Prince Andrew’s (Duke of York and the third child of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II) appearance on ‘Newsnight’ was a turning point in British history.
Members of the Royal family have given interviews before, and about intimate matters, but they always enjoyed some degree of control and displayed some basic sense that people were watching. This felt more like a police interview.
The Duke of York’s explanation of his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein was extraordinary. They were friends, but not “close” friends; Epstein visited Prince Andrew at Sandringham, but it wasn’t a birthday party, just “a straightforward shooting weekend”.
He dropped Epstein when he was found guilty of sex crimes but, after he was released from prison, the Duke felt a compulsion to meet him in New York to tell him face-to-face that they’d never be meeting again, as one does.
So why did he stay at Epstein’s house for four days? It was “convenient”. I’m surprised he didn’t add: “He always did a wonderful cooked breakfast.”
Prince Andrew described his own behaviour towards Epstein as “honourable”, but if everything he has said happened as it did and his motivations were as he described, he took the least honourable path of all. He cut Epstein off. He only got in touch with him to dump him
Prince Andrew could not have had sex with Virginia Roberts-Giuffre on the night in question, he said, because he’d been at a Pizza Express in Woking, and he couldn’t have bought her drinks at the Tramp nightclub because he didn’t know where the bar is, and he couldn’t have sweated on the dance floor because, thanks to his wartime experience, he had a medical condition that made it impossible to sweat.
After being grilled by the brilliant Emily Maitlis, he is no doubt on the mend. Maitlis ended with the necessary yet devastating protocol: “Your Royal Highness, thank you.” The interview was terminated at 10pm.
‘I’m being polite’
I’m furious. What was missing was a proper acknowledgement of Epstein’s crimes. He was a child rapist. A disgusting, cruel, callous groomer and abuser of young women, a pervert who enjoyed wealth and powerful connections.
Epstein’s 2008 sentence was a generous plea deal that let him spend up to 12 hours a day, six days a week out of jail. He was picked up and dropped off in a limousine. He was released after almost 13 months, and then rearrested in July of this year. Epstein was found dead in his cell. Suicide, apparently.
Prince Andrew said that Epstein had “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming”, as if he put his feet on the furniture. Maitlis said with disbelief: “He was a sex offender.” “Yeah, I’m sorry,” the Duke replied. “I’m being polite.”
I tried to think how I’d have behaved if this happened to me; if a friend who wasn’t quite a friend raped multiple girls and went to prison for it. I might have made contact with him while he was inside. That’s controversial, but I’d want to know if he understood what he had done and if he were trying change. I believe we owe that, even to the worst people.
Prince Andrew described his own behaviour towards Epstein as “honourable”, but if everything he has said happened as it did and his motivations were as he described, he took the least honourable path of all. He cut Epstein off. He only got in touch with him to dump him.
And he stayed at his house because it was convenient. The implication is that the eighth in line to the throne had nowhere else to stay. It adds up to a picture of a rather sad man with ambiguous friendships who cannot pick up a phone or quietly book himself into the New York Radisson.
There was an opportunity here for self-awareness, but I fear Prince Andrew does not know himself, and although a part of me wanted to feel sorry for him, whatever there was to be pitied had to be delicately inferred.
All sympathy, however, vanished the moment he mentioned his “mental health”. Prince Andrew didn’t share his experiences in this interview: he deployed them for sympathy. He came under fire in the Falklands, you know; he does an awful lot of work for charity. And then he dropped the golden words that dealing with Epstein had been “almost a mental health issue” for the frail old Duke of York.
Of course people have mental health issues; of course it helps to talk about it. But the phrase is too often used to suggest that you are the victim of an existential problem you can’t fix and it’s unreasonable to expect you to — when, in reality, the way you feel is a reaction to a concrete situation that’s well within your control.
And if you feel anxiety over your past association with a convicted paedophile, fix it by, if necessary, helping the police with their inquiries. To declare that you’ve had a sort of mental health problem is to make this all about you. People might think you are trying to shift sympathy from the actual victims to someone who, let’s be honest, has had a rather blessed life.
Tim Stanley is a noted British journalist and historian.