Tonight, The Duke of York’s interview with Emily Maitlis on BBC’s Newsnight was broadcast. Many Brits will have tuned in to hear Andrew’s side of the story, as to how and why he was friends with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and the accusations that have been levelled at him by Virginia Roberts.
Jeffrey Epstein died in his New York prison cell in August, awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. The 66-year-old financier was accused of running a “vast network” of underage girls for sex, and pleaded not guilty.
Prince Andrew revealed that they had been in talks for this interview for six months, trying to fit it into his, and Newsnight’s schedule.
When questioned as to ‘why now?’ for this interview, he responded that ‘there is no good time to talk about Mr Epstein and all things associated’ with him, but thinks that now is ‘a very good opportunity’.
About his friendship with Epstein, Maitlis asked: “Did you trust him?”
The Prince says he probably did. “I’m an engaging person, I want to be able to engage, I want to find out, I want to learn,” came the explanation. He later adds that, having worked with the NSPCC on a campaign to help others identify child abuse, that he ‘knew the signs’, but didn’t see anything he thought untoward on the times he me Epstein: ‘Nothing”. There was ‘no indication’ of his behaviour.
Prince Andrew personally invited Epstein as a guest to Windsor Castle and to Sandringham in 2000, with Maitlis saying he brought the American ‘right into the heart of the Royal Family’. Andrew insists that Epstein was only invited to these events because he was the boyfriend of his former friend, Ghislaine Maxwell.
It was revealed that The Duke of York invited Jeffrey to Princess Beatrice’s 18th birthday party, which was a fancy dress affair. By this point, an arrest warrant had been issued for the financier.
“Why would you do that?” the presenter asks. The response from the Duke is that says the invitation for Epstein came via his girlfriend, Ghislane Maxwell, and that he had no idea about the warrant at the time. It was also not brought up when they saw one another, he says.
Epstein served 13 months of an 18-month sentence for soliciting a minor for sex.
Next they spoke about the photo of the Duke with Epstein in 2010, taken in Central Park. “Why were you staying with a convicted sex offender?” she asks.
“It was a convenient place to stay,” came the royal response. Andrew said he was in the city for a few days in, having other matters to attend to. He decided to visit Epstein to break off the friendship, which was what was happening in the photo taken of the pair walking. The Duke had prevaricated on whether to see Epstein, being counselled in both directions, but ultimately decided he should meet with Jeffrey, rather that do it over the phone.
“I took the judgement call that because this was serious and I felt that doing it over the telephone was the chicken’s way of doing it. I had to go and see him and talk to him.”
He explained the photo: “And I went to see him and I was doing a number of other things in New York at the time and we had an opportunity to go for a walk in the park and that was the conversation coincidentally that was photographed which was when I said to him, I said, “look, because of what has happened, I don’t think it is appropriate that we should remain in contact” and by mutual agreement during that walk in the park, we decided that we would part company and I left… I think it was the next day and to this day I never had any contact with him from that day forward.”
“I never had any contact with him from that day forward.”
“It was definitely the wrong thing to do,” Andrew reflects when questioned.
“But at the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do and I admit fully that my judgement was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable but that’s just the way it is.”
He claims he chose to see Epstein ‘to show leadership’ and that being in the same place as him made it easier to speak with Epstein.
The Duke was unsure if the convicted paedophile had anything to do with the photo of them in the park. “We can’t find any evidence or my staff and my people and I can’t find any evidence to suggest that that [using Andrew] was what he was doing.
“The fact of the matter is that somebody very cleverly took that photograph, it wasn’t as far as I remember nor do my security people remember, anybody being present or close because there were enough security around. “
When asked about the claim that he was seen at Epstein’s house, having a young Russian woman give him a foot massage Andrew commented that he was sure it did not happen. The house was “almost as a railway station… in the sense that there were people coming in and out of that house all the time”.
