If films dramatising the week after Princess Diana’s death are to be believed, it was then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had to persuade the Queen to begrudgingly come out and address the nation.
This was seen as a turning point in royal protocol, paving the way for a modern monarchy, who were forced to be more in tune with their feelings and public opinion.
Its legacy is seen in Harry’s steadfast protection of Megan Markle, issuing back-off statements to the press, and the Duke of Sussex also joining his brother William in discussing the effect their mother’s death has had on their mental health.
All this honesty and openness would be completely alien to their grandmother’s generation who believe in the British stiff upper lip and the avoidance of airing your dirty laundry in public.
For the Queen, there’s an awful lot to be said for a ‘no comment’, and after Prince Andrew’s appearance in a BBC Newsnight interview this week, you can see why.
If Blair’s persistence with her forced the monarchy into the 21st Century kicking and screaming, Andrew’s candid Frost-Nixon-esque sit down with Emily Maitlis has just set it back decades, persuading other members of the royal family to keep mum.
Andrew was in front of camera to answer questions about his relationship with convicted sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein, and to confront allegations that he slept with a trafficked teen supplied by Epstein’s lover Ghislaine Maxwell.
Pictures show Andrew and Epstein together in New York, after Epstein’s 2008 conviction for procuring a minor for prostitution, and Andrew with his arm around his accuser Virginia Roberts at Maxwell’s Belgravia address.
The palace had already run countless denials, and the story, since Epstein committed suicide in jail ahead of his sex trafficking trial in August, was — like the disgraced financier — dead.
There was absolutely no need for Andrew to dredge it up again, as the last murmur of this in the press had been a good few weeks ago.
Longevity in this firm, as Liz’s reign suggests, is about maintaining some form of decorum. That doesn’t mean keeping quiet with apologies after breaking someone’s arm in a car crash as the Queen’s husband, Prince Phillip, found out to his detriment earlier this year
Textbook PR disaster
However, against the advice of the Queen and royal advisers, he agreed to what will now be studied for years to come as a textbook PR disaster.
With no mention of sympathy for Epstein’s victims, Andrew went on to say he couldn’t have been with Virginia Roberts on the night she claimed back in March 2001 because he was at a Pizza Express in Woking.
He only went to New York to stay with Epstein to say they could no longer be friends, and Roberts’ claims that Andrew was sweating profusely when they met in Tramp nightclub were also rubbished by the Duke of York as he said he had a peculiar condition, which meant he couldn’t perspire.
The picture of him with Roberts was also deemed doctored in some way by the Duke, because when he’s out in London, he said, he always wears a suit and tie.
Car crash TV at its finest, Andrew has only served to incriminate himself even further with these lame excuses, and now a string of sponsors have pulled out of the social projects he endorses, the Queen has sidelined him from royal duties, and the FBI might want a word about what else he knows.
Quite how he thought doing an interview would strengthen his hand is unclear.
But what is evident is that while speaking out should be encouraged to enable the public to relate to its monarchy, it should be limited to those who actually have a handle on what to say and when to say it.
With the focus now solidly on the Fab Four of William, Kate, Harry, Megan, and their respective children, life after Liz will no longer be about heaving royal family balcony shots full of tainted aunts, uncles and their work-shy offspring.
The future is on youth and a youth the British public can relate to, but if this episode teaches us anything it’s that the illusion of grandeur must be maintained.
Harry and William having a heart to heart on mental health for the sake of their charity work is OK, but Megan admitting she’s struggling and Harry saying him and William are on different paths only serves to feed the press with the same headlines that chased Diana down a tunnel.
Longevity in this firm, as Liz’s reign suggests, is about maintaining some form of decorum. That doesn’t mean keeping quiet with apologies after breaking someone’s arm in a car crash as the Queen’s husband, Prince Phillip, found out to his detriment earlier this year.
Balance and judgement
If Andrew knew something that might help the investigation he should have come out earlier to the authorities and not the press.
After all, as the Queen allegedly told Blair, public opinion is fluid, and what was once seen as openness might later be viewed as exposure.
The one true constant is knowing when to keep your mouth shut.