If a picture speaks a thousand words, there is one set of images that talks volumes about the Duke of York’s spectacular fall from grace. Of the official photographs issued by Buckingham Palace for Princess Beatrice’s wedding last year, none featured Prince Andrew. In one the newlyweds beam alongside the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, but no other guests made the cut, and Andrew — the father of the bride who walked his daughter down the aisle that day — is most conspicuous by his absence.
Things have since gone from bad to worse for Andrew, 61, a prince unable to escape the fallout from his friendships with Jeffrey Epstein, the late convicted pedophile, and Ghislaine Maxwell, who will stand trial in New York next month accused of sex trafficking and assisting Epstein in the recruitment and sexual abuse of young girls. Maxwell pleads not guilty.
Andrew faces a protracted legal nightmare of his own, after Virginia Giuffre, 38, one of Epstein’s victims, filed a civil case against the duke in August, accusing him of rape and sexual assault when she was 17 — claims that she has made for several years and which he has always vehemently denied. His lawyers say the accusations are “baseless” and initially appeared to use every loophole in the book to stall proceedings. “Not a good look for him,” says Lisa Bloom, the US lawyer who represents several of Epstein’s victims.
Andrew twice bolted up to Balmoral, the Queen’s Scottish retreat, after Giuffre filed her case, leading many to suggest that he was hiding behind his mother’s skirts to avoid service of court papers. He hosted a shooting party the weekend before the first pretrial hearing last month and not even the birth of his first granddaughter — Beatrice’s first child — on September 18 brought him south of the border with any haste.
Andrew returned to Royal Lodge 12 days later. The Queen and her second son are likely to have held some uncomfortable conversations as the 95-year-old monarch assesses how much more damage the scandal will inflict ahead of next year’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Andrew’s legal team finally accepted service of the court papers on September 21. Sources close to the duke say his recent hiring of the Hollywood lawyer Andrew Brettler, who has represented celebrities accused of sexual assault and harassment, indicates a change in strategy. “The decision to bring in Andrew Brettler to fight the civil case marks a significant turning point in approach, and the US team will be looking to robustly engage and challenge the claims from Mrs Giuffre in an attempt to provide the duke with a platform to finally clear his name,” says a source close to Prince Andrew.
“Not a good look for him,” says Lisa Bloom, the US lawyer who represents several of Epstein’s victims.
“They will be looking to examine and dismantle the claims one by one. By launching this civil case, Mrs Giuffre has actively invited legal scrutiny of her own version of events. This provides an opportunity for the duke’s team to scrutinize properly the multiple inconsistencies in her narrative that have emerged over the years, and you can expect to see a rigorous defense of all her allegations.”
Royal watchers say the protracted saga is causing lasting damage to the monarchy. “He has a sword of Damocles over his head,” says the historian Tessa Dunlop, “but the bigger picture is that this drip, drip, drip not only involves Andrew but, because he is the Queen’s second son, also engages the whole royal family, tarnishes their image and, by implication, Britain’s image too.”
How has it come to this? Most observers thought things could not get any worse for the Duke of Hazard after his catastrophic interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight in November 2019, in which Andrew sought to explain his friendships with Epstein and Maxwell, and prove once and for all that Giuffre’s allegations against him were nonsense. Instead it went down as one of the most bizarre and misguided attempts at exoneration ever seen on television, thanks to his “Pizza Express” alibi, his comment about inviting Epstein on a “straightforward shooting weekend” and his claim that he had a medical condition after being “shot at” in the Falklands that made it “almost impossible for me to sweat”.
Not to mention his failure to express any sympathy towards Epstein’s victims, which a source close to the duke said he later admitted was “a source of regret”. Would Giuffre have even pursued Andrew through the courts if he had not sought to so publicly discredit her? He insisted he had “no recollection of ever meeting this lady”, despite the now infamous photograph of his arm around her 17-year-old waist at the London home of Maxwell, who grins behind them in the picture.
