After a fast and scandalous fall, can the Queen’s favourite son ever rebuild his reputation?
As the Duke of York rose to give a speech at his ex-wife’s 60th-birthday party in October, none of the guests assembled at their Windsor home, Royal Lodge, knew quite what to expect. It was not just that it came after a torrid summer of headlines about his friendship with the paedophile American financier Jeffrey Epstein, who had died by suicide in his prison cell two months earlier. With word having spread that the Duke was desperate to speak out and “lance the boil” of the scandal, was he about to bare his soul at the Duchess of York’s knees-up? Or worse, try to make light of the situation?
Yet at the celebration in honour of the woman we all know as “Fergie”, Andrew read the mood correctly. Appearing close to tears during the rare moment of introspection, he took guests back to the day he was reacquainted with his childhood friend Sarah Ferguson at a Windsor Castle lunch in 1985. “I fell in love with her at that lunch and I have never stopped loving her,” he gushed.
According to one of the 100 invitees (no other royals were present), “I saw him in the most real way I’ve ever seen him at her birthday party. He just made his love clear in this extraordinarily honest and emotional speech. And I think it was because, after everything, she has been the only one who has given him unconditional support. She provides him with the love that he doesn’t get elsewhere in the royal family.”
One month later, Andrew sat down to defend his connection to Epstein in the car-crash Newsnight BBC TV interview that brought his royal career to an abrupt halt – later referred to as “a masterclass in PR disasters”. On November 20, he issued an unprecedented statement announcing that the Queen had given her permission for him to “step back from public duties for the foreseeable future”. Finally showing some of the empathy he had lacked during the grilling by the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, he added, “I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein. His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure. I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives. Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”
Yet last month, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, said Andrew had given the FBI “zero co-operation” to date over its inquiry into Epstein. Sources close to the Prince hit back, saying he was “angry” and “bewildered” by the claims, as he hadn’t been approached by the FBI. At the time of going to press, the issue was ongoing. In addition, Andrew did not get the honorary military promotion to admiral he was due to receive upon his 60th birthday on February 19, and government buildings did not fly the Union flag to mark the occasion – following an outcry over an email reminding them they were supposedly required to do so.
So how exactly did the Queen’s “favourite” son fall so spectacularly from grace – and can he ever rebuild his royal reputation?
Prince Andrew as a young man with the Queen in 1980.Credit:Getty Images
Ten years ago this month, Andrew was looking forward to a lavish week of 50th-birthday celebrations, starting with a private dinner in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier with the Duchess and their daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, followed by a reception for 300 at Buckingham Palace and a third, more intimate do at St James’s Palace.
This year is a stark contrast: only about a dozen friends and family joined the Duke in celebrating his personal milestone with a private lunch at Royal Lodge, the Grade II-listed mansion, formerly the Queen Mother’s residence, that has been the York family home since 2004. Despite their 1992 separation and divorce four years later, the Duchess has lived there since 2008, when a scented candle set fire to the bathroom of the country house she was renting in Surrey. One source described Royal Lodge, an “unstuffy” 30-room property, as “probably the most normal family home of anyone in that family”, adding, “It’s very down to earth. The kids are independent but they are always popping in. It’s super-normal. One of Andrew’s achievements is that he has created that refuge for his family.”
As one might expect of an HRH, there are staff, but the Yorks “open their own front door”. “They won’t make the tea but they’ll pour the pot – into a mug, not a cup and saucer … They are generous hosts. But not flashy. If you go there for lunch, you get chicken pie.” Another visitor described how “in the morning you’d hear Fergie shouting down from upstairs”. (The pair have separate bedrooms. As another insider put it, “They are no different to a couple who have been married for 30 years but no longer have sex.”)
Andrew and Fergie with their daughters Beatrice (front) and Eugenie – both of whom have established their own careers – in 2006.Credit:Mark Stewart/CameraPress/ Australscope
When it comes to Beatrice, 31, and Eugenie, 29, though they have historically had some negative press – be it for wearing a pretzel-shaped royal-wedding hat or driving around in matching Range Rover Evoques – they are generally regarded as the greatest of the Yorks’ achievements; neither receives a royal allowance and both have established careers (Beatrice is vice-president of partnerships and strategy at AI technology firm Afiniti, Eugenie is a director at Hauser & Wirth’s London art gallery).
