If Prince Andrew hoped that a TV interview about his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein would stop the flow of negative press coverage he faced, he could not have been more wrong.
A tweet posted by Charlie Proctor, editor of the Royal Central website, following the royal’s high-stakes interview with the BBC appeared to echo the thoughts of many following the Saturday night broadcast that has created headlines around the world.
“I expected a train wreck. That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad,” Proctor wrote.
The Duke of York told BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis he had seen nothing that struck him as suspicious when he was around Epstein, who died by apparent suicide in August while awaiting trial on federal charges that he sexually abused underage girls and ran a sex trafficking ring. Epstein had pleaded not guilty.
One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has alleged that she was forced into sexual encounters with the prince while underage. In a 2015 federal court filing, Giuffre alleged Epstein forced her to perform sex acts with several prominent men, including Prince Andrew in 2001. All of them have denied the allegations.
The interview, recorded Thursday, was the first time Prince Andrew has spoken about the accusations publicly, though he has repeatedly denied them through statements issued by Buckingham Palace.
Fanning the flames
He chose to stay at Epstein’s home, the prince said, because it was “convenient” and “honorable.”
On camera, in Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s second son said he had taken his elder daughter to a party at a pizza restaurant on the night it is claimed he had sex with Roberts Giuffre. For many years, the prince claimed, he could not sweat, countering the allegations made by Roberts Giuffre that he was “sweating profusely” before they had sex when she was 17.
Asked by Maitlis whether he felt any “guilt, regret or shame” about his behavior or friendship with Epstein, the prince said only that it was “the wrong decision to go and see him in 2010.”
“Do I regret the fact he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes.” said the prince of Epstein, to which Maitlis replies: “Unbecoming? He was a sex offender.” The prince then responds: “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite, I mean in the sense that he was a sex offender.”
It was also revealed that Epstein was invited to the 18th birthday party of his daughter, Princess Beatrice, even though at the time Epstein had been subject to an arrest warrant for the sexual assault of a minor.
The prime-time interview would surely have been excruciating viewing for members of the royal family and their courtiers. It was, many said on social media, car-crash TV. This was not the narrative the prince would have wanted following an interview apparently six months in the making. He fanned the flames, and now the fire threatens to spread, media watchers predicted.
“I think any reputation management professional, whether lawyer or PR, is going to say that this was a catastrophic error of judgement,” prominent media lawyer Mark Stephens told the BBC.
Stephens added that the prince’s comments could open him up to more scrutiny. “What effectively Prince Andrew has done is lit the blue touchpaper and really, things are going to spiral out of control,” he said.
When asked by CNN about the wisdom of giving the interview, a Buckingham Palace spokesperson on Saturday declined to comment.
The grilling of the prince on one of the BBC’s flagship news shows has provided journalists with more fodder, UK broadsheet newspaper The Sunday Times dedicated much of its front five pages to his seismic comments. And, among the thousands of words written, there was little sympathy for the 59-year-old prince in the British press.
Sunday Times columnist Camila Long wrote: “There are toffs, there are royals, and then, it seems, there is Saint Prince Andrew. He is a man so much nobler than the rest of us that during his interview about his sex life … he had the absurdity to describe his behaviour around convicted paedo Jeffrey Epstein as simply ‘too honourable.’”
“You could just imagine the PR sitting just out of shot, head in hands, as he trotted out the ‘honourable’ line and described Epstein’s dungeon as ‘convenient,’” she continued.
In the Mail on Sunday, Elizabeth Day’s opening line was: “What on Earth was Prince Andrew thinking? The answer, surely, is not very much.”
There has been plenty of mentions to the soul-baring TV interviews done by Prince Charles and Diana, Princes of Wales, in the 1990s, when Diana told BBC’s Panorama that there were “three of us in this marriage,” in reference to Charles’ relationship with his now wife Camilla.
Failure to show regret
In the Guardian, Catherine Bennett wrote: “The royal family owes Princess Diana a posthumous apology: her Panorama appearance is now only the second most catastrophic, ill-advised royal broadcast ever made (unless that place rightfully goes to Charles’s earlier confession of adultery).”
Public relations and crisis consultant Mark Borkowski told the PA news agency he had never seen “anything so disastrous.” “For any students of PR that is how not to do it,” he said. “It was like watching a man in quick sand and unfortunately, I don’t think anyone would have thrown him a line to get him out.”
Plenty felt the prince had failed to show regret. The BBC’s royal correspondent, Jonny Dymond wrote: “There was notably little in the way of apology or remorse in the interview. Aside from that visit to Epstein’s house in 2010, Prince Andrew does not think he has done anything wrong.”
Labour Party lawmaker Jess Phillips reacted with incredulity to his choice of words, saying on Twitter, Phillips said: “Who knew Prince Andrew was jargon junkie middle manager.”
Catherine Mayer, founder of the Women’s Equality Party, questioned the prince’s intelligence, saying he was “too stupid to even pretend concern for Epstein’s victims,” PA reported.
The prince’s ex-wife Sarah Ferguson did, at least, defend her former husband before the broadcast was aired. “Andrew is a true and real gentleman and is stoically steadfast to not only his duty but also his kindness and goodness,” she tweeted.
And, in reference to the prince saying he remembers “weirdly distinctly” taking his daughters to the high-street restaurant chain Pizza Express in Woking, an area near London, comedy writer Simon Blackwell, said, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, that the prince had “drawn a line under the whole thing.”
All this could be far from being the end of a story the prince had probably hoped would go away.