What on Earth was Prince Andrew thinking? The answer, surely, is not very much. This is his historic problem: he has never thought, not really. As a cosseted member of the Royal Family, who will probably never inherit the crown but who has all the privileges inherent in the sliver of possibility that he might, the Duke of York has never had to think.
There are courtiers who are employed to do that for him. There is a whole system of secrecy surrounding him, which has hushed up his terrible choices for decades, and it is a system founded on the bizarre notion that we shouldn’t know too much about our Royals lest it damages their other-worldly mystique.
This is a man in such a state of suspended development that, when I interviewed him several years ago, he had a teddy bear propped up on a chair outside his office.
When I asked him then if he ever imagined what his life might have been like had he not been born a Royal, he was aghast at my impertinence. He couldn’t conceive of an alternative existence. He simply lacked the necessary empathy to imagine it.
As a cosseted member of the Royal Family, who will probably never inherit the crown but who has all the privileges inherent in the sliver of possibility that he might, the Duke of York has never had to think
So Prince Andrew wasn’t thinking when he invited the television cameras in to Buckingham Palace. He wasn’t thinking about how ill-equipped he is to do a prime-time television interview with that most forensic of inquisitors, Emily Maitlis. He’s probably never watched an episode of Newsnight in his life.
He wasn’t thinking about how, sitting in that vast and gilded room of state, he might come across to ordinary people – the ones whose homes have been flooded because of inadequate defences, whose flats have burned because of dodgy cladding, whose voting intention this Election is shaped by the sense they have been completely ignored by our ruling elites for decades.
No, Prince Andrew was not thinking about these people, who might quite reasonably ask why a man accused of sleeping with a 17-yearold ‘sex slave’ and hanging out with a convicted child sex offender was giving his first interview to a television crew, rather than to the police.
But the most revolting aspect of this self-indulgent prime-time palooza was that Prince Andrew was not thinking of the female victims at all.
Asked repeatedly by Maitlis whether he had ever met his accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre, he replied: ‘I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever’
He was not thinking of those women who were abused by his good friend Jeffrey Epstein, some of whom were only 14 years old at the time the offences took place. He was not thinking of the deleterious impact on their lives or the trauma they might have suffered.
He didn’t seem to understand that this was a story far bigger than him.
That even if he continued to protest the falseness of the accusations against him, there were still real people who had suffered real abuse to consider.
But not once did he consider them.
Asked repeatedly by Maitlis whether he had ever met his accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre, he replied: ‘I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.’
No recollection. Subtext: she was beneath my concern; one of the little people whose existence I am only dimly aware of.
Nor was it an explicit denial. Because if Prince Andrew can’t remember meeting her, isn’t it also possible that he can’t remember sleeping with her?
It was a weak defence, made weaker by his insistence on calling 35-year-old Giuffre a ‘lady’ rather than a woman, in the manner of some dodgy 1970s disc jockey. It was made weaker still by the peculiarity of his memory.
Although he had no recollection of meeting Giuffre, despite photographic evidence to the contrary, he did have a specific ability to recall that on the night of March 10, 2001 – when she claimed they danced together in Tramp nightclub and later, allegedly, had sex, he had been taking his daughter Beatrice to a party at Pizza Express in Woking.
Maitlis’s incredulity seemed strained to breaking point.
‘Why would you remember that so specifically?’ she asked.
‘Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do, a very unusual thing for me to do,’ he replied, heaping pomposity on to his total lack of credibility. I’ve never before heard an outing to Pizza Express in Woking being described as an exotically memorable curiosity, but clearly for Prince Andrew it served as a sort of safari expedition into the odd lives of normal folk.
There was the astonishing claim that Giuffre’s recollection of Andrew ‘sweating profusely’ couldn’t possibly be true because he was apparently suffering from an unnamed temporary ‘medical condition’ at the time which meant he couldn’t perspire
‘I’ve never been… I’ve only been to Woking a couple of times and I remember it weirdly distinctly.’
