Features Australia

Close encounters of the royal kind

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

23 November 2019

9:00 AM

Prince Andrew has a dangerous habit of trusting the wrong people. Like Emily Maitlis. Why the prince put his faith in the anchor of the BBC’s Newsnight to put to bed, so to speak, nagging questions about his friendship with US financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, will go down in the history books as a PR blunder for the ages. The interviewus horribilis was utterly predictable and avoidable. He might as well have handed the task to the chairman of the Australia Republican Movement.

What Maitlis left out when she grilled the hapless prince was overwhelming evidence that Epstein set out to put Prince Andrew in a compromising situation, with the help of two women: Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of disgraced billionaire publisher Robert Maxwell, who had been a friend of the prince since they were in university and who was hopelessly in love with Epstein and Virginia Roberts, who worked for three years as Epstein’s erotic masseuse and was, in her words, his ‘number 1 girl,’ and determined to do whatever it took to stay that way.

Yet, far from disclosing the damning evidence that the monarch’s second son was the target of a ruthless man seeking leverage over a naive royal, Maitlis glossed over the entrapment. Robbed of that critical context, the prince was portrayed in the worst possible light, creating a perfect storm of condemnation for the royal family to endure.

Maitlis twice quoted Virginia Roberts’ legal team saying, ‘you could not spend time around Epstein and not know what was going on,’ as if Prince Andrew must have known about the crimes Epstein committed. Yet, in Roberts own legal testimony, she said she fooled everyone, even her own father, about what she was doing, writing, ‘Everyone that knew me believed I was living this enchanting life, a rags-to-riches success story that most people dream of.’

Roberts says Epstein told her that he wanted to ‘always have something on someone, just in case he needed it.’ ‘Jeffrey knew all of the right people,’ she wrote, including then-presidential candidate Al Gore and President Bill who she says she saw with two young women while on Epstein’s island. She specifically writes that, ‘trading girls for favours’ was how Epstein ‘kept in the circle of these high-flyers… blackmail being the only thing — next to money — with the ability to pull (so many) strings. His conniving ulterior motive was to drag all that he could down to his pitiful state of mind. Inviting easily tempted acquaintances to his island or his other various residences, he would bring out the assortment of young girls and pass them around like they were cocktails on a platter.’


Roberts was not an innocent bystander in all this; during the three years that she worked for Epstein she recruited a number of girls to work for him, targeting young teens — ‘the younger the better’ — who were financially desperate and promised to help them further their education and careers, training them to cater to Epstein’s prodigious and perverse sexual appetite.

Many of Epstein’s victims are calling for the women at the apex of his empire to be prosecuted as co-conspirators. Of her role in trafficking young girls, Roberts says ‘It’ll always haunt me,’ but has nonetheless portrayed herself as a victim of Epstein — she refers to herself as Epstein’s sex slave — a term which denies her agency and absolves her of responsibility. Hayley Robson, another girl who was the same age as Roberts when she started working for Epstein and also recruited young girls, had a different response. She was going to sue Epstein, she says, ‘and then I decided this is my life and I have to take responsibility for my own actions because I did volunteer.’

Roberts wrote, that as Epstein’s girlfriend, ‘it was a big occasion’ if he asked her to give erotic massages to anyone else. The biggest of those occasion seems to have been her encounters with Prince Andrew. In 2001, she says she, Maxwell and Epstein flew to London with the sole purpose of setting her up with the prince. She was paid $15,000 to give the prince an erotic massage and do whatever he wanted in Maxwell’s house and said Epstein took the photo that she has used to prove she met the prince. Roberts says that she was flown to Epstein’s mansion in New York later in 2001 for a second close encounter of the royal kind and for a third one on Epstein’s Caribbean island.

The prince says he has no recollection of any of the occasions but in any event, Roberts was above the age of consent and initiated contact as part of a commercial arrangement with her employer, which she kept secret from the prince. Roberts also refers to her excessive use of licit and illicit drugs and alcohol, which must cast doubt on the reliability of her recollections.

Roberts writes, ‘I’ll never really know what made me so important or special to Jeffrey,’ — he wanted to have a child with her — and puts it down to her ability to ‘be whomever he wanted.’ Yet it must also have been her extraordinary angelic beauty — in Epstein’s sordid world, she appeared to radiate purity and innocence, a fragrant lily, unsullied by the mud all around her.

That none of this detail emerged in the Maitlis interview is hardly a surprise. Earlier this year, the BBC upheld a complaint that Maitlis had ‘failed to be even-handed’ in an interview with Rod Liddle, the associate editor of The Spectator, after she asked him if he would describe himself as racist ‘because many people see you that way.’

Liddle was too clever to let this pass, replying, ‘Well, no, obviously, but I am used to going on BBC programs and being accused of such things.’ When Maitlis countered that his columns contained, ‘consistent casual racism, week after week,’ he responded, ‘Get a grip, Emily,’ and ‘do you have to, at every possible juncture, show the BBC’s grotesque bias?’.

Despite this, Prince Andrew chose Maitlis to conduct the interview that has made him an international ‘laugh stock.’ Of course, there is never any shortage of schadenfreude and people who enjoy a right royal snicker including Roberts, who now says the prince should go to prison’ for ‘abusing’ her. Yet at the time, she wrote that when she and Epstein were back in the United States, they both laughed at ‘the prince’s weird fixation on my feet and let’s just say he was quite tickled with Andrew’s quirky obsession, having a good ol’ chuckle at my eccentric encounter.’ And why not laugh? All the way to the bank. Epstein had his insurance and Roberts got $15,000, her royal happy snap — her prints charming, if you will — and a story she’s still dining out on.

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