Daniela Elser: Prince Andrew’s delusional to believe he can come back from this

OPINION:

In 1982, Prince Andrew returned from fighting in the Falklands War, his ship HMS Invincible docking at Portsmouth to be greeted by vast crowds.

There on the dock to welcome him home was the Commander of the Armed Forces, aka his mother, the Queen. Roguishly wedging a red rose between his teeth, images from the moment saw him become an overnight conquering hero and media sensation.

Today, that image of Andrew – brave, dashing, charming – could not be further from the prevailing public view of him, with the best adjective to describe his current standing as “leprous”. (I don’t think even “toxic” quite cuts it.)

In the coming hours or days, a judge in New York will rule on the Duke of York’s legal team’s motion to have the sexual assault case filed by former Jeffrey Epstein sex trafficking victim Virginia Giuffre (nee Roberts) dismissed.

Giuffre, who now lives in Perth, has alleged that on three occasions, starting when she was 17 years old, the Queen’s son raped her, a claim that Andrew has strenuously denied.

On Tuesday, the presiding Judge, Lewis Kaplan, unsealed the 2009 legal agreement Giuffre had come to with Epstein and which included a $736,000 (US$500,000) payment. The deal is central to the Duke’s defence.

The newly released 2009 deal details how all other “potential defendants” are excused from “all manner of action and actions of Virginia Roberts”.

Andrew’s lawyers hope that the terms of the back-room agreement mean that Giuffre will not be able to carry on with her lawsuit against the Duke.

But here’s the thing. No matter whether Judge Kaplan rules in Andrew’s favour or should the case go to trial, he wins or loses, there is one thing that we can unequivocally say right now: There is no way back for Andrew.

He has been firmly tried, convicted and sentenced in the court of public opinion for his words and deeds following the arrest, and death, of Epstein in 2019.

And yet, 61-year-old Andrew still seems to be suffering under the delusion that there is a path that could see him return to the bosom of royal life.

The Daily Mail’s Richard Eden this week has reported that “newly filed documents” for [email protected], the entrepreneurial programme Andrew launched in 2014, outline the fact that “planned activity will resume” post-pandemic.

Not only that, but the initiative currently has $1.44 million in funds and still has three staff on its books.

Eden quotes a friend of Andrew as saying, “His Royal Highness is confident that the civil court case in America will soon be out of the way and he’ll be able to get back to what he does best: helping British business grow and thrive.”

Righto then. Hear that everyone? Andrew is ready to get out there, roll up his Saville Row sleeves and start currying favour with deep-pocketed foreigners in the name of Blighty!

And it is this attitude, right there, of trying to diminish this case and paint Andrew as a hardworking servant of the state, not a skerrick of contrition for his handling of things, that will condemn Andrew to exile and endless, lonely rounds of golf forevermore.

At the heart of this situation is the indisputable fact that the way he has conducted himself at every turn over the last two years is so deplorable and lacking in any character or moral fibre that he will always be a pariah.

Deservedly so.

Nothing can erase the fact that, the year after Epstein became a registered sex offender, he flew to New York to spend five days under the same roof as the convicted paedophile.

He was there in the Big Apple for that now infamous trip in 2010, Vanity Fair has reported, to ask for money to help his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York stave off bankruptcy. At the time, she owed $10.3 million to creditors including $183,000 to her former assistant Johnny O’Sullivan.

“Prince Andrew went to Jeffrey Epstein for help in paying that debt,” a friend of Andrew’s told Vanity Fair.

(In 2011, the Duchess of York, after the photo of Andrew and Epstein was released, triggering the scandal, apologised for having accepted a $36,000 loan from the disgraced financier.)

Likewise, it is on permanent high-definition record that during his self-immolating Newsnight interview, Andrew failed to express even a jot of sympathy or concern for the suffering of the countless women abused by Epstein, his former friend.

It was only days later, as the world fumed and the gates of Buckingham Palace were buckling under the weight of public rage, he finally mustered up some compassion, saying, “I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected.”

(Who can ever forget the fact he couched his decision to visit Epstein to end their friendship in person was motivated by his “tendency to be too honourable”?)

The world will not forget his failure to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the women who are the true victims here.

Nor will the world forget that when Giuffre’s lawyers tried to serve him with court papers last year he essentially hid behind the gates of his gargantuan Windsor estate Royal Lodge before making the 800km dash to Scotland to try and evade them further.

Then, that disgraceful farrago over, his lawyers filed their rebuttal against Giuffre’s case, resorting to trying to discredit her, with one section in the 139-page document headed “Giuffre’s role in Epstein’s criminal enterprise” and attaching a newspaper report calling her a “money-hungry sex kitten”.

(In November, Judge Kaplan ruled the newspaper clippings could not be taken into account.)

Yes, Andrew has every right to defend himself however, the fact his high-priced legal bigwigs – in both the US and London – have chosen to deploy a strategy based on denigrating a former teen sex trafficking victim is odious.

