Prince Andrew has finally learned how to sweat.
For a while there he couldn’t; the result, he claims, of a medical condition stemming from an “overdose of adrenaline” he suffered while being shot at during the Falklands War. The good news is that his condition has now been cured. The bad news is that it took the most jaw-dropping television interview since Frost-Nixon to get him there.
This we know because last Saturday evening the United Kingdom screeched to a halt as one to watch Prince Andrew’s apparently unprompted interview with Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis. Over the course of a single extraordinary hour, with a sense of creeping dread, we witnessed the Queen’s favorite son slowly and systematically set a torch to his entire life.
The flames grew so hot that by midweek, Prince Andrew was forced to announce that he has chosen to “step back from public duties for the foreseeable future,” which is plainly code for “My mum just sacked me from my own family.”
For reference, it’s hard to overstate just how sacred weekend evenings are in the U.K. For millions it’s a time of comfortable clothes, Chinese takeaways, and collective television-watching. Behemoths like The X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, and Britain’s Got Talent are Saturday-night shows. Our routines are deeply entrenched. It takes a lot to drag us over to a peripheral channel like BBC Two. And yet that’s exactly what Prince Andrew managed to do on that fateful Saturday, scoring record ratings for Newsnight in the process. People were tweeting along to the interview like it was the Eurovision Song Contest, if you can imagine such a thing. If it hadn’t been about such a harrowing topic, it would have been a sensation.
We witnessed the Queen’s favorite son slowly and systematically set a torch to his entire life.
The ostensible subject of the interview was Andrew’s friendship with the wealthy pedophile Jeffrey Epstein—a friendship close enough for him to invite Epstein to Windsor Castle for Princess Beatrice’s 18th-birthday party, right after Epstein had been issued with an arrest warrant for sexually assaulting a minor—and the accusations that a teenage girl was forced to have sex with Andrew at the home of Ghislaine Maxwell.
But before long the true theme of the interview quickly blossomed. It became a study of a man so utterly buttressed by inherited privilege that he couldn’t even understand the scale of the car crash he’d openly volunteered for. Why should I worry? he thought. After all, it was he who ended the relationship with Epstein. Sure, he did it via the form of a four-day house party at Epstein’s New York mansion at which he was the guest of honor, and during which, witnesses recall, many young girls entered and left the house. But we’ve all done that. “Perched on a titty gold chair like a tiny nicotined owl, he shiftily said he was so innocent that he didn’t even notice that Epstein’s staff were young Russian girls,” wrote Camilla Long in the following morning’s Sunday Times. “‘I don’t wish to appear grand,’ he said, but staff do not interest him.”
Andrew’s claim about being unable to sweat—made to counter the accusation that he was “profusely sweating” when he met his alleged victim—was the tip of the iceberg. He also claimed that on the night of the incident he was actually having a pizza party at a chain restaurant in the town of Woking, that he was slow to end his friendship with Epstein due to “my tendency to be too honorable,” and that he is not one for public displays of affection. (Or compassion, apparently. He expressed no sympathy at all for Epstein’s victims.)
All of this was offered up with supreme royal confidence, even though he is one of the most photographed men on earth. As such, newspapers this week have been full of pictures of him cavorting in cartoonishly close quarters with a young American socialite named Chris Von Aspen.
Afterward Andrew apparently thought that the interview went well enough to offer the Newsnight crew a tour of Buckingham Palace. Well enough to reportedly declare “Mission accomplished” to his mother the following day. Somebody buy him the George Bush warship banner, for crying out loud. Surely it has to be on eBay by now.
He was slow to end his friendship with Epstein due to “my tendency to be too honorable.”
Needless to say, he was miles off. The aftershocks of the interview were violent and immediate. Prince Andrew’s P.R. man, who advised his boss not to go on television, quit before the interview was recorded. After it, legions of universities, charities, and sponsors broke all ties with him. His Pitch@Palace start-up project—so vital to his being that he once described himself as Buckingham Palace’s “entrepreneur in chief”—is in serious danger of collapsing. Gloria Allred has joined calls for him to cooperate with the F.B.I.
On Monday it was claimed that Andrew is a low-key connoisseur of the N-word. On Tuesday, it was said that he made “unbelievable” racist jokes involving camels at a Saudi-royal-family banquet. On Wednesday, it was reported that he wanted to do a second interview to correct the mistakes of the first. Then he resigned.
And now the topper: there are rumblings that the interview is the latest sign that the Queen has “lost control” of her family and that the very future of the monarchy might be at stake. And who could blame her? After 93 years of enduring this much god-awful dysfunction, I’d be tempted to burn the whole thing to the ground as well.