Indeed they are likely the reason the Queen continues to host Fergie at Balmoral every summer – in the absence of the Duke of Edinburgh, who by all accounts still cannot bear to be in the same room as the woman he once dubbed “odd and pointless”. According to one family friend, “They are the kind of girls who, if they enter the room and someone stands up, they immediately tell them to sit down again … [Andrew] is proud of the way they turned out precisely because they are so down to earth.”
Beatrice’s wedding in May this year to property tycoon Edoardo Mozzi was “never going to be a grand” affair, added the source, who said “a big wedding is not her thing”. Unlike when Eugenie married Jack Brooksbank at Windsor Castle in 2018, the event will not be televised. That the Duke insisted on a more grounded upbringing for the offspring he refers to proudly as “blood princesses” appears at odds with a man whose nearest and dearest admit he can be “prone to temper”, “rude” and “arrogant”. As one explained, “He can be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When it comes to his ex-wife and children and a lot of causes championing young people that he’s supported, he can show empathy, compassion, and there’s a heart there, but on the other side he can suffer from a complete lack of emotional intelligence.”
Another added, “He’d think nothing of [shouting at] staff and demanding to know, ‘What the f… is this?’ ” Staff quickly grew used to Andrew pulling rank and going to “the boss” (aka Mummy). The Duke would bypass Palace suits and persuade the Queen to sign off private-jet travel, a habit that earned him the nickname “Air Miles Andy”. “He’d take a helicopter from his back garden,” revealed one insider.
The Duke brandished his “Don’t you know who I am?” credentials in 2016, when he rammed the gates of his Windsor home to avoid a one-mile detour when the automatic sensors did not work, causing thousands of pounds’ worth of damage to the gates and his £80,000 Range Rover. A Windsor worker said at the time, “He has a bit of a reputation for roaring around like Toad of Toad Hall and seems to think he can do what he likes.”
You do have to remember Andrew was born into a royal family that was much grander than it is now … His nappies would have had royal crests on them.
He reportedly “tore a strip off” armed officers when they confronted him in the grounds of Buckingham Palace in 2013 after failing to recognise the Queen’s “top boy”. Scotland Yard apologised and he conceded, “The police have a difficult job to do balancing security for the royal family and deterring intruders, and sometimes they get it wrong.” But as one friend pointed out, “You do have to remember he was born into a royal family that was much grander than it is now. Go back 60 years and the way everything was done was much more formal. His nappies would have had royal crests on them. Everything was protocol-led. He was called Your Royal Highness from a very young age and brought up very differently even to William and Harry. There were no cosy Sunday lunches around the Aga with friends.”
That said, Andrew and his younger brother Edward, 55, saw more of their mother than their older siblings, Charles, 71, and Anne, 69, to whom he is not particularly close. The Queen sent her younger sons to Heatherdown Preparatory School near Ascot, so they could be educated closer to Windsor Castle. According to a source who knew all the Mountbatten-Windsors, Andrew was “a charming boy”, albeit not blessed with academic aptitude. “He fiddled about in the classroom a bit. He didn’t play truant or anything like that but if anybody could have made a bit of noise he could.”
Andrew excelled at sport and developed a love of skiing from an early age. (He and Fergie bought a £13 million chalet in Verbier five years ago.) “Edward was always much shyer than Andrew. [Andrew] was full of life, cheeky and mischievous. If he could throw a snowball then he would,” added the source. “The Queen made time for those children. She used to turn up at the school with one bodyguard and drive herself sometimes. She would attend sports days and various matches.”
The closeness perhaps goes some way to explaining why Andrew appears long to have been the Queen’s favourite, or as one insider put it, “the spare she had for herself once she had produced the heir”. Unlike introspective Charles, whom she found emotionally complicated, Andrew was straightforward and the more glass-half-full of the pair. Although he could be a bit of a handful, the Queen enjoyed the company of the easygoing son who could make her laugh and raise the family’s spirits. Andrew did not go to university, but there is no doubt that both of his parents took great pride in him following in his father’s footsteps and joining the Royal Navy in 1979, to train as a helicopter pilot.