Andrew is said to have told his mother the interview was “a great success”. Within days the Queen sacked her son from the firm, booting him out of his private office at Buckingham Palace, proving she can still be ruthless when it comes to the business of protecting the monarchy. Andrew withdrew from public duties “for the foreseeable future”, admitting that “the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work”. Most of the charities and organizations he previously worked with agreed, with dozens severing ties and Andrew relinquishing most of his remaining patronages.
He used to clock up hundreds of royal engagements annually, so what has he been doing for two years, hunkered down at Royal Lodge, his home on the Queen’s Windsor estate? “A lot of thinking and work on himself,” according to a friend. He has been liaising with his “working group” of solicitors, barristers, QCs and crisis management experts on the bid to clear his name, which has yet to make it into first gear. Once a regular in London’s finest dining rooms, he is now rarely, if ever, seen publicly socializing, with only the occasional photograph of him on a horse in Windsor Great Park as evidence of his daily activity. “Riding is on the ‘allowed list’,” says the friend. “He is climbing the walls.”
Not even the birth of his first granddaughter — Beatrice’s first child — on September 18 brought him south of the border with any haste.
Andrew is said to remain convinced there is still a royal role for him in some shape or form, if the dust ever settles. It is not a view shared up the chain of command. When he tested the water last year — with a source close to Andrew telling The Sunday Times he hoped to “serve his country and support the monarchy in the future” with a “public role”, claiming he had “support from the family” — the royal slap-down was swift.
The Queen may be privately supportive of her son, but a palace aide firmly conveyed Her Majesty’s stance: “While the hurdles around the Epstein case are still hanging over him, it will be difficult for him to represent the family in any capacity. In these situations, the monarchy tends to take precedence over the family. The royal family is supportive of him thinking about what life might be like after issues are resolved, but the palace is not currently planning any future rebranding of his role.”
The Prince of Wales was understood to be furious about Andrew’s claim of family support for a future role. After Giuffre filed her lawsuit, a source close to Charles said that while “the prince loves his brother”, the matter continues to bring “unwelcome reputational damage to the institution”, convincing Charles that “a way back for the duke is demonstrably not possible, because the specter of this [accusation] raises its head with hideous regularity”.
Prince William, who joined crisis talks with his grandmother and father over the decision to remove Andrew from public life, agrees that the change should be permanent. “There is no way in the world he’s ever coming back, the family will never let it happen,” says a royal source. “William is no fan of Uncle Andrew,” says a friend of the Duke of Cambridge.
Another source close to William says that one of the “triggers” that “really gets him” about Andrew is his uncle’s perceived “ungracious and ungrateful” attitude towards his position, which William considers “a risk” and “threat to the family”. “Any suggestion that there isn’t gratitude for the institution, anything that could lead anyone in the public to think that senior members of the royal family aren’t grateful for their position, [William thinks] is really dangerous,” says the source.
“Riding is on the ‘allowed list’,” says the friend. “He is climbing the walls.”
The royals are reading the room — a YouGov poll last month found that 69 per cent of people think it would not be appropriate for Andrew to return to public life as a working royal in the future.
Alarm bells sounded in palace circles in the immediate aftermath of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death in April, when Andrew made it known that he intended to pay a public tribute to his father. “He was literally gunning to be in front of a camera and was making it clear to the households that he was going to be in front of a camera asap,” says a royal source. Once again Charles was not amused, and hastily recorded a tribute to his “dear Papa” the day after his death, ensuring that Andrew, who spoke to cameras the following day, did not get there first.
There is some feeling in Andrew’s camp that the royal machine could be “much more supportive and engaged”. Instead, claims a source close to Andrew, “they have just stuck their fingers in their ears and gone, ‘Make it stop, make it go away.’ But Harry and Meghan should have taught them that even when a problem ‘goes away’, it doesn’t go away. The duke can no more be disinvested as a senior member of the royal family than Harry and Meghan can. It is who and what they are. If they don’t engage at all, it is going to become like Harry and Meghan on steroids.”
And while escaping the palace confines has liberated the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to strike multi-million-dollar deals and give bombshell television interviews, Andrew is finding it harder to adjust to the absence of royal protection and flummery he has relied upon for six decades.
