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Duke of York scandal ‘biggest royal crisis since death of Diana’

PR and crisis consultant expert Mark Borkowski said the crisis engulfing Andrew is more controversial than anything on The Crown.

Duke of York is stepping away from public life for the forseeable future (Steve Parsons/PA)
Duke of York is stepping away from public life for the forseeable future (Steve Parsons/PA)

By Tony Jones and Laura Elston, PA

The Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal which has engulfed the Duke of York is the biggest crisis the Royal Family has faced since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, a public relations expert has said.

Andrew has said in a statement that he will step back from public duties for the “foreseeable future”.

Mark Borkowski, a PR and crisis consultant, said the issue was like a “tractor beam” sucking the Royal Family into Andrew’s “black hole” but whoever had taken the decision to issue the statement had saved the monarchy.

Speaking about the Netflix drama The Crown, which chronicles the monarchy, he told PA: “This actually kicks The Crown into a cocked hat, the producers of The Crown must be kicking themselves because they haven’t got anything in the current series that is so topical and real as this, because it’s got all the stuff of the past, wrapped into now.

“I read that statement and thought it’s a fantastic statement but three years too late, if he had written that statement three years ago distancing himself from Epstein none of this would’ve happened.

“This story was becoming like a tractor beam and it was sucking the whole Royal Family into Andrew’s black hole and they were going to disappear. This is one of the biggest things since the death of Diana.”

Mr Borkowski said the crisis would have overshadowed the work of all the Royal Family who would have been questioned about Andrew for months, just like the political leaders of the two main parties were in their televised debate on Tuesday night.

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The Princess of Wales’ death shook the Royal Family (John Stillwell/PA)

He added: “They wouldn’t have had a single moment to not think about how they’re going to address this question. It was like the biggest elephant in the room and whoever has taken control, has shot the elephant and saved the Royal Family.”

Royal author Penny Junor said it was “absolutely unprecedented” that a relatively senior member of the Royal Family “should be forced to retire from public life”.

She told PA: “I would think the Queen is horrified.”

The royal writer added: “It was inevitable and it was the right thing to do. It was the only course of action for the duke and the Royal Family.

“It’s probably averted a crisis, with all the events of the last year put together, I think the monarchy is going through very difficult times… I think it’s been a disastrous year.

“The hard-working members of the family – Prince Charles, Camilla, William and Kate and the Queen have all done sterling work but I think a lot of that has been overshadowed by other things.”

Comparing the situation to the Duke of Windsor, Ms Junor said: “That in a way was different. The Duke of Windsor chose love over duty and couldn’t do both and decided to go off and marry and abdicate the crown.

“But Andrew has really been forced out. It’s been forced on him by the huge outcry from the public.

“The public were very, very disappointed in him.”

Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, said the duke’s reputation would always be tainted by his association with Epstein.

She said: “He can’t be exonerated because we know he was involved with Epstein. I’m afraid this might forever be hanging over him.

“I think it’s sad that it’s ever, ever had to come to this and people’s sympathies will be with the Queen and Andrew’s family more than with Andrew himself.”

Social historian Professor Judith Rowbotham said there were “plenty of parallels” with the former king, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne in December 1936 to marry his divorcee mistress, the American socialite Wallis Simpson.

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The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (PA)

“I suppose the nearest would be the Duke of Windsor (the title Edward was given following his abdication) in some way,” Professor Rowbotham told the PA news agency.

“I’m far from surprised because the Duke of York was ill-advised to undertake the interview.”

But the research professor at the University of Plymouth said Andrew made a wise choice by not drawing the matter out for any longer.

“I don’t think it’s a monarchy in crisis. Even with a slimmed down monarchy, you have a large Royal Family, humanly-speaking somebody is always going to do something that gets well and truly disapproved of,” she said.

“It could have escalated into a more major crisis if the Duke of York had not done the honourable thing.”

Professor Rowbotham suggested the difficulties the Royal Family, including the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, had faced in 2019 were not as bad as the Queen’s annus horribilis of 1992.

“Back in 1992, it was an annus horribilis. This has been a ‘few weeks horribilis’,” she suggested.

She added that Andrew’s decision would be one of personal sadness for the monarch.

“I think it will be a great sadness for the Queen,” she said.

PA

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