Five days in, and 2024 shows every sign of being yet another annus horribilis for Prince Andrew. After — by his, admittedly reduced, standards — a triumphant Christmas, in which he processed to church at Sandringham with the rest of the British royal family and, bizarrely, an apparently rehabilitated Fergie, the cold clear light of reality has intruded once again.
To kick things off, Andrew is facing the prospect of not one, but two docudramas raking over the humiliation of his Newsnight interview. (The potentially consolatory fact that he is to be played in them by Rufus Sewell and Michael Sheen respectively has been dampened by the fact the famously handsome Sewell is having to wear prosthetics to play the not-so-grand Duke of York). But much worse is that the metaphorical lump of coal in the stocking, his association with the pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein, has turned up once again to make the eleventh day of Christmas a miserable one.
In the most generous of assessments, the whole affair shows a shockingly poor lack of judgement on the part of Andrew
Granted, the revelations in the court documents, newly released in connection with the case against Ghislaine Maxwell, are not in themselves anything that has not already made it into the public domain. Yet the full testimony of the then-twenty-year-old Johanna Sjoberg makes for unpleasant reading. She describes how, after she met Prince Andrew and Maxwell at Epstein’s home in New York in 2001, Maxwell was very amused to find a Spitting Image puppet of the duke. In Sjoberg’s grim description, “They decided to take a picture with it, in which Virginia [Giuffre] and Andrew sat on a couch. They put the puppet on Virginia’s lap and I sat on Andrew’s lap, and they put the puppet’s hand on Virginia’s breast, and Andrew put his hand on my breast, and they took a photo.”
Andrew’s involvement with Giuffre resulted in a court case in 2022 that was resolved with an out-of-court settlement rumored to have been as high as $15 million. It was at least partially paid for by the Queen, who was always said (albeit on hearsay rather than any concrete authority) to regard her second son as her favorite amongst her children — despite his embarrassing and increasingly public actions. Andrew has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and there have been no criminal charges leveled against him either in this country or the United States. But his withdrawal as a working member of the royal family after the case was regarded as a tacit admission that his behavior had become unacceptable to “the Firm,” and that he was required to keep a low profile from now on and not to cause any further embarrassment.
The difficulty remains that the damage has already been done. In the most generous of assessments, the whole affair shows a shockingly poor lack of judgement on the part of Andrew, if not considerably worse. And so the appearance of the Epstein documents is a reminder that this tawdry affair will hang over the wider royal family for a considerable time to come. On an existential level, it remains vastly embarrassing that a senior royal, one once believed to be the glamorous, gung-ho public face of the monarchy, has been embroiled in a scandal of this kind. Despite Epstein’s death by suicide in 2019, the association between the two will continue to haunt him until the end of Andrew’s life.
It is rumored that there will be more unsealed court documents appearing over the coming days. Amidst the many people who are named in them — we also have the unappetizing detail that the former president Bill Clinton “likes them young” — there is every chance that more unpleasant and damaging stories will emerge into the public domain.
King Charles has been praised by many for keeping the monarchy afloat after the death of his mother; he is even showing signs of taking it in directions that she would not have considered, for which he should be commended. But his younger brother remains a damaging distraction to the good work that he is accomplishing. It seems right to suggest that his expulsion from the gilded halls of Buckingham Palace, and beyond, should remain permanent and irreversible, should the family not wish to be dragged down by the unseemly associations that he has been so tarred with.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.