Whatever else it was, it was a moment. A once-in-a-generation, no-holds-barred, on-camera royal interview which – unlike Princess Diana’s BBC Panorama interview in 1995 – was fully authorised.
It could not have gone worse. An interview which was meant to close down the topic of Prince Andrew’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein has instead opened it up. A conversation which was intended to reassure us about the prince’s judgement has had the opposite effect. A chance to connect the royal family with the modern world has revealed even more starkly that it is marooned and out of touch.
A lot will come from this moment – new lines of inquiry, and increased pressure on the royals to modernise. How will those be felt, and what could Prince Andrew have done differently to avoid the wreckage he is now surveying?
Three Tortoise editors offer some notes in the margins of this extraordinary royal occasion. We dissect how Andrew’s comments are likely to be read in the post-#MeToo landscape he is clearly unaware of; on the serious investigative questions still hanging over him; and assess just how far he strayed from what he should have said.
Emily Maitlis (EM)
Your Royal Highness, we’ve come to Buckingham Place in highly unusual circumstances. Normally, we’d be discussing your work, your duty and we’ll come on to that but today you’ve chosen to speak out for the first time. Why have you decided to talk now?
Prince Andrew (PA)
EM: In 2000 Epstein was a guest at Windsor Castle and at Sandringham, he was brought right into the heart of the Royal Family at your invitation.
PA: But certainly at my invitation, not at the Royal Family’s invitation but remember that it was his girlfriend that was the key element in this. He was the, as it were, plus one, to some extent in that aspect.
EM: Am I right in thinking you threw a birthday party for Epstein’s girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell at Sandringham?
EM: A shooting weekend.
PA: Just a straightforward, a straightforward shooting weekend.
EM: In 2008 [Epstein] was convicted of soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution, he was jailed, this was your friend, how did you feel about it?
EM: [Epstein] was released in July, within months by December of 2010 you went to stay with him at his New York mansion, why? Why were you staying with a convicted sex offender?
EM: What did he say when you told him that you were breaking up the friendship?
EM: [Epstein] threw a party to celebrate his release and you were invited as the guest of honour.
PA: No, I didn’t go. Oh, in 2010, there certainly wasn’t a party to celebrate his release in December because it was a small dinner party, there were only eight or 10 of us I think at the dinner. If there was a party then I’d know nothing about that.
EM: You were invited to that dinner as a guest of honour.
PA: Well I was there so there was a dinner, I don’t think it was quite as you might put it but yeah, OK I was there for… I was there at a dinner, yeah.
EM: I’m just trying to work this out because you said you went to break up the relationship and yet you stayed at that New York mansion several days. I’m wondering how long?
PA: But I was doing a number of other things while I was there.
EM: But you were staying at the house…
EM: … of a convicted sex offender.
EM: Because during that time, those few days, witnesses say they saw many young girls coming and going at the time. There is video footage of Epstein accompanied by young girls and you were there staying in his house, catching up with friends.
PA: I never… I mean if there were then I wasn’t a party to any of that. I never saw them. I mean you have to understand that his house, I described it more as almost as a railway station if you know what I mean in the sense that there were people coming in and out of that house all the time.
What they were doing and why they were there I had nothing to do with. So I’m afraid I can’t make any comment on that because I really don’t know.
Let’s go to that Central Park walk which was snapped. Friends of yours suggest that Epstein wanted that photo taken, perhaps he’d even set it up, do you worry that you were being played?
PA: Again, new information is coming out since his suicide has made us reappraise that walk in the park. We can’t find any evidence or my staff and my people and I can’t find any evidence to suggest that that was what he was doing. I mean you can look at it in so many different ways. The fact of the matter is is that somebody very cleverly took that photograph, it wasn’t as far as I remember nor do my security people remember, anybody being present or close because there were enough security around.
I mean there are even photographs of the security people who are around in the photograph. So I mean he could have done but…
EM: Yeah, I guess what I’m asking is do you feel that you were part of Epstein’s public rehabilitation?
PA: Oh no, funnily enough I don’t, no. I mean if he was… if he was doing… if that photograph was taken with that purpose in mind, then it doesn’t… it doesn’t equate to what actually happened.
PA: No, no.
EM: Do you regret that trip?
EM: Do you regret the whole friendship with Epstein?
EM: July of this year, Epstein was arrested on charges of sex trafficking and abusing dozens of underage girls. One of the Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts…
EM: … has made allegations against you. She says she met you in 2001, she says she dined with you, danced with you at Tramp Nightclub in London. She went on to have sex with you in a house in Belgravia belonging to Ghislaine Maxwell, your friend. Your response?
