orgy. Either the Duke of York has early onset Alzheimer’s, or he used to enjoy an unusually active social life.

No. The person Andrew feels most sorry for in in all this, apart from himself, is his poor old ma, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, by the grace of god, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and all that. Her. She’s the one is he privately worried about. With good reason, given the damage he’s done to what she’s spent 67 years building. Maybe she told him to go and get it sorted out. At any rate she approved the move, whichever misguided flunky came up with it, and encouraged her favourite son to take the gamble.

The regal nod given, Emily Maitlis, broadcasting royalty herself these days, and the crew were summoned to the palace, and the demolition job was under way.

Given the sordid, tawdry and shocking nature of the subject matter, the Blue Room at Buck House made for an incongruous setting. A basic rule of VIP PR is to get the media to come to your place, where you can set ground rules, intimidate through grand surroundings, and generally control things. That is much better than traipsing off to some studio, where they could ambush you with embarrassing footage and generally contrive to make the VIP daft.

So they decided to make the VIP, Andrew, look daft themselves. HRH was made to look rather more entitled and privileged than was good for him, given that that is one of the themes in this story of the ways of the extremely rich and powerful and the alleged coercion of others. After all, few of us know quite what a “straightforward shooting weekend” entails, let alone been to Palm Beach in a private jet. Visiting Pizza Express in Woking is an alien experience for this chap and I doubt he’s ever used an “unlimited dough balls” voucher. HRH couldn’t sweat, either (though he has indeed resumed sweating normally recently, coincidentally).

Someone made sure that the golden piano that so distracted us during the Queen’s Christmas Message wasn’t on display, but it was still an opulent joint. Andrew and Emily looked a little tense perched on what looked to be miniature thrones done out in pink velvet, and the carpet was so lurid it could set off a psychotropic incident. I half expected a corgi to waddle in to add a homely touch to the proceedings; or the 98-year-old Prince Philip to wander in and ask Maitlis what she’s doing wasting her time with that prat, and why doesn’t she come and join him for a bite of lunch and a drive in the country sometime. Such tendencies may run in the family I suppose.

All the dirty old dog (Andrew, not Philip. Or the corgi) would admit was that he had “let the side down”. It’s the kind of soundbite you might expect to be applied to Raheem Sterling after his recent troubles, or Priti Patel’s grip on policy, or a losing team leader on The Apprentice. Not someone accused of hanging around with a high-profile paedo in the worst royal scandal in two decades.

Of course he meant that he had let his mum down, which he had. He didn’t have much of a story, pleading forgetfulness and toying with conspiracy theories. Coached and rehearsed as he must have been, he failed to convince. His non-denial that he had “no recollection of ever meeting the lady” is inconsistent with past protestations of innocence. His remark that he went to Epstein’s vast mansion because it was such a “convenient place to stay” made him sound like Lenny Henry doing an ad for Travelodge (which would have been the better option for the NYC citybreak all things considered). Worst of all was the cringeworthy impersonation talking about his greatest weakness : “At the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do, and I admit fully that my judgement was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable but that’s just the way it is.”

Emily Maitlis’s predecessor, Jeremy Paxman, was famous for saying that he was always thinking “why is this bastard lying to me?” in his interviews. In Andrew’s case we know full well why he has undertaken this extraordinary examination and said what he said. It’s because he believed it is what his mum expects to hear. So he just couldn’t say no. It’s always been his trouble.

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