Emily Maitlis: Andrew ‘told everyone he was happy’ with Newsnight interview

Emily Maitlis has said after her Newsnight interview with the Duke of York he “told everyone he was happy” and the palace felt it had been “firm but fair” but she does not feel they anticipated how the public and press would react.

During the November 2019 interview, Andrew was grilled over his relationship with the late billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, and the interview went on to win the scoop of the year at the Royal Television Society Awards in 2020.

The journalist told The Times she does not feel guilty that he stepped down from public life following the broadcast and the furore over his friendship with Epstein.

Duke of Edinburgh funeral
The Duke of York (Chris Jackson/PA)

Maitlis revealed that “almost no one knew except the Queen” about the interview in advance and that she thought he had “guts” for agreeing to speak to them.

“I felt he’d behaved rather well. He had given us this hour in the palace and was willing to talk about stuff,” she said.

“Most politicians now won’t even talk about their own policies. So at least he had guts.”

She said that afterward he spent a long time “chatting to us and allowing us to take shots going along the corridors”.

“He even gave me this guided tour, saying, ‘Her Majesty is just up these stairs. When you next come back I’ll have to show you more’,” she added.

Before the explosive interview was aired, Maitlis said she asked some of his acquaintances what he thought and they had apparently reported back that he had been pleased with it.

“He went to one of his ‘straightforward shooting weekends’ and told everyone there he was happy,” she recalled.

“The palace told us it was ‘firm but fair’. I don’t think they realised how the public or press would react. They certainly weren’t expecting the furore.”

She added: “A good friend of Prince Charles said, ‘Don’t worry, you won’t be put in the Tower’.

“I think they may have thought I had done what had to be done. I don’t feel guilty that he resigned from his royal roles four days later.”

Edinburgh TV Festival – Mactaggart Lecture
The journalist delivered the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival last month where she criticised the BBC’s response to the 2020 Newsnight instalment (Jane Barlow/PA)

Maitlis joined the BBC in 2001 and presented Newsnight from 2006 until earlier this year when she left the broadcaster for rival media group Global.

Last month, she delivered the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival where she criticised the BBC’s response to the 2020 Newsnight instalment in which she opened the episode by saying Dominic Cummings, then Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, had “broken the rules” with a lockdown trip to Durham and “the country can see that, and it’s shocked the Government cannot”.

The journalist said the BBC “sought to pacify” Number 10 by issuing a swift apology for her monologue and that she felt her introduction received “way more attention than in truth it ever deserved”.

Speaking to The Times about her decision to leave the BBC, she said: “On a practical level, there were projects I couldn’t just do.

“I kept having to say, ‘I’ll ask, but it’s probably a no’.”

She added: “I also didn’t want to stay if it meant being less good at my job.

“I’ve always felt strongly that we have a real responsibility in those big positions of broadcasting to tackle our subjects robustly without fear of offending or upsetting those in power.

“It’s important to me to be able to do that properly, rather than self-censor all the time, and I increasingly found I couldn’t.”

Jon Sopel and Emily Maitlis joins Global
Jon Sopel and Emily Maitlis left the BBC earlier this year to join media group Global (Global/PA)

When asked whether the BBC had become too scared of holding politicians to account in case it jeopardised its licence fee, she replied: “The last thing I want to do is join the army of BBC critics, because I have had the most phenomenal two decades there.

“Inevitably, the BBC is the lightning rod for anything that any government in power doesn’t like, but I think the attacks have intensified too far – we have a government that no longer sees the point of public-sector broadcasting.

“We need to fight back against this intentional trashing of one of our great institutions. The BBC management thinks, ‘Blimey, we’ve got to be really careful of what we say or they’ll take away our funding’.

“But I’d argue the opposite, that if we’re not doing our job properly, holding the government to account, we don’t deserve to ask the public to give us money.”

She added that she thinks politics has “altered fundamentally” and that journalism has not realised that “when people say fake news they are trying to disorientate you and demean your work, so they can then ignore any scrutiny you put them under.”

“It’s a game that the politicians are playing that the BBC, in particular, doesn’t understand,” she added.

She feels that Global will be “very editorially hands-off” with her new podcast, titled The News Agents, which she has created with her fellow former BBC colleague Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall.