Prince Andrew backlash goes on as more firms step away from his scheme

Jonathan Prynn, BENEDICT MOORE-BRIDGER, Julia Atherley
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A key backer of Prince Andrew’s Pitch@Palace business mentoring scheme today warned that the Jeffrey Epstein scandal risked causing “terminal harm” to the project.

Buckingham Palace said the Duke of York would continue his work with the initiative, despite stepping away from public duties amid the fallout from the royal’s disastrous Newsnight interview.

But sources said sponsors were privately pushing hard for the duke to step down but that nothing had yet been decided, with crisis talks at Pitch@Palace continuing.

A source from one leading sponsor told the Standard: “The priority for people still involved in this programme is to stop it suffering terminal harm, and the longer this goes on the less likely it is that the programme can exist in its current form.”

Pitch@Palace, which matches investors with start-up companies, claims to have helped more than 1,000 entrepreneurs since its launch in 2014.

Buckingham Palace said the Duke of York would continue his work with Pitch@Palace (AFP via Getty Images)

The list of 34 sponsors has been removed from its website, but are known to include multinationals such as Bosch, KPMG and Standard Chartered.

A number have already pulled out, while high street bank Barclays today said: “We are concerned about the current situation and are keeping our position under review.”

It came as one of last year’s Pitch@Palace finalists said it would be “stepping away” from any association with it. Kids Know Best, which provides research on children’s marketing trends, was a finalist at a Pitch@Palace event at Buckingham Palace in November last year.

Rich Wilson, another entrepreneur invited to pitch at one of the scheme’s events, said he was “astonished” at the prince’s decision to remain involved.

He told The Times: “The prince’s continued involvement is simply madness and will only serve as a trigger for the death of Pitch@Palace.”

It was reported today that Andrew’s closest aide, Amanda Thirsk, thought to have persuaded him to give the TV interview, could now become Pitch@

Palace’s chief executive. It also emerged that Andrew, who denies allegations of sleeping with one of Epstein’s teenage victims, has cancelled a planned trip to Bahrain this weekend for a Pitch@Palace “boot camp”.