The British monarchy has weathered many a storm over recent years. But the latest scandal involving Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein – as well as allegations that the royal had sex with an underage girl – is one that refuses to blow away.
The 59-year-old Prince’s disastrous attempt to clear his name in a televised interview with the BBC only compounded the problem. It led to his mother, the Queen, ordering him to withdraw from royal duties before he caused irreparable damage to the monarchy.
Buckingham Palace has said of the allegations: “It is emphatically denied that The Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation.”
Prince Andrew claimed he ‘never really partied’
But Prince Andrew’s fall from grace did not happen overnight. Although he recently claimed that his reputation as a partying prince was unfair, as he had “never really partied”, royal commentators are quick to disagree.
“I think his reputation as the 'partying prince' was perfectly fair,” says royal commentator Dicky Arbiter. “In the interview [with Newsnight] he came across as arrogant and boorish and you don't develop that over time, you are either born like that or you're not. He might deny that he was a party-goer but pictures tell a million stories.”
So how did Andrew end up with such a reputation?
The rise of the playboy prince
Prince Andrew, Duke of York was born on the 19 February 1960, the third child and second son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. At the time of his birth Andrew was second in the line to the British throne, but thanks to recent royal births, he has slipped down the order of succession to eighth.
There is an old adage that the Royal Family must produce “an heir and a spare”. With his older brother Prince Charles already first in line to inherit the crown, the latter role was always destined to fall to Andrew.
And with Charles the centre of public attention - particularly after his marriage to Diana in 1981 - Andrew was left free to enjoy a social life afforded only to the wealthiest and most privileged. He was able to indulge his legendary appetite for female attention, quickly earning himself the nickname “Randy Andy”.
Prince nicknamed ‘Randy Andy’ in Eighties
In the early Eighties, partners included Tracie Lamb, described in the press as “a leggy 21-year-old with a saucy twinkle in her eye” who Andrew fell for “after a sexy romp in the Caribbean surf”. Reports claimed the Prince frolicked naked in the sea with Tracie and two other British girls, with the Prince “playfully tugging at his companions' bikinis”.
Later there was Vicki Hodge, a baronet’s daughter who had appeared in the movie Confessions of a Sex Maniac. He also dated Miss UK 1980, Carolyn Seaward, and the model Clare Park. Actresses Katie Rabett and Finola Hughes were also regularly mentioned as companions to the Prince.
The tone of the press reports into Andrew’s relationships at the time typified the prurient fascinations of the British tabloids at the time. But there was never any hint of impropriety. If anything, there was laddish respect for the Prince’s lothario lifestyle.
At Buckingham Palace however, Andrew’s life-choices were not always so readily indulged. Royal disapproval erupted when he dated the actress Koo Stark in 1981. The Prince was reportedly ‘crazy’ about Koo and even took the highly significant step of introducing her to his family.
Could she be the one to capture the heart of the Bachelor Prince? But then pictures of Koo posing topless emerged and it was revealed she had had starred in a soft-porn film. Suddenly the couple were the centre of a media firestorm. The reputation of the Royal Family was at stake, and the relationship was doomed.
Redemption for Andrew’s tarnished reputation was to come with his service in the Royal Navy. He qualified as a helicopter pilot in 1981 and went on to serve on board the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible during the Falklands War, flying on multiple missions.
All concerns about Randy Andy’s lack of moral fibre were forgotten. Pictures of the handsome Prince in uniform at the controls of his Sea King helicopter lead to him being re-branded HRH; His Royal Heart-throb.
The Fergie years
But by the age of 36, he was ready to settle down and having known each other since childhood, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson (known as Fergie) married in 1986, following a whirlwind romance.
The Queen bestowed new titles upon them – the Duke and Duchess of York and couple had two daughters Beatrice in 1988 and Eugenie in 1990.
But before long, the marriage was soon in trouble, reportedly due to the demands of his naval career. It was said the couple only spent around 40 days a year together. They separated in 1992 and were divorced four years later although remain good friends.
Scandal was to follow the couple in the months following the split, with Fergie being photographed having her toes sucked by her financial advisor John Bryan.
Meanwhile, Andrew was involved in short relationships with models such as Catrina Skepper, who had starred in a Cadbury Flake advert, and socialites like Caroline Neville, the daughter of aristocrat Lord Braybrooke.
But when he left the Royal Navy after serving for 22 years it appeared the Prince had reined in the partying, initially at least. One acquaintance even described him as “living like a monk”.
However, times had changed, and in the fall-out from the break-up of Charles and Diana’s marriage questions were being asked about the very purpose of the monarchy. Andrew’s undefined role came in for particular scrutiny. What exactly did he do?
With this in mind, Andrew took on the role of Britain's special representative for international trade and investment in 2001.
Although this may have given him a sense of purpose, it has proved to be monumentally controversial, with the Duke regularly facing accusations of cultivating relationships with controversial businessmen and brokering arms deals with dictators.
His seemingly conscience-free globetrotting earned also him a new nickname; Air Miles Andy.
Air Miles Andy
Indeed, as a royal spokesperson told The Guardian in 2011: "Middle East potentates like meeting princes". They added: "We don't send him to developed countries like France and Sweden, where a member of the royal family would not make a difference, but in developing countries, or the far east, a prince can get in because of who he is. This role has become a central part of his life."
Access to a generous tax-funded expense account and licence to travel the world in order to schmooze the rich and famous seem to have also re-ignited Andrew’s appetite for self-indulgence and inappropriate life-choices.
He was regularly to be seen at high-society events, famously attending the model Heidi Klum’s “Kinky Sex” Halloween party in New York. But arguably his worst misjudgment of all he was to make friends with Jeffrey Epstein, an American financier who was to be convicted of child sex trafficking in 2008.
As details of their relationship emerged, the Prince attempted to cut ties with Epstein, but the damage was done. His role as trade envoy was terminated in 2011.
The Epstein scandal forced the Duke once again into the intense spotlight of public scrutiny. What was he doing with Epstein? Why had he visited him after he was released from prison?
But then Virginia Roberts alleged Epstein had paid her to have sex with the Duke when she was 17. A photo of Andrew with his hand round Robert’s waist emerged. Public opinion turned instantly against him.
Andrew’s response was to sit for a TV interview in which he would tell his side of the story and clear his name. Advised against it by his PR team, he went ahead regardless.
Newsnight interview proved a disaster
It was a disaster. His explanations were inconsistent and at times bordered on farcical. He showed no concern for the alleged victims of the crimes, and instead came across as detached and disinterested.
A source close to Buckingham Palace remarked: “Andrew is a bit of a plonker, everybody knows that.” But so damaged was Andrew’s reputation the Queen felt she had no choice but to remove him from public service.
As one observer of the monarchy noted, “Prince Andrew has been de-royaled.” As Andrew is believed by many to be the Queen’s favourite child, such a decision must have been heart-breaking.
But to some the Duke’s downfall has been grimly predictable for a long time – and was maybe even overdue.