The failed royal response to Prince Andrew's Epstein scandal

12 August 2021

4:25 AM

12 August 2021

4:25 AM

The royals are dab hands at navigating crises. They’ve had no choice but to develop the necessary skills. Their armoury of responses include hunkering down, ensuring the stiff upper lip doesn’t quiver and – when all else has failed – taking firm, corrective action. In the past, this rule book has served them well, as they’ve weathered, survived, and thrived during the many decades of the Queen’s reign.

The Epstein crisis – inflicted on them by the actions of a Prince who was once referred to by a senior diplomat as ‘His Buffoon Highness’ – is not responding to the normal Windsor treatment. For more than a decade, Prince Andrew has tried to escape the shadow of his association with the convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein. When his efforts – including the disastrous Newsnight interview – failed, the institution took over.

Off stage, pulling the strings, Prince Charles ensured that his younger brother stepped down from being an active, plaque unveiling member of the family. Andrew’s statement in 2019 said it was for the ‘foreseeable future’. As far as Charles and others were concerned it was for ever, and a life of knitting (or some other such harmless, retirement hobby) awaited the former pilot who served in the Falklands War.

But there was an Andrew-sized flaw in this plan. For 21 months, he’s harboured hopes of redemption. With the help of advisers, he’s pursued his goal of returning to the frontline of royal duties.

After Prince Philip died, Andrew spoke on television about his father and played an active role in the funeral. These were mere baby steps. The giant steps necessary have eluded him and will continue to do so, while his relationship with Epstein – a relationship that demonstrated a catastrophic failure of judgement – continues to haunt him.

The Queen’s son, who’s ninth in line to the throne, stands accused of committing sexual assault and battery on a 17-year-old. Virginia Roberts Giuffre alleges, in her civil suit for unspecified damages, that the damage to her has been severe and lasting.

Prince Andrew has insisted, repeatedly over the years, that these claims are false and without foundation. His denials have not delivered the closure he seeks. He is not, and has never been, in control of these events. With his legal team he must come up with a response to the Giuffre lawsuit, filed in a federal court in New York. Her lawyers have insisted that he cannot ignore it and, as one of them put it, ‘hide behind wealth and palace walls’.

The lawsuit is just one of several challenges. The duke’s friend, Ghislaine Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that she conspired with Epstein in the abuse of four under-age girls. She is due to stand trial in November. And the prince has yet to resolve, to the satisfaction of the FBI, his promise to help them with their investigations.

Andrew is contemplating the Epstein sized clouds on his horizon in the company of his mother at Balmoral, her Highland retreat. He is the Queen’s favourite son. She will strive to ensure that he is never completely jettisoned. In doing so, the toxicity of Andrew’s friendship with a convicted sex offender will pollute him and the institution he was born to serve.

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