While this might ultimately prove an effective gambit in court, it has only pushed the dial in terms of public sentiment further towards ‘outright loathing’.

Let’s just pause here for a moment and talk about his defence.

Andrew is protected by officers from the specialist Metropolitan Police unit which looks after the royal family and the Prime Minister. Where are, say the rosters or the duty logs, that must surely govern this sort of work? (In 2020, the Daily Mail reported that Scotland Yard records for the night in question had been destroyed.)

Ditto, Andrew told the BBC’s Emily Maitlis that on the night that Giuffre alleges she was first made to have sex with Duke of York he had in fact been at an outpost of the chain Pizza Express in suburban Woking with his daughters for a party.

So tell me: if you were in Woking for a children’s birthday, watching your own kid get hopped up on fizzy drinks and ham and pineapple pizza, and the Queen’s son incongruously rolled up, don’t you think you would remember? (Earlier this week, lawyers for Andrew admitted they did not have any witnesses who could back up this claim.)

The bottom line here is that no judgment and no legal fancy footwork can undo even a skerrick of the damage that Andrew’s own handling of this situation has wrought.

Currently, a YouGov poll shows Andrew is the least popular member of the royal family. Currently, 5 per cent of women in the UK approve of him, and 10 per cent of the population overall.

He has been firmly hoist on his own petard of his hubris and his shameful attempts to portray himself as a victim.

There is no way to clear his name because no matter where the truth lies about whether he did or did not have sex with Giuffre, his conduct and behaviour at every turn since the events of 2019 has been deeply distasteful.

If Judge Kaplan throws Giuffre’s case out this week, it will be on a technicality and if Team Andrew thinks this for a second this will constitute some sort of wholesale exoneration of him, and thus pave the way for him to return to being a working member of the royal family, then he is as addled as the Queen Mother after her sixth gin martini. (What else would One do before Corrie starts?)

And yet, for months now, stories have been cropping up which suggest the under-siege Duke is still clinging onto the hope of returning to public life.

In October last year, The Times’ royal editor Roya Nikkhah wrote, “Andrew is said to remain convinced there is still a royal role for him in some shape or form, if the dust ever settles. It is not a view shared up the chain of command.”

Elsewhere, a source told the Daily Mail’s Richard Eden in November that Andrew is “determined to take part” in the commemorations planned to mark 40-years of the end of the Falklands War in June.

“The Falklands was a key moment in his life and he wants to honour his fallen comrades. He hopes this could help pave the way for a return to public life,” the insider said.

However, no matter that Andrew might have his heart set on making a triumphant return to the Buckingham Palace balcony (literally and figuratively) and no matter how sympathetically his mother might view his case, Princes Charles and William are both reportedly strongly opposed.

A royal source told Nikkhah, “There is no way in the world he’s ever coming back, the family will never let it happen,” and a friend of the Duke of Cambridge has revealed that “William is no fan of Uncle Andrew”.

Another source said that William felt that Andrew’s “ungracious and ungrateful” attitude towards his position was “a risk” and “threat to the family”.

Meanwhile, in a separate report, a source close to the Prince of Wales has previously told The Times that Charles feels there is “no way back” for Andrew in terms of returning to public life “because the spectre of this [Giuffre’s accusation] raises its head with hideous regularity”.

On the question of any sort of mooted return to the spotlight, a Buckingham Palace insider told the Daily Mail this week, “It would be better for all concerned to lance that boil now, once and for all.”

It’s not just his family who don’t want him back.

Andrew still holds eight significant honorary positions in the armed forces, including Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. This week, the first former member of the prestigious regiment went on the record to say that the Duke of York’s continued presence in the role “will put a stain on the regiment’s proud history … he must step down immediately”.

(Last year, a military source who had been involved with several official engagements with the royal said of him: “I’ve got no time for Andrew. He’s a total d**khead, an arrogant sh*t.”)

Likewise, and hardly surprisingly, almost 50 charity organisations had cut ties with him as of mid-last year.

Even his own brother reportedly doesn’t want to be photographed with him in public.

In November last year, an insider close to Prince Edward noted that the Queen’s youngest child had stopped riding in Windsor Great Park in part because of his brother who is a keen horseman who is regularly photographed out for a trot.

“Edward doesn’t think it is wise to be seen anywhere near Andrew at the moment,” the insider said.

Quite.

It’s time for Andrew to realise, this is it, old mate. No more strutting about in gold-braided military regalia. No more cutting ribbons or launching ships or trying to get murky, occasionally despotic, billionaires to invest in Britain. (Or, famously, buy his house for $4.35 million over the asking price.)

The privileged jig is up.

In November, a charity entrepreneur visited Royal Lodge for a meeting with Fergie and spied Andrew, “slumped on a sofa” while “a huge television was on,” as per the Daily Mail. An hour later, when the person was leaving, “Andrew was still in front of the TV.”

Here’s hoping he has binge-worthy series left on his list because the Duke of York is going nowhere anytime soon.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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