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Kim Bielenberg: How the Queen's favourite son dragged the royal family into its biggest crisis since the death of Diana

 

Prince Andrew earlier this year at Royal Portrush Golf Club
Prince Andrew earlier this year at Royal Portrush Golf Club

By Kim Bielenberg

In February 2007, a pregnant woman was innocently shopping in Tesco in Clare Hall on Dublin's Northside in her pink pyjamas when she was confronted by the unlikely figure of Prince Andrew. The prince was not there to avail of a two-for-one offer on cauliflowers, or to redeem a discount voucher on his Clubcard. No, Andrew had popped into the supermarket in his capacity as the UK's Special Representative for International Trade - a post for which he had no known qualifications, which enabled him to jet around the world racking up millions of pounds in expenses.

At the time, it was rare for a royal personage to grace the Irish Republic with their presence (the Queen's historic visit would not be for another four years) and some of the coverage was gushing. But the pregnant woman in the pink pyjamas was singularly unimpressed as he did his royal tour of the aisles.

"I don't think he would bring on the labour," she told the assembled media scrum. "If it was George Michael, I might go into labour, but not Prince Andrew."

A reporter working on the day found him "astonishingly rude, brash and offhand".

"He just kind of swept in and never even acknowledged the Press, unlike Charles and Camilla, who always say hello and smile and even have a few pleasantries," said the disappointed hack.

There was no sign of the prince sweating on that occasion. He said, in his recent, calamitous interview with the BBC, that he couldn't sweat, because he had overdosed on adrenaline as a serviceman during the Falklands War.

Another trait of Prince Andrew's caused logistical difficulties on his trip to Dublin.

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Not long before he arrived, officials had to switch the venue for his dinner in Dublin from the British Ambassador's residence in Sandyford to the Central Bank, because he was said to be allergic to cats.

Having developed a reputation as a party prince as a young man, in his middle age he was aptly described as an "embarrassing uncle" with a brusque manner.

An undercover reporter got a job as a footman in Buckingham Palace in 2003 by answering an advert and he said of Andrew: "When he flies through the main gates (of the palace) in his Aston Martin, even the police stand well back. He is well-known for dressing down staff. Some often talk about what kind of mood the Duke is in, because it can mean the difference between an easy and a nightmarish day."

Prince Andrew in 2011 with Jeffrey Epstein
Prince Andrew in 2011 with Jeffrey Epstein
With 17-year-old Virginia Roberts and Ghislaine Maxwell in 2001

According to the footman's undercover account, each morning a servant woke him up with his "calling tray" - a pot of tea with a china cup and saucer - and the response could as easily be "F*** off" as "Good morning". The rookie footman was told by a more senior servant: "You get used to it".

As one royal pundit, Catherine Mayer, put it in an interview this week, he very quickly went from being a bachelor prince to being somebody who has no use, no purpose, spends money too obviously, takes too many flights, gets married and gets divorced.

While his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, who likes to boast of her Irish roots, was renowned for sucking someone's toes in a tabloid tale, Andrew was more toe-curling in his habits, as he toured the world cosying up to dodgy dictators and oligarchs as a prince of bling.

He may have greeted servants with a boorish string of expletives, having lived through his youth with his exploits chronicled in the tabloids as "Randy Andy and his Web of Arm Candy".

But the days when he became the main source of royal infotainment through romps with models and actresses in glitzy nightclubs and on super-yachts as the second-in-line to the throne now seem innocent.

He is now eighth-in-line to the throne and a much seamier and darker side to the life of the prince has emerged in recent years through his friendship with the multi-millionaire sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein.

The Queen and Prince Andrew
The Queen and Prince Andrew

Epstein first came under investigation in 2005 after a 14-year-old girl revealed that she had been paid to give him a massage at his mansion in Florida and he had sexually molested her.

Police investigations led to numerous other girls with similar stories emerging and Epstein served a 13-month prison sentence.

Epstein has been described as a Gatsbyesque figure, who seemed to accumulate Croesus-like wealth out of thin air. The source of these riches remains something of a mystery.

The maths teacher from Brooklyn ended up being worth hundreds of millions of dollars, owning a $77m home in New York, a private jet and his own island.

It was reported that his Florida home, where Andrew stayed on several occasions, was decorated with photographs of naked teenagers.

