by Tom George Hammond
Prince Andrew’s interview with Newsnight was mightily self-destructive. The Duke of York bought himself one hour, head to head with Emily Maitlis, to make himself appear human, and then he just impaled himself on his own hubris. But one might voice the concern that this moment of humiliation for Prince Andrew could be it in a way that certain public figures tainted by allegations are able to simply step behind the curtain. Once the oddities of the interviews are ingested, it’s possible he may just never come back on camera again.
The interview felt like it was screened from another Universe. Prince Andrew stated unabashedly that he did not regret his decades-long friendship and association with a serial sex-offender, paedophile and sex-trafficker, and stated that he could not, to his best knowledge, recall meeting someone who claims to have been trafficked to him for sexual encounters on multiple occasions. It is not in his “recollection”. Before the interview, an opera house of PR and legal advisors would surely have told him exactly what to say about his associations with Jeffrey Epstein, even if the questions from Emily Maitlis were not vetted. If they told him to express remorse about the relationship with Epstein, or, indeed, any sadness or shame for Epstein’s victims, Andrew must have forgotten to mention it. Perhaps he could not recall that advice either. After Maitlis wraps up the interview, just before the credits roll, Andrew gives a brief glance towards the camera. He appears to be smiling, slightly. Perhaps he thought he had just successfully cleared himself of all suspicion.
Prince Andrew’s defences were so odd, his denials so thick with bizarre transgressions (“it was impossible for me to sweat”), that it did become funny, if only for a moment. There is something funny about people using cold, very legal language to defend themselves from heinous things. There is something funny about someone using the phrase “well here’s the problem”, with their eyes lighting up, when beginning a comprehensive defence of their own character, as if they’ve just thought of the reason on the spot. There is something funny about someone seeming so unphased about the accusations of a sexual encounter with a trafficked seventeen-year-old that their admitted first response to the allegations being reported was “that’s a bit strange, I don’t remember that”. It’s funny, for a moment, to see someone of such tremendous status be so tremendously, blankly, self-arrestingly arrogant and stupid and aloof. It was funny, if only for a moment.
The allegations against Prince Andrew, along with details of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, first became public in 2011 in the leadup to the Royal Wedding. Sources then spoke of the Duke receiving dressings down from the Queen and from officials within Downing Street, along with cautious promises from someone within the palace that “we won’t see a photo” of Epstein and Andrew again. There is no material evidence of Epstein and Prince Andrew having met since they were caught on camera in 2010. It was “four years”, at that time, since Andrew had last seen Epstein, after the latter’s initial arrest and imprisonment, so one can completely understand why the Duke of York felt the urgency to fly out to New York and break off the friendship in one swift motion in a walk through Central Park, followed by a farewell dinner party and then a few quick chats in “the passage”.
There is an ongoing FBI investigation into the accusations against Prince Andrew, although, as the precis from Maitlis noted, the accusations have been brought in front of a court before and swiftly thrown out because they were “immaterial”. Epstein himself was once granted a quite extraordinary plea bargain with the FBI, which was aided in negotiation by Alan Dershowitz, another hugely well-known and influential public figure who has himself since faced public allegations that he has also denied this year on another edition of Newsnight. The plea deal, agreed to in 2006, granted immunity not only to Epstein but to all named and unnamed co-conspirators in the FBI’s investigation into his sex crimes. The investigation was being led by Alexander Acosta, who went on to be appointed as the United States secretary of Labour by Donald Trump in 2017. Epstein was eventually jailed in 2008, on state charges in Florida after pleading guilty to “soliciting prostitution with a minor”. He was, as the New York Times reports, held in a detention centre in Palm Beach, where he was permitted to leave the premises for work purposes for up to six days of the week. To stress what does not need to be stressed; the justice system simply works very differently for people with that kind of money and power.
We have seen similar acts of self-destruction to Prince Andrew’s disastrous interview; there was that quite deranged video that Kevin Spacey uploaded last Christmas, where he made joking references to the accusations of sexual assault that had then just been filed against him, all while wearing an apron dotted with little Santa’s. That looked like humiliation, although Spacey remains a millionaire, albeit now a more reclusive one. October saw the viral video of comedian Kelly Bachman confronting Harvey Weinstein during her set at a club in New York, and it was very rewarding to witness the footage of the disgraced producer being called out and shamed so publicly. A couple of weeks later, however, and another video can be found of the same shamed millionaire at a different club in Manhattan, where he was once accused of a public act of indecency. There, at an invite only event, he was treated only with respect and kindness. When Weinstein was arrested, he was holding a biography of Elia Kazan, a famed informer in the age of the Blacklist. The implication, perhaps, was that Weinstein was prepared to spill on the behaviour of others in Hollywood and beyond. The publication of Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill soberly maps exactly how Weinstein was protected for so long; he knew the secrets of other sexual predators. A few friends of Weinstein have since been subject to public allegations themselves, including NBC’s Matt Lauer, who faces accusations of sexual harassment and rape. Lauer has just had to sell his $44million in the Hamptons as part of a divorce settlement. When Jeffrey Epstein was arrested for child sex trafficking in 2019, his defence team lobbied for him to be kept under house arrest in his New York mansion, but that request was denied. As Epstein took his own life mid trial (in an unmonitored cell two weeks after he was strangled in an apparently separate attack), the charges against him were dropped, as were the hopes that any of his apparently high-profile co-conspirators might be named. If one were looking for a list of Epstein’s friends and associates then, as luck would have it, the deceased financier’s black book was published by Gawker in 2015.
But to return to Prince Andrew, a never more wronged man who could not possibly have known that he was frequently in the company of a distressingly prolific sex offender and sex trafficker, whether it be on Epstein’s private island or at one of his exceptionally conveniently located homes in New York or Florida. The Duke of York is an innocent, honourable man tragically shielded from the “unbecoming” deviancy of his friend, who, come to think of it, he was not even that close to anyway; Prince Andrew, the former NSPCC patron who would have spotted any wrongdoing had it happened in front of him, and whose only ties to Epstein existed because of the Duke’s ongoing friendship with Ghislaine Maxwell, another poor naïf completely oblivious to Epstein’s well of sin; for his Royal Highness, we must now draw a veil. He could not recall any wrongdoing, and he really, really thought hard about it, and it’s the sort of thing you really would remember doing because it’s a “positive action”. It was good of him to give his time to speak to Newsnight, which he wanted to do anyway for ages but hadn’t got around to it because he and Emily Maitlis were both so swept off their feet with other things. Now we can move on and look forward to the next big televised event from Buckingham Palace, when the Queen will make her speech to the nation in just over a month.