Courtiers make no secret of the fact they feel the Giuffre matter is damaging the monarchy, but a palace aide dismisses the idea that help is being withheld: “From our perception the duke’s legal team is advising him and the legal team don’t want the palace involved. The fact is he is no longer a working member of the royal family, so the palace shouldn’t be getting involved.” The aide adds pointedly: “He is getting a lot of support from his mother.”
As well as continuing to offer Andrew private support and a home on her estate, it is thought that the Queen is assisting him financially from her private Duchy of Lancaster income. The duke no longer receives any public funding from the Sovereign Grant, and his $27,440 annual naval pension is unlikely to touch the sides of paying for the lifestyle to which he is accustomed. But a source who has spent plenty of time with the royal family disputes the regularly reported theory that Andrew is his mother’s favorite son: “The Queen doesn’t have favorites — you see the interaction and feel the dynamics and I’ve never felt favoritism there.”
One of Andrew’s problems is that he is not very popular. Mention his name in royal circles and courtiers roll their eyes. As one former aide explains: “He’s not made any friends on the way up, so no one is helping him on the way down.” One Whitehall source describes him as “a self-important bore”. A military source who has dealt with Andrew on several engagements does not mince words: “I’ve got no time for Andrew. He’s a total dickhead, an arrogant shit.” A source who assisted with Andrew’s 2012 charity abseil down the Shard in London recalls his less-than-Prince Charming behavior: “He was a total diva, lashing out at everyone.”
Andrew is finding it harder to adjust to the absence of royal protection and flummery he has relied upon for six decades.
A former member of the royal household says that an incident in 2001, while he was walking across the forecourt at Buckingham Palace with colleagues, sums up the duke’s approach to staff: “Andrew’s Aston Martin shot through the front gates and we were forced to make an abrupt halt to avoid colliding with him as he shouted, ‘Get out of my way.’ ” Another former staff member says: “He’s quite an arrogant chap with a tendency to blame other people when things go wrong, instead of looking at his own behavior. The Duke of York has never been one to take advice that doesn’t suit him, and he doesn’t hold back in letting you know what to do with that advice that he doesn’t want to hear.”
Yet another former royal aide who worked for him says: “He’s a deeply unpleasant man. The difference you see between him and the way Prince William and the Prince of Wales treat their staff with respect, straight out of the Queen’s handbook, is stark.”
When Prince Harry was forced to relinquish his honorary military roles and his HRH styling after stepping back from royal life, a slew of tributes to his service and commitment ensued from across the armed forces. There has been no such outpouring for Andrew, a former naval helicopter pilot who fought in the Falklands war, who retains his HRH styling and still holds his military titles.
There is widespread astonishment among senior defense chiefs that he has kept the prestigious role of colonel of the Grenadier Guards, which he took on from Prince Philip in 2017. He is hanging on by a thread at his mother’s request, says a military source: “The Queen has let it be known to the regiment that she wants the Duke of York to remain as colonel and the feeling is that nobody wants to do anything that could cause upset to the colonel-in-chief. It is a very difficult, unsatisfactory situation. His position is not tenable or viable. How can you have a colonel who can’t perform the role?”
It is clear that many in the armed forces think Andrew should fall on his ceremonial sword, which is collecting considerable dust.
For all Andrew’s detractors, he still has the doggedly loyal support of his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York. The couple still live together at Royal Lodge and “Fergie” is his constant companion, accompanying him to Balmoral on both recent visits. They holiday together in Spain with their daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, and in 2014 they bought a seven-bedroom ski chalet together for $22.7 million in the Swiss resort of Verbier. Last year it emerged the Yorks were facing legal action by the former owner for $9.2 million of unpaid debt on the chalet. But Andrew has at least resolved one lawsuit against him, and the case has recently been dropped as the Yorks are near to completing the sale for close to the asking price of $23.7 million to repay the debt.
Fergie has said of their unconventional arrangement: “We are the most contented divorced couple in the world.” They married in 1986 but she struggled as a naval officer’s wife, with Andrew away at sea for more than 300 days a year. Fergie fell in love with the helicopter hero who returned from the Falklands with a rose between his teeth, but later admitted, “What I got was not the man, I got the palace and didn’t get him.”