EM: You don’t remember meeting her?
EM: She says she met you in 2001, she dined with you, she danced with you, you bought her drinks, you were in Tramp Nightclub in London and she went on to have sex with you in a house in Belgravia belonging to Ghislaine Maxwell.
PA: It didn’t happen.
EM: Do you remember her?
EM: Do you remember dancing at Tramp?
PA: No, that couldn’t have happened because the date that’s being suggested I was at home with the children.
EM: You know that you were at home with the children, was it a memorable night?
EM: Why would you remember that so specifically? Why would you remember a Pizza Express birthday and being at home?
PA: Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do, a very unusual thing for me to do. I’ve never been… I’ve only been to Woking a couple of times and I remember it weirdly distinctly. As soon as somebody reminded me of it, I went, “Oh yes, I remember that.” But I have no recollection of ever meeting or being in the company or the presence.
EM: And you profusely sweating and that she went on to have a bath possibly.
EM: Do you know you didn’t meet [Virgina Roberts] or do you just not remember meeting her?
EM: Your friends suggested that the photo is fake.
EM: But it’s possible that it was you with your arm around her waist?
PA: That’s me but whether that’s my hand or whether that’s the position I… but I don’t… I have simply no recollection of the photograph ever being taken.
EM: Because [Virgina Roberts] said in a legal deposition, a legal court document in 2015, she had sex with you three times. She is not confused about this. She said the first was in London when she was trafficked to you, the second was at Epstein’s mansion in New York.
PA: That is a date in April I believe, is that correct?
EM: She said it was a month or so later.
EM: So if Virginia Roberts is watching this interview, what is your message to her?
EM: For the record, is there any way you could have had sex with that young woman or any young woman trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein in any of his residences?
EM: Virginia Roberts’s legal team says, “You could not spend time around Epstein and not know what was going on. You could not spend time around Epstein and not know what was going on.”
EM: “You could not spend time around him,” that was what they said, “You could not spend time around him and not know”.
EM: But you’d notice if there were hundreds of underage girls in Buckingham Palace wouldn’t you?
PA: Oh God, but sorry you would notice if there were hundreds of underage girls in Jeffrey’s house. Wasn’t there, not when I was there. Now he may have changed his behaviour patterns in order for that not to be obvious to me so I don’t… I mean this is… you’re asking me to speculate on things that I just don’t know about.
EM: You seem utterly convinced you’re telling the truth, would you be willing to testify or give a statement under oath if you were asked?
EM: Because you’ve said there are many unanswered questions, everyone affected wants closure, you would help to provide that closure.
EM: When was your last contact with [Ghislaine Maxwell]?
EM: The women are now being heard.
EM: How do you reconnect with the public then, now?
PA: Exactly what I’m doing which is to use and to continue to work with Pitch, to continue to work with iDEA and the things that I believe strongly in. I’m not somebody who does things in competition with people oddly. I do things in collaboration with people.
So I want people to… to work together to come to, as it were, a solution to a bigger problem. And so I got a number of people working together, particularly in the education field, particularly in… and also in areas of government and what they are doing so that we’re bringing everybody together so that we’re all pushing in the same direction and iDEA now does that.
EM: I know we have to bring this to a close because we’re running out of time. You’ve faced questions today on a very, very raw subject. There has never been an interview like this before, I wonder what that tells us about the way the Royal Family now confronts these difficult situations. Has there been a sea change?
EM: You’ve talked about a thick skin, I wonder if you have any sense now of guilt, regret or shame about any of your behaviour and your friendship with Epstein?
PA: On balance, could I have avoided ever meeting him? Probably not and that’s because of my friendship with Ghislaine, it was… it was… it was inevitable that we would have come across each other. Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes.
EM: Unbecoming? He was a sex offender.
PA: Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite, I mean in the sense that he was a sex offender. But no, was I right in having him as a friend? At the time, bearing in mind this was some years before he was accused of being a sex offender. I don’t there was anything wrong then, the problem was the fact that once he had been convicted…
EM: You stayed with him.
PA: I stayed with him and that’s… that’s… that’s the bit that… that… that, as it were, I kick myself for on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the Royal Family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.
EM: This interview has been exceptionally rare, you might not speak on this subject again, is there anything you feel has been left unsaid that you would like to say now?
PA: No, I don’t think so. I think you’ve probably dragged out most of what is required and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity that you’ve given me to be able to discuss this with you.
EM: Your Royal Highness, thank you.
PA: Thank you very much indeed.
All photographs Getty Images