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Scandal-hit Andrew to hand over reins of Pitch@Palace project

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and English National Ballet have parted company with the duke who had served as patron.

The Duke of York as he hosts a Pitch@Palace event at Buckingham Palace in London (Steve Parsons/PA)
The Duke of York as he hosts a Pitch@Palace event at Buckingham Palace in London (Steve Parsons/PA)

By Tony Jones, PA Court Correspondent

The Duke of York has reportedly resigned from his role with his flagship business project Pitch@Palace after days of speculation about his future with the initiative he founded.

Andrew appears to have bowed to pressure and stepped down a day after one sponsor said his plans to continue leading Pitch were “not tenable”.

High-profile business sponsors KPMG, Standard Chartered and Inmarsat, a British satellite telecommunications company, have all said they would not renew their financial support for Pitch while Barclays, a partner of the project, ended its association on Friday.

The Daily Telegraph reported sources as saying Andrew was no longer leading Pitch, which would continue without any royal involvement.

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The Duke of York (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Beleaguered Andrew also faces the prospect of Virginia Giuffre – an alleged Jeffrey Epstein victim who claims she had under-age sex with the duke, which he strenuously denies – being interviewed on BBC’s Panorama programme early in December.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) was among a number of organisations which announced on Friday they would no longer be involved with Andrew, following the controversy around his friendship with convicted sex offender Epstein.

In a statement, an RPO spokesman said: “Following HRH the Duke of York’s announcement that he will be stepping back from public life, management representatives of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) met with Prince Andrew’s office on Thursday afternoon.

“At a subsequent meeting of the RPO board, it was decided that the orchestra should part company with its patron, with immediate effect.

“The RPO would like to express its gratitude to His Royal Highness for his support of the orchestra over the past 15 years.”

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Erina Takahashi plays the role of Swanilda during a dress rehearsal for the English National Ballet’s Coppelia (Anthony Devlin/PA)

The English National Ballet also reportedly severed ties, accepting Andrew’s resignation from his role as patron.

He had been expected to travel to the Middle East this weekend as part of his Pitch project but has cancelled plans following reported pressure from his family.

He was pictured on Friday out riding with the Queen in the grounds around Windsor Castle with two other riders.

It has also been reported that his private secretary, Amanda Thirsk, has been removed from her palace-funded role and will become the chief executive of Pitch.

The Daily Mail said Ms Thirsk, believed to have been the driving force behind Andrew’s BBC Newsnight interview, will now run the business mentorship scheme for start-ups and tech entrepreneurs after she was dismissed on Thursday.

Ms Thirsk will also manage the Duke of York Inspiring Digital Enterprise Award after Andrew quit his life as a working royal on Wednesday.

It has also been reported that Buckingham Palace was disturbed by the mention of Andrew’s relationship with Epstein in the ITV election debate on Tuesday.

The Times said senior aides and the Prince of Wales advised the Queen that Andrew should be withdrawn from public life after concerns the scandal was overshadowing the democratic process.

The duke will continue to work on Pitch and will look at how he takes this forward outside of his public duties, and outside of Buckingham Palace Buckingham Palace

A Buckingham Palace spokeswoman would not comment on reports the duke had stepped down from leading Pitch.

She said: “The duke will continue to work on Pitch and will look at how he takes this forward outside of his public duties, and outside of Buckingham Palace.

“We recognise there will be a period of time while this transition takes place.”

Pressure had been mounting on the duke after his BBC Newsnight interview about Epstein, with a growing number of multimillion-pound businesses, universities and charities distancing themselves from him and Pitch@Palace.

The Outward Bound Trust, which Andrew had supported for decades, accepted his resignation as patron and Huddersfield University confirmed the duke would be relinquishing his role as its chancellor.

A source, speaking for a sponsor of Andrew’s Pitch@Palace, said his desire to carry on as normal would not work and if its “reputational” problems continued the backer would end its contract.

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The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (Matt Crossick/PA)

The source, close to a sponsor of Pitch, said: “To say you’re stepping back from public life but then carry on is not a tenable position by the palace, and I think the sponsor shares that view.”

Andrew will be scaling down his public work, but it is not clear if his finances will change as he is supported by his mother the Queen and her help will never be disclosed.

After the BBC interview, Andrew faced criticism for showing a lack of empathy towards Epstein’s victims and a lack of remorse over his friendship with the financier, who took his own life in prison earlier this year while awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.

The duke has denied claims he slept with Ms Giuffre, on three separate occasions, twice while she was under-age.

PA

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