For several months, the duke had been facing questions over his ties to Epstein. A coroner found that the millionaire had taken his own life in August in jail in New York while awaiting trial on further sex-trafficking charges.

Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein’s accusers, claimed she was forced to have sex with the prince three times. The disaster-prone duke has always denied any form of sexual contact, or relationship with her, and said in his interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis that he had “no recollection of meeting this lady, none whatsoever”.

During the interview, he gave a string of reasons as to why her accusations were false, including the fact that her account of him sweating while dancing at a nightclub could not be true, because he suffered from a medical condition which stops him perspiring.

In a bizarre moment in the interview, he said: “I didn’t sweat at the time, because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at ... It was almost impossible for me.”

This led the tabloid New York Post to carry the banner headline on its front page: “His royal dryness”.

Regardless of whether he encountered Virginia Giuffre when she was underage — a claim that he continues to deny strenuously — his behaviour after Epstein was convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution has inevitably led to Andrew becoming a royal pariah.

Prince Andrew has for long been regarded as the Queen’s favourite son. If the reports of his withdrawal from royal duties are to be believed, it must have one of the most painful duties of her long reign to summon him to the palace to tell him that he would have to step back. It was the closest we have seen to a royal dismissal.

Andrew issued a statement: “I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future.” Perhaps the only surprise is that it took so long for this drama to play out, with the tabloids more obsessed until recently with the minor peccadilloes of Meghan Markle than Andrew’s behaviour.

After all, it was well known for almost a decade that Andrew had gone to visit Epstein, the convicted sex offender. In 2010, the duke was photographed strolling with the multimillionaire in New York’s Central Park, two years after his conviction.

Andrew claimed that he visited Epstein to tell him that they could no longer be friends — a process that seems to have taken four days.

Failing to sympathise with the victims in his interview, Andrew did not regret his friendship. In fact, as he suggested, he found it useful: “The people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him, or because of him, were actually very useful ... we weren’t that close.”

Some might argue that there is nothing wrong with sticking by a friend, even when they are in trouble. But if they were not actually close friends, it should not have been difficult to sever whatever relationship they had.

By the time Andrew suggested, in his BBC interview, that Epstein’s behaviour was merely “unbecoming” and his judgment was coloured by “my tendency to be too honourable”, the jaws of most viewers were probably on the floor.

Respect for the monarchy in Ireland seemed to reach its peak in 2011, when the Queen visited and greeted the president in Irish. Prince Andrew himself visited the Irish Embassy in London soon afterwards and noted the improved relations “across St George’s Channel” — more commonly known as the Irish Sea.

The Brexit mess has cooled the atmosphere somewhat, as the monarchy’s diplomatic significance in Anglo-Irish relations weakens.

Already, before Prince Andrew withdrew from his public duties, there was mounting speculation that Prince Charles will try to slim down the monarchy when he becomes king, so that less significance is attached to the minor royals.

Even admirers of the royal family seem to have little time for Andrew. When Andrew visited Australia recently, only one fan is reported to have turned up to greet him at a university in Perth.

Royal super-fan Michelle Dunican has met numerous members of the royal family since she developed a fascination with Princess Diana as a teenager. But, she says, she has little interest in Andrew.

“I think there is common agreement among those who have worked in the royal household that he is a boorish, spoilt snob,” she says.

Andrew is said to remain close to his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, who wore green to her daughter Eugenie’s wedding as a nod to her Irish roots.

Her great-grandfather, Mervyn Wingfield, Viscount Powerscourt, served as a senator in the Irish Free State and Fergie herself has been known to refer to herself as the “Duchess of Cork”.

Ferguson has said the Irish embraced her and gave her back her life at a time when she was low after her separation from Andrew. She sought refuge in Co Cork for a time and competed in local showjumping events.

Prince Andrew may have retreated from public engagements, but investigations into his links with Jeffrey Epstein are likely to continue. Lawyers for Epstein’s victims have called on the prince to give an interview to FBI agents under oath.

In his statement on Wednesday, Prince Andrew said he was “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required”.

This week, attention was also focussing on his financial affairs and how he has managed to maintain the lifestyle of a multimillionaire on his allowance of £249,000 from the Queen.

There are bound to be more right royal embarrassments to emerge from this scandal and it is perhaps the greatest crisis facing the family since the death of Princess Diana sparked a populist backlash.

But, for the Queen herself, the show must go on.

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