Printed early last week, the order of service for Monday’s Garter Day ceremony had every detail written down for guests. Listed in the ceremonial procession - right behind Prince William and next to Prince Edward - was Prince Andrew in one of the most traditional and historical events on the royal calendar. A mere 151 days after his titles and military honours were removed, the Duke of York was pushing forward with his plans to return to public life.
Behind the scenes, he and his team had already been laying the foundations. By Sunday, not only had certain media outlets been briefed, but his ostentatious velvet Garter Knight robe and plume-adorned hat was out of storage and prepped for wear in his role as a member of the Order of the Garter, a Knights of the Round Table-inspired fellowship and Britain’s most senior order of chivalry.
Even the palace appeared to be on board, with royal aides telling the Sunday Times in London that the establishment is beginning to “support him as he begins to rebuild his life”.
Most importantly, as a source close to the family told me last week, his mother had given his attendance the nod. Despite being forced to withdraw from duties two years ago, the Queen—who many have said carries a huge soft spot for her son—has long wanted Andrew to find ways to remain connected with royal life. His position as a Garter Knight was the only role not taken away in January.
But not everyone knew what was on the cards. When myself and another publication, Newsweek, reported the news that Andrew had solidified his plans to be front and centre at Windsor Castle on 13 June, I received a text from a dismayed palace source. “I will be very surprised if [William and Charles] let this happen,” they said. Twitter felt the same, with the public quickly calling out the decision to let the disgraced prince take part.
Watch: Why Was Prince Andrew Banned From Order of the Garter Ceremony?
Realising the potential catastrophe, it didn’t take long for Prince William and Prince Charles to step in. For the Duke of Cambridge it was, as the Evening Standard first reported, a “him or me” situation. “If York insisted on taking part publicly, he would withdraw,” said a senior aide of William’s ultimatum. And sources say Charles was concerned that Andrew’s presence would not only anger the public but also take away from his wife Camilla’s installation as a Royal Lady of the Order of the Garter.
By Sunday afternoon, Andrew had been delivered the news (signed off by Her Majesty, who the two heirs had consulted during their intervention): he would now only be allowed to take part in the private moments of the day. On Monday morning, Buckingham Palace—who usually pass Andrew-related matters on to his private team—confirmed the news themselves, citing a “family decision” for the change.
Andrew, says a source, was “crushed… [and] a little confused”. I’m told that earlier in the week, the duke was under the impression that the blessing had been given for him to join his family members in the ceremony.
His confusion isn’t unwarranted. To say there has been a reluctance to completely remove Prince Andrew from all aspects of royal life is an understatement. Though stripped of his titles, and under strict instructions not to use his HRH, the Duke of York still enjoys a greater wealth of royal privileges than other former working family members ever have. (Case in point: Prince Harry, who only left his role after a proposal for a part-time position was rejected, remains in a legal battle with the British Home Office to use his own money to pay for relevant security when in the UK. Andrew, on the other hand, continues to receive round-the-clock protection for the princely sum of zero, thanks to tax-payers picking up the seven-figure tab).
The reluctance was also clear when Andrew was allowed to walk the Queen in front of the world’s media for Prince Philip’s televised memorial service, and when he was given the go-ahead to attend some of the Platinum Jubilee events (a plan only stopped in its tracks by a positive COVID-19 test result).
All of this takes place against the backdrop of a major settlement with Virginia Giuffre (reportedly $12 million) to drop her underaged sexual assault civil case in the US. Though he still denies having met Giuffre (and senior royal family members also believe his innocence), Andrew’s choice to avoid trial and answer serious questions thanks to loans from the Queen and Prince Charles is very much fresh in the minds of the public. As is his continued lack of accountability for questionable friendships with a billionaire paedophile and monstrous sex trafficker. Or his many money-related scandals.
And this is what makes his presence—and even the threat of it—so damaging. By constantly being given room to inch his way back into the public eye, it not only makes a mockery of his supposed retirement but also reflects terribly on the family that palace aides just recently revealed want to help him rebuild his life.
As ninth-in-line to the throne, the Sovereign’s third child, and son of the head of the Church of England, every chance Prince Andrew is given to try and rehabilitate his image is a step closer to further damage and shame for the institution of the monarchy. It’s a disaster waiting to happen. I’m just not sure how many at the palace see it that way.