Having gone one better than his big brother by completing the Royal Marines All Arms Commando Course, for which he received his green beret, Sub Lieutenant Prince Andrew was aboard HMS Invincible when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982, piloting one of the 10 Sea King helicopters on the aircraft carrier. Although the Cabinet wanted to move him to a desk job during the conflict, it was the Queen who insisted he should remain on the ship – one of many interventions on her son’s behalf.
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh famously joined other families of the crew in welcoming the vessel home to Portsmouth after the war, when Andrew returned a hero. In October 1982, shortly after his return, he went on a Caribbean holiday with the American photographer and actor Koo Stark, whom he had met the previous year. By now Andrew was very much the royal pin-up and the “Playboy Prince” – a reputation he put to good use after his eventual split from Stark, under pressure from the press and the Palace, after a slew of headlines about Stark having starred in a racy scene in a film earlier in her career.
Prince Andrew dated actor and photographer Koo Stark (pictured), who he eventually split with after pressure from the Royal family.Credit:
Reports abounded of “Randy Andy” rapidly clocking up notches on his bedpost, though the nickname also reflected a fondness for risqué banter. At a charity event shortly after media tycoon Robert Maxwell went overboard in the Atlantic Ocean, he is said to have made a particularly tasteless jibe. How ironic that seems now in light of his friendship with Maxwell’s daughter Ghislaine, who introduced him to her then-boyfriend Epstein in the 1990s, and is reportedly under FBI investigation over possible crimes linked to the sex-trafficking charges laid against Epstein before his death. (She is understood not to have been accused of any wrongdoing and to deny any involvement in his alleged abuses.)
It was also Ghislaine Maxwell who allegedly introduced Andrew to Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims she was ordered to have sex with him while she was working for Epstein as a 17-year-old in 2001. Andrew claims he has no memory of meeting her and denies any wrongdoing. “The Duke might be a shagger,” insisted one insider. “But he isn’t and has never been a paedophile.”
It was apparently the Duchess of York, not her husband, who played the field during their marriage. She had first fallen for Andrew’s looks, later revealing in her 1996 autobiography My Story that she was “struck by how handsome he was in his morning suit”, and liked that they “both knew the same idiot jokes”. But cracks soon began to emerge after their 1986 wedding. According to a friend, “I think she once worked out that she only saw him for about 30 days during their first two years of marriage. Loneliness drove them both in different directions.”
In 1991, rumours surfaced that she had become close to Texan millionaire Steve Wyatt, and in 1992 photographs surfaced of her on holiday with Wyatt, taken two years earlier while Andrew was away at sea. That March, the Palace announced their separation – and five months later, the infamous pictures of the Duchess having her toes sucked by financial adviser John Bryan emerged. While Andrew was initially left devastated by the break-up, one source described him as “like a kid in a candy shop afterwards”, adding: “Both pursued their own relationships but they realised they were still a good team and wanted to maintain the family unit for their daughters.” Andrew is currently unattached.
Prince Andrew, seen here with the Queen at Sandringham in January, has been described as "the spare she had for herself once she had produced the heir" – her first-born Charles.Credit:Getty Images
The start of the Duke’s fall from grace came long before the recent fallout from his friendship with Epstein. He had long cut a somewhat controversial figure behind Palace gates thanks to his innate air of superiority, and eyebrows were raised about his jet-setting after he was appointed as the UK’s “special representative” for trade and investment in 2001. The role was always going to involve travel, but Andrew was eager to do it in style, even at taxpayers’ expense.
Before long it wasn’t just his predilection for private jets that landed him in trouble, but the company he was starting to keep. Andrew’s relations with oligarch Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of the then president of Kazakhstan, were questioned when Kulibayev purchased the Yorks’ former home, Sunninghill Park, for £3 million more than its £12 million asking price in 2007.
His friendship with Epstein – whom Andrew visited in New York in 2010, some time after Epstein had served 13 months in jail for soliciting a prostitute and procuring an underage girl for prostitution – led to calls for him to step down as a trade envoy in March 2011, but then prime minister David Cameron gave Andrew his backing.