At least it would make a decent series finale for The Crown, which began its third season the morning after the Prince Andrew interview, which gave it the air of a publicity stunt. After all, one of the key story lines this year is the Queen’s friendship with Lord Porchester, who was once rumored to be Prince Andrew’s father. If nothing else, it felt like a setup of more explosive things to come. “We know Season Three might be a bit slow,” it seemed to be saying, “but, Jesus Christ, Season Eight is going to be Scarface.”
After all, one of the key story lines this year is the Queen’s friendship with Lord Porchester, who was once rumored to be Prince Andrew’s father.
Especially if that series also probes into the comings and goings of Boris Johnson, a prime minister so utterly disastrous that he’s the only thing threatening to keep Prince Andrew from the front pages. Specifically, there’s his friendship with American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, a friendship that day by day is turning into the Fatal Attraction remake we never knew we needed.
To recap, Johnson is currently being investigated by the London Assembly’s Oversight Committee for not declaring a personal interest when taking Arcuri—a blonde pole-dancing entrepreneur who also received several thousand pounds in government grants—on various overseas trade missions. Between Brexit, the unlawful proroguing of Parliament, the general election, and the hushed-up report on Russian interference, Jennifer Arcuri had once looked set to be yet another vaguely salacious nugget that would entertain everyone before quickly vanishing. But that was before Jennifer Arcuri decided that she wasn’t going anywhere, actually.
In an interview broadcast on Sunday night—great, another evening of television derailed—Arcuri railed against Johnson for cutting her out of his life. Once the story of their friendship initially came to light, she says, she attempted to reach out to Johnson for advice on how to deal with all the newfound scrutiny. However, the first time that she tried to call him, Johnson apparently passed the phone to somebody who spoke Chinese to throw her off the scent. This was the final straw. Arcuri is now embarking on an incredible game of chicken with Johnson. She has nothing to lose, so she’s edging closer and closer to admitting that there was a sexual relationship.
“I was brushed off as if I was one of Kennedy’s girlfriends showing up to his White House switchboard,” she told ITV, before addressing Johnson directly. “I don’t understand why you’ve blocked me and ignored me as if I was some fleeting one-night stand or some girl that you picked up at a bar because I wasn’t, and you know that.”
“I was brushed off as if I was one of Kennedy’s girlfriends showing up to his White House switchboard.”
It is the last thing that Johnson needs, especially since he’s doing a good enough job of mangling his election campaign on his own. There was the video of him looking abjectly befuddled by the words to “The Wheels on the Bus.” There was the audible on-air gulp when BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty asked why he was relatable. There is even the basic matter of how many children he has, a number so nebulous that Wikipedia lists it as “5 or 6.”
But Arcuri could be enough to ruin everything for him. Remember, this is a woman so untrained that, when she was first asked about her role in Johnson’s life, she declared, “I make men trip over their dicks. That’s what happens. They go insane around me. They’ve been doing it for years. It’s just what happens.” The woman is a bomb waiting to go off.
All this happened in a single weekend. Andrew on Saturday, Arcuri on Sunday. And it begs the question: What on earth is going on with this country? Quaint old quiet old Marks & Spencer Britain. This isn’t how things are supposed to work around here. This is news you’d expect to come from a warmer, less stable country. Maybe Italy or Greece.
What on earth is going on with this country?
Don’t get me wrong; we’ve always had our weird phases. There was the time that we discovered Prince Charles’s sexy talk involved bizarre tampon wish-fulfillment scenarios, and that odd period in the 1990s where it felt like Tory M.P.’s were lining up to die in intriguingly perverse autoerotic mishaps. But those incidents were few and far between. This is the norm now. It’s an onslaught. A member of the royal family can go on television and claim that an untested medical inability to sweat is proof that he never had sex with a 17-year-old girl. The sitting prime minister can get screamed at on television for ghosting a pole dancer. It’s all so unseemly. It simply isn’t cricket.
America, is this your fault? Did Trump do this? He’s certainly fairly adjacent to everything going on here, from his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein to his endorsement of Johnson. He seems to have his eye on us, too. We’re all convinced that, when Brexit happens, he’ll buy the National Health Service and drown us in chlorinated chicken. Can we blame him? Are we suffering through the fallout of your nuclear blast?
I mean, to be clear, this is all completely our fault. But isn’t it your fault as well, somehow? Anyone? Please? No? Well, it was worth a shot. Our country is on fire. If nothing else, at least you’ve got a decent view.
Stuart Heritage is an Editor at Large for Air Mail based in Kent, U.K.