Tanya Sweeny: The Prince and Epstein... why this is the royals' worst scandal yet
Fresh allegations about Prince Andrew's links to convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein are a new low for the Windsors, despite an already tawdry history
Is there any wonder we are fascinated by the royal family? On the one hand, they're held to an oddly high standard and seem to exist on a different plane of reality altogether (remember how Meghan Markle broke the internet by, eh, closing a car door?).
And despite this scrutiny, they seem completely impervious to the rules and moral code by which the rest of us are governed. The Firm has long had form in weathering scandals, from the ridiculously inane to the nauseating. But it's safe to say they've come up against their most horrific one yet.
A quick recap on those previous scandals, in case they've escaped recent memory (although really, how could they?): there was the time when Edward VIII fell for an American divorcee and abdicated from the throne, paving the way for George VI. A little later on, speculation was rife that Prince Philip had grown close to a Russian ballerina called Galine Ulanova, a theory resurrected from relative obscurity in the second season of The Crown.
In the Eighties, Prince Charles raised eyebrows when he got a bit puzzled about being "in love, or whatever that means", in front of his wife Diana and a global TV audience of millions.
She then slapped on the woebegone eyeliner for her infamous "there were three of us in this marriage" interview with Martin Bashir. During "Squidgygate", Diana was once again in the firing line after recordings of private phone conversations with a friend were leaked to the Press.
In them, she likens her circumstances to those of an EastEnders character, and admits she might be pregnant. In a divorce packed with shocks, this was considered a low-point in the War of the Waleses.
In the August of 1992, Sarah Ferguson, ex of Prince Andrew, was photographed during an infamous toe-sucking incident with an American businessman. Add Nazi fancy dress, bribery, private jet travel, naked photos and Thomas Markle's staged paparazzi shots into the bubbling cauldron, and it's a wonder the royals, to paraphrase Meghan Markle herself, have survived, never mind thrived.
Yet much of this has been reported, and disseminated by the wider public, in a relatively light spirit. Most of those scandals were the result of romance, ridiculousness or the folly of youth. It's all fanciful, entertaining stuff, watching them get to grips with their privilege and spill their inner-most emotions. The royals are just so kooky and dysfunctional, but it's part of their unique appeal. And, as we've seen countless other times in the realm of power and celebrity, the more entitled one acts, the more impervious to criticism one becomes.
No matter what has been thrown at the family in the last few decades, they have survived, thanks to the Queen's mantra, "never complain, never explain". The golden rule is to keep calm and carry on. Apologies are for plebs.
Yet it seems increasingly likely in the last couple of weeks that Prince Andrew isn't going to get away with his version of events when it comes to his friendship with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Only recently has the full extent of Epstein's catalogue of crimes and horrific wrongdoings come to light, and with it, Andrew's alleged role in it all.
Never mind an apology; Prince Andrew will be lucky to escape investigation by several law enforcement agencies.
Where we have laughed along to the unending parade of royal misdemeanours, there's nothing at all humorous about this particular royal scandal. Not that there weren't some unintentionally humorous moments in Prince Andrew's BBC interview with Emily Maitlis. As he was grilled on his friendship with alleged trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, not to mention alleged encounters between the prince and one of Epstein's 17-year-old charges Virginia Roberts, Prince Andrew made so many gaffes that it was hard to keep up.
Firstly, the Prince deemed the interview - which wasn't so much a car-crash as a Formula One pile-up - a success. Deluded doesn't quite begin to cover it, frankly.
Asked about his whereabouts on the date of one of these supposed encounters, the prince countered that he was at a children's party at a Pizza Express in Woking. It was a very unusual place for him to be as a royal, he conceded, which is precisely why he remembered it.
One of Epstein's victims had mentioned a recollection of Prince Andrew sweating. His denial bordered on the bizarre: owing to an adrenal condition brought on by his role in the Falklands war, the prince claims that he was unable to sweat at the time. The internet couldn't find pictures of a sweaty Randy Andy quick enough.
Clearly, he's never heard the maxim "if you tell the truth, you don't need to have that good a memory".
Denying that it was he in a photo clasping onto teenager Virginia Roberts, Andrew offered that he was "not one to, as it were, hug, and public displays of affection are not something that I do".
Perhaps Andrew's biggest gaffe was not acknowledging the trafficked victims of Jeffrey Epstein, preferring instead to dig in and swear that he had no recollection whatsoever of meeting Roberts. Where most people would strive very quickly to distance themselves from someone in Epstein's position, Andrew instead reflected that he didn't regret his relationship with the disgraced billionaire financier, as it had "seriously beneficial outcomes" for him. His problem, as he saw it, was that he was "too honourable" in not breaking the association.
As catastrophic, ill-advised royal interviews went, Prince Andrew's was a serious watershed moment for the royal family.
But on Monday, Virginia Roberts revealed her own version of events to BBC Panorama's Darragh MacIntyre, and the entire scandal didn't seem at all humorous anymore.
With body language that telegraphed vulnerability and anguish, Roberts (now Virginia Giuffre, a mother-of-three) recounted her first meetings with Epstein, his "girlfriend" Ghislaine Maxwell, and her pal, Prince Andrew.
Roberts was a vulnerable teenager, who had already endured years of abuse and exploitation since the age of seven. She found herself working at Trump's Mar-A-Lago resort as a teen. Maxwell offered her the chance to "train up" as a massage therapist.
"They seemed like nice people so I trusted them, and I told them that I had a really hard time in my life up until then," she said. "That was the worst thing I could have told them because they knew how vulnerable I was."
Roberts' recollections of her sexual encounters with Epstein and Prince Andrew were vivid and all too authentic, with little of the self-serving bluster that the prince exhibited.
Crucially, Roberts' interview was filmed before Prince Andrew's interview with Maitlis, although many of the same topics and conceits surface, time and time again.
It's rare that alleged victims are offered a platform like this to tell their story, and Roberts, along with another, Sarah Ransome, proved to be eloquent and strikingly affecting.
"He knows what happened. I know what happened," Roberts said. "And there's only one of us telling the truth, and I know that's me."
Certainly, that Andrew has been stripped of his royal duties and put on effective gardening leave by his own mother, suggests that the Palace rightly see this is as a gravely serious matter. It's not being treated as the family's other catalogue of scandals, put it that way.
Prince Andrew has been subpoenaed by five accusers to testify as a witness to what he saw in Epstein's properties. He has noted his willingness to co-operate with law enforcement bodies and help with enquiries "if required".
After Robert's moment in front of the world, it's looking increasingly likely that he may well have to.
The Prince and Epstein... why this is the royals' worst scandal yet