During the furore around Prince Harry’s memoir, the interest in Princess Kate’s “landmark” early years announcements, and the fervent planning for King Charles’ coronation service, there has been another royal story brewing behind the scenes.
While much of the world has been focused on the lives of other Royal Family members, Prince Andrew has been quietly plotting his reinvention. One that he hopes will clear his name for good and allow him to finally step back into the public eye. You’d be right for feeling like we’ve been here down this road before. It’s well-worn territory. In the run-up to Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations last summer, the Duke of York was busy planning a similar kind of PR do-over.
Without royal duties to prop him up, or titles to validate his position on the world stage, it appeared to many that he would instead focus his efforts on being a steady - and visible - presence in his revered mother’s life as she struggled with illness and episodic mobility issues. It was, he may have felt, a fool-proof way of winning over the public - the dutiful son by his frail mother’s side.
But when the monarch passed away in September, so did any hopes of riding on her popularity. Without the Queen to stick up for him, he’d find little sympathy from the rest of the family, who were all keen for him to remain out of sight and not tarnish their own reputations. For Andrew, he moved straight on to Option B.
Last week a friend of the prince said that the disgraced Duke has been exploring legal options to clear his name from Virginia Giuffre’s claims that she was forced to have sex with Andrew on Jeffrey Epstein’s private island in the US Virgin Islands, at his New York mansion and Ghislaine Maxwell’s London home when she was just 17 years old.
He may have settled for a reported $12 million just over a year ago, but it was done while still insisting that the claims were not true. The payout, sources close to the prince claim, “was simply to protect his mother from any further shame or embarrassment".
Recently I met with a long-time acquaintance of Andrew for a book I’m writing and they described a similar motivation. “The death of his mother has meant he feels comfortable revisiting this, regardless of any discomfort it may bring to the family,” they said. “He has always maintained his innocence and now he is keen to prove it.”
Whether proving it involves a push to expose supposed weaknesses in some of Virginia’s claims or taking it back to court has yet to be decided. Last month, a tasteless and tone-deaf photograph that Ghislaine Maxwell‘s family believe discredits Giuffre’s claim that Andrew had sex with her in a bath was published on the front page of Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. In it, two friends of Maxwell can be seen in masks pretending to be Virginia and Andrew to show “conclusively that the bath is too small” for the “frolicking” she once alleged.
Andrew may also have been buoyed after Giuffre dropped a lawsuit in November in which she had claimed Alan Dershowitz was among the men with whom Epstein forced her to have sex with, saying she may have been mistaken.
But if Andrew thinks that any of this will help exonerate himself, he’s sorely mistaken. Just like the several other times he attempted to squeeze himself back into public life, he’s once again forgetting the same key weakness - a lack of empathy.
It’s ultimately what turned so many off after his car crash of a Newsnight interview aired in 2019. Though the primetime special was filled with ridiculed responses, it was his lack of empathy for the victims of his pedophile acquaintance Epstein that incensed viewers the most.
“This will always be his problem,” says an associate of the prince. “He has a sensitivity chip missing… When everyone criticised him for not showing sympathy, he didn’t see the problem. Even today, I don’t think he’s particularly horrified. He certainly doesn’t express that privately. I’d say the public can already sense that.”
In fact, if what we’ve seen recently from convicted sex trafficker Maxwell’s “poor me” prison interviews and various Andrew friends regularly going on television to pour doubt over the authenticity of that infamous photo of the prince with his arm around Giuffre in 2001, the Duke of York risks coming out of this latest PR exercise looking even worse than ever. If that’s possible.
Watch: Surprising royal moments that didn't make final cut of the Crown
Over the next year he’ll have more than a few challenges to his innocence campaign. It was recently revealed that Giuffre—who had only agreed to a one year silence deal after settling with Andrew—has signed a major publishing deal.
Her memoir will not only reveal more the horrors of her relationships with Epstein and Maxwell, but also provide new and unheard claims about Andrew.
And it was recently announced by Netflix that Scoop, the forthcoming drama sharing the inside account of the road to Emily Maitlis’ bombshell interview, is all systems go with Rufus Sewell taking on the role of the disgraced royal.
Over at the Palace, both King Charles and Prince William are said to be poised to do whatever is necessary to prevent Andrew from causing further embarrassment and shame to the institution of the monarchy. “He has support privately but publicly, he is alone,” says a royal source.
In fact, other than the lawyers and aides on his payroll - including UK solicitor Gary Bloxsome and US lawyer Andrew Brettler - Prince Andrew continues to have no one in his corner. And if that’s not a sign for him to give up on this delusional comeback, I don’t know what is.