Another week, another Prince Andrew debacle, another predictable chorus of outrage from the tabloids. What a relief it must have been, then, that this latest imbroglio had nothing to do with under-age girls but that more prosaic minor-royal old chestnut—money. Namely, Andrew and ex-wife Sarah Ferguson’s reported failure to repay a $8 million debt owed to the vendor of the Swiss chalet they bought together for $21.7 million in 2014 in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier.
I thought I’d have a look into how they got themselves into this latest mess, but along the way I was repeatedly pulled back to an old one: Jeffrey Epstein. Remember Andrew’s painful BBC performance last November, when he couldn’t quite explain away his 2010 stay with his old chum? It wasn’t about the massages, as some had speculated, or the breaking off of their relationship, as Andrew suggested to the BBC. The real issue may have been money; Andrew needed around $4 million, and fast. In 2011, three years after Epstein’s first conviction, and only months after the newly released convict threw Andrew a dinner party at his mansion in New York, reportedly to celebrate his release, at which Andrew was said to have been the guest of honor (though the prince denies this), Ferguson tearfully admitted that Prince Andrew’s office had arranged for Jeffrey Epstein to pay off her former assistant, whom she owed around $108,402, with Epstein apparently bargaining the sum down to $28,850.
Ferguson may have left out the full extent of Epstein’s involvement. According to a source, back in 2010, Coutts bank had called time on her $4 million overdraft, of which they’d already excused $1 million. Shortly thereafter, Andrew was on his way to visit Epstein in New York.
“He went with his begging bowl to scrounge for her,” the source confided this week. During a conversation, the source referred to the prince by an affectionate nickname: “that bonehead.” “Everyone in the royal family knows this is why he was there,” the source explained. “They’ve always known the real reason.”
It’s the first time that this particular reason for his visit has been laid out. And to those who know the awkward and gauche prince best, it makes sense. And it explains why “bonehead” must have felt so confident and insouciant going into the BBC interview. It wasn’t just about sex. It was also about money.
Prince Charmless to the Rescue
Ferguson has always been famously spirited with money, both the making and spending of it. But she deserves an A-plus for enterprise and industry, signing deals with everyone from Weight Watchers to book publishers. According to my source, Coutts told her: “Enough is enough.” As Ferguson became increasingly desperate, Andrew wanted to help her. She had already allegedly tapped Virgin Atlantic billionaire Richard Branson and the late David Tang, the Chinese businessman and royal acolyte, for help. It’s not known if either obliged.
Undying loyalty and a deep friendship lie at the heart of Ferguson and Andrew’s long and complicated relationship. Consider them a sort of Bonnie and Clyde in coronets. Andrew feels responsible for getting her into the mess of being a royal wife, and so he may have looked to Epstein to borrow the money to repay the loan to Coutts bank.
Consider them a sort of Bonnie and Clyde in coronets.
Why would he risk his family’s reputation for a woman who has, on the surface, brought shame upon him? The answer is simple, as well as touching. Ferguson is Andrew’s closest friend, the person who knows him best. On the surface, they share the same, simple buffoon-like sense of humor, but also complicated backgrounds; their fragile but eager and naïve egos are easily stroked by the wrong people. Andrew is by nature a loner, one who lives to play golf—so much so that he reportedly asked Royal Protection officers to act as “ball boys” while he practiced his swing at Buckingham Palace. His attention span is apparently short, he speaks rather than listens, and his sense of importance and grandeur is anachronistic and well documented.
But, in fairness, Andrew was brought up during a time when being the son of the Queen meant he was above blame and censure. He believed that keenly, particularly when he returned from the Falklands in 1982 as a war hero. Like his aunt Princess Margaret before him, he has had to deal with increasing amounts of public opprobrium regarding his behavior. He is apparently stymied by it.
When the Yorks were married, in July 1986, they were expected by the public to maintain a lifestyle commensurate with their social station, but they lacked the funds to do so. Andrew was a prince with the bank account of a pauper, so to speak. Currently, he reportedly earns only a paltry yearly $22,000 naval pension and an annual stipend of $275,000 from the Queen. Which is why money has always been such a thorny issue, and why there was much speculation over the sale of Andrew and Fergie’s Sunninghill Park house for more than $4 million above the asking price even though it had stood unsold for five years and was never inhabited following the sale by its new owner, Timur Kulibayev, a Kazakh oligarch. “He thought the payments would be his job for life,” my source tells me, “but that’s all gone now.”
Make Way for the Queen …
The Queen’s devotion to duty—often at the expense of her relationships with close family members—also lies at the heart of this story. As a young Queen, Elizabeth was at first patronized and then undermined by obsequiously controlling male courtiers unused to being challenged by a woman. She fought back by becoming an exemplary monarch. Her children suffered in the process, and the British public has never quite understood the huge personal cost this may have had on Charles, Andrew, Anne, and Edward.
The Windsors today have learned to abide by very different rules. They are essentially employees of the British public, and their every move is forensically scrutinized. Kate and William understand this implicitly. Meghan and Harry have—presciently—apparently taken the liberty of recusing themselves before being sucked into the destructive royal rabbit hole.
It is not clear whether Epstein ever agreed to repay Ferguson’s $4 million debt. But their friends say the purchase of the Swiss chalet was a move to provide an inheritance for their children; they were wrongly advised to spend such a huge amount. I also suspect that their naïveté, coupled with their backgrounds of privilege and entitlement, also drove them to purchase a castle when a cottage was more appropriate to their means.
My source concludes by revealing something which has yet to be announced: the Queen has decided to step in and pay off the chalet debt herself. “Otherwise it’s going to court, and things will get really bad.” I also suspect she wants to save her hapless but beloved son from another scandal, particularly when the last one (Epstein) still stalks, and will likely forever stalk, his every move.
Vassi Chamberlain is an Editor at Large for Air Mail based in London