The Duke was finally given his marching orders by Number 10 in July 2011, following criticism over his ties with controversial figures – he had held meetings with Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif and entertained the son-in-law of Tunisia’s ousted president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali at Buckingham Palace. It was a pivotal moment. Although the Queen was sympathetic, there was little the Palace could do. But one former staffer pointed out, “He was the only one who could open these sorts of diplomatic doors … No one in government was prepared to do it and he got the flak.”
Andrew’s ex-wife did little to help his reputation. Having reportedly received a lump sum of £3 million for herself and her daughters, and £15,000 a year, as a divorce settlement, the Duchess would later be accused of trying to “cash in” on her royal status with Weight Watchers promotions and children’s books, before being caught by an undercover reporter in 2010 trying to sell access to Andrew for £500,000. Faced with bankruptcy, she accepted a £15,000 loan from Epstein to pay off a debt; she vowed to pay it back in 2011, describing taking the money as a “gigantic error of judgment”.
According to a source close to the former couple, “For all the problems she might have caused publicly, privately Sarah has always been Andrew’s most stalwart support. Each of them has their faults and flaws and you’d have to be blind not to see those, but she is fundamentally a good person. Completely batty but a good person. And awful with money.”
The prince with his adviser Amanda Thirsk. She is believed to have convinced him to agree to being interviewed on BBC TV’s Newsnight.Credit:Getty Images
The Duke stood by his ex-wife after news of the loan emerged – just as the Duchess stood by her ex-husband ahead of his Newsnight interview last year, writing on social media that he is a “true gentleman”. Having consulted lawyers who specialise in reputation management and even taken on (then cabinet minister) Amber Rudd’s former special adviser Jason Stein, the Duke had become convinced in the weeks leading up to the sit-down that he needed to “clear the air”. Stein recommended a newspaper interview, but Andrew took the advice of another aide, Amanda Thirsk, who until last month was his private secretary. Having joined his staff in 2004, she is believed to have been instrumental in his decision to appear on Newsnight.
“Amanda was the only one who could persuade him a course of action was unwise,” said an insider. “She had his ear. A loyal lieutenant and a very honest broker when he needed the truth to be told.”
Yet both he and Thirsk misjudged the Duke’s ability to come across well on camera. “Newsnight went wrong because he thought his [own] advice was best,” said an insider. Another was more sympathetic: “On paper it was an entirely logical move. It was his attempt to lance the boil. You have to remember there was an election on and there was a risk the royals were going to be dragged into political debate … He was trying to clear the air but he’s not a PR man. He’s not the kind of person who would want to be media-trained or buffed and polished. He was trying to preserve his authenticity but it didn’t work.”
There is no doubt the eighth in line to the throne bitterly regrets letting his mother down. Despite the furore, the Queen let Andrew be photographed riding alongside her in Windsor days after the interview aired, and invited him to accompany her to church in Sandringham last month, at the height of the Sussex “Megxit” crisis. Although one insider said that the only family members who had supported Andrew were his parents, another insisted, “I’m not for a minute suggesting that he’s been surrounded by a love bubble, but there were conversations over the Christmas break that were far warmer, familial and encouraging – Charles has been supportive … There’s a sense in the royal family that having had a very tough year, they do have to stand together.”
Now he has stepped back, the Duke has been keeping a very low profile, largely splitting his time between Royal Lodge and London, where he has been meeting regularly with his lawyers in a bid to work out how he can “clear his name” and “support the Queen in her hour of need”, according to insiders.
So what next for the enfant terrible? Allies are keen to stress that while he may have “stepped back”, he hasn’t “stepped down”. “The wording was quite carefully chosen by Buckingham Palace,” said one. “He wants to continue supporting the monarchy and the country but he recognises it’s far too early to decide how that role should look in the future. It’s a difficult time because obviously it’s his 60th birthday, but without Harry and Meghan there are an awful lot of organisations that still need support from the royal family.”
Very tentative conversations are thought to have been started regarding the Duke doing more to support the armed forces now that Harry has stepped back from his military appointments, but as the source added, “He knows he’s got to clear the fog before he can even begin to rebuild public trust. He’s absolutely adamant he’s done nothing wrong. Let’s not forget innocent before proven guilty. He’s not been charged with anything. If I could use one word to describe his mood right now, it would be ‘contemplative’.”
For a man renowned for speaking without thinking, it is certainly a start.
Edited version of a story first published in The Telegraph Magazine, London.
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