In January 1992 photographs emerged of Fergie with Steve Wyatt, a Texan millionaire, and the Yorks announced their separation two months later. Divorce became inevitable later that year when a topless Fergie was photographed having her toes kissed by John Bryan, her American “financial adviser”, while on holiday in France with her daughters.
No scandal seems to weaken their bond, however. Andrew stuck by Fergie in 2010, when she was filmed in a tabloid sting offering to sell access to him for $685,000. “Look after me and he’ll look after you,” she was quoted as saying. The duke categorically denied having any knowledge of the meeting between his ex-wife and the undercover reporter. Fergie later admitted that she had made another “gigantic error” in allowing Epstein to pay off $20,500 of her debts in December 2010.
Neither has had a significant other in their lives since they divorced in 1996, and Fergie’s recent comments suggest they will remain life partners. A friend of the couple who often sees them together says: “He loves her and she loves him.” Rumors abound they will eventually remarry.
Another of Andrew’s problems is that, as a former aide puts it, “he has a supreme overconfidence in his own judgment” — even though his judgment has often proven to be woeful.
As well as his friendship with Epstein, Andrew’s judgment came into question again earlier this year when it emerged that another friend, the disgraced financier Harry Keogh, was his joint partner in the now-defunct company Lincelles, thought to have been a vehicle for Andrew’s family investments. Keogh was believed to be Andrew’s long-term private banker. He attended Princess Eugenie’s wedding in 2018 and resigned the same year from the Queen’s bank, Coutts, after he was accused of touching a female colleague inappropriately. Keogh denied the claims.
It is difficult to gauge whether the vast sums of taxpayers’ money spent on jetting Andrew around the world for a decade in his role as the UK’s “special representative” for trade and investment were value for money. He was forced to relinquish the role in 2011, as concerns grew over his friendship with Epstein.
Andrew’s arrogance and lack of judgment have been on display abroad as well as at home. In 2010 WikiLeaks published a secret cable in which a US ambassador wrote that the duke had spoken “cockily” at an engagement and “verged on the rude”. Chris Bryant, the former Foreign and Commonwealth minister, has said: “When I was in the Foreign Office, diplomats used to groan every time anybody said, ‘Shall we get Prince Andrew in?’ because they would think, ‘We are going to have a very expensive hotel, we are going to need flunkies and he will probably offend somebody.’” A Whitehall source recalls having breakfast with Andrew in his hotel suite on a jaunt in Qatar: “He had all the trappings with him, even his own jams with silver lids.”
“Airmiles Andy” carried on whizzing around the world with Pitch@Palace, his Dragons’ Den-style initiative founded in 2014, which linked aspiring tech start-ups with investors. Lord Vaizey of Didcot, the former minister for technology, attended several Pitch events and says it deserves some credit: “It was a perfectly respectable, almost Charlesesque initiative, using the royal brand to make a real difference. If things had not gone off the rails, you could argue it was as good a royal initiative as the Prince’s Trust in helping young people.”
Andrew was not shy in blowing his own trumpet in an interview with The Times of London in 2017, describing himself as “an ideas factory” and the “entrepreneur-in-residence at Buckingham Palace”. But Pitch@Palace, which Andrew is no longer associated with, faces as uncertain a future as its founder. A statement on the website of its global arm says it is “taking time to reassess its future direction and strategy, together with a brand update”.
So where next for the prince who royal sources describe as “a busted flush” whose presence is “toxic”? The royal family will weather the storms swirling around Andrew, but with no room at the inn under the future reigns of King Charles and King William, what can he do? When Prince Harry publishes his memoirs next year, he is unlikely to give his uncle a free ride.
A royal source who knows Andrew believes he has limited options: “No business or brand in the country would touch him. He should go and manage one of the royal estates, or do something within the royal set-up that provides him with an entirely private role. He has to come to terms with a position as a private member of the royal family and stop trying to get back what he once had. He has to embrace a different role for the rest of his life. That will probably crush him, but he has to come to terms with it.”
Roya Nikkhah is the royal correspondent for The Times of London