And then, of course, there was the astonishing claim that Giuffre’s recollection of Andrew ‘sweating profusely’ couldn’t possibly be true because he was apparently suffering from an unnamed temporary ‘medical condition’ at the time which meant he couldn’t perspire. The cause of this mysteriously convenient ailment was, according to the Duke of York, a direct result of an adrenalin overdose after having being ‘shot at’ during the Falklands conflict. Handily, his no-sweat defence also enabled the Prince to depict himself as a war hero. In fact, he mentioned his career in the Navy on no fewer than three occasions. How many times did he think to utter the word ‘victim’? Not once.
So no, Prince Andrew didn’t think. At points, watching his neck wattle jiggle over his shirt collar as he shook his head at the impossibility of being asked to answer a simple question, I found myself wondering if Prince Andrew had ever thought of anyone other than himself.
But he was too blinkered to realise how he was coming across. In Prince Andrew’s head, I imagine he thought it was all going swimmingly. He used the phrase ‘funnily enough’ several times, usually when he was being pressed on matters of fact – when precisely had he last seen either Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, for instance.
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell pictured together in New York in 2005
What he couldn’t quite grasp was that there was nothing funny about this; nothing at all.
At one point, he actually laughed. It came as Maitlis pushed him on why the Duke maintained his friendship with Epstein after 2008, when the American financier had been convicted of procuring an underage girl for prostitution and of soliciting a prostitute. Epstein was convicted of these two crimes in a plea deal – authorities had actually identified 36 potential victims.
No matter for Prince Andrew, who kept up his friendship with Epstein and stayed in his New York home in 2010 for several days.
‘That’s the bit, as it were, I kick myself for on a daily basis,’ the Duke said, breaking off into a strange little laugh.
‘His eyes shot up to the ceiling as if chuckling at the absurdity of having to defend himself from such a trifling misdemeanour. ‘Because,’ he carried on, ‘it was not something that was becoming of a member of the Royal Family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices, and I let the side down, simple as that.’
It was this, we discovered, that Andrew truly cared about: the reputation of his family. He cared about his rank. Not the women who were abused. Not about their families or their parents, but about his own. He cared about clinging on to the power that created him, as if the worst thing he could conceive of was the bubble of his elitism being pricked by outside forces beyond his control.
The Duke of York , speaking for the first time about his links to Jeffrey Epstein in an interview with BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis
It got worse. When challenged by Maitlis, Andrew responded that it was ‘a convenient place to stay’ as if members of the Royal Family are bereft of accommodation choices when they travel the globe and must rely on the kindness of their criminal friends.
‘I mean I’ve gone through this in my mind so many times,’ he blustered. I bet he has: replaying events so that he can wriggle his way out of any responsibility.
‘At the end of the day, with a benefit of all the hindsight that one can have, it was definitely the wrong thing to do,’ he concluded pompously.
Ah. The well-worn defence of hindsight. But Andrew, I wanted to scream at the screen, you didn’t need extra hindsight. Hindsight was already available to you given that Epstein had been convicted in 2008 and you stayed with him in 2010. That’s two years of hindsight right there!
What he means, of course, is that in the years that followed, the scandal didn’t just go away, as Prince Andrew had arrogantly assumed it would.
Instead, he would experience the unfamiliar sensation of being held accountable for his actions. That’s the hindsight he’s referring to. The self-interested kind.
On screen, Andrew took up the thread: ‘But at the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do, and I admit fully that my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable but that’s just the way it is.’
It is difficult to imagine a more breathtaking conceit. Prince Andrew was asking us all to believe that he had found himself consorting with a convicted sex offender and accused of having sex with a 17-year-old in a London nightclub toilet, purely because he was being too honourable?
No, Prince Andrew. You are not a victim of your honour. You are a product of your inflated ego, of your outrageous belief in your own exceptionalism. You are not a victim at all. It’s just that you can’t see this, because the real victims are invisible to you.