He adds: “What they were doing and why they were there I had nothing to do with. So I’m afraid I can’t make any comment on that because I really don’t know.”
Ms Maitlis questioned why the Royal did not announce the end of his friendship with Epstein publicly. “Did you worry that he had something that could compromise you?” she asks.
Prince Andrew says: “No, no”.
A surprising answer for many was whether or not he regretted his relationship with Epstein. “Still not completely,” Andrew said.
“Now, still not and the reason being is that the people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him or because of him were actually very useful.
“He himself not, as it were, as close as you might think, we weren’t that close.
“So therefore I mean yes I would go and stay in his house but that was because of his girlfriend, not because of him.”
The interview then moved on to the accusations from Virginia Roberts, who claimed that the Prince had sex with her when she was 17. The Duke of York says he has no recollection of meeting Virginia Roberts, who claims they danced and drank together in Tramps, a London club in 2001.
“No, I’ve no recollection of ever meeting her, I’m almost, in fact I’m convinced that I was never in Tramps with her. There are a number of things that are wrong with that story, one of which is that I don’t know where the bar is in Tramps.
“I don’t drink, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a drink in Tramps whenever I was there.”
Andrew then explains that part of the issue is that Roberts claimed he was sweating profusely during the dancing. “Slight problem with the sweating – I didn’t sweat, because I had suffered an overdose of adrenaline, being in the Falklands, getting shot at. It was almost impossible for me to sweat.”
The date of the alleged event was 10th March, which the Duke says he was at home. “On that particular day that we now understand is the date which is the 10th of March, I was at home, I was with the children and I’d taken Beatrice to a Pizza Express in Woking for a party at I suppose sort of 4.00 or 5.00 in the afternoon.”
The Queen’s second son explains that he and his former wife have a rule, that if one of them is away, working we infer, that the other is at home with their two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie. “The Duchess was away,” he said and that he remembers going to Pizza Express ‘weirdly distinctly’.
Of course, Maitlis quizzed the Duke on the photo of him with Virginia, where it shows his hand around her waist. Prince Andrew confirms he has seen the photograph. “How do you explain that?” the presenter asks.
The Prince says he can’t because he has “absolutely no memory of that photograph ever being taken” and that it is very difficult to prove if it is a fake.
He adds: “That’s me but whether that’s my hand or whether that’s the position… I have simply no recollection of the photograph ever being taken.”
“I’m terribly sorry but if I, as a member of the Royal Family, and I have a photograph taken and I take very, very few photographs, I am not one to, as it were, hug and public displays of affection are not something that I do.
“So that’s the best explanation I can give you and I’m afraid to say that I don’t believe that photograph was taken in the way that has been suggested.”
He did, however, give a flat out denial of sex with Virginia Roberts. “It didn’t happen.”
The presenter poses the question if the Royal would speak to the authorities about his relationship with Epstein: ‘if push came to shove’, was part of the response.
He said: “Well I’m like everybody else and I will have to take all the legal advice that there was before I was to do that sort of thing. But if push came to shove and the legal advice was to do so, then I would be duty bound to do so.”
However, the Prince seemingly later contradicts himself and claims that he ‘would love to’ give answers that provided closure, and that he too sought answers.
Andrew comments that he was ‘shocked’ when he heard of the paedophile’s death, and that he couldn’t comment on the conspiracy theories surrounding his end. “I’m not one to be able to answer that question.
“I believe that centres around something to do with a bone in his neck so whether or not if you commit suicide that bone breaks or something. But I’m afraid to say I’m not an expert, I have to take what the Coroner says and he has ruled that it was suicide.
He also claims that he and Maxwell never discussed Epstein, despite their friendship.
Maitlis asks about the effect of the allegations on the family. “It has been, what I would describe as a constant sore in the family.
“We all knew him [Epstein] and I think that if we have a conversation about it, it’s…we are all left with the same thing, what on earth happened or how did he get to where he was, what did he do, how did he do it?
“And so it’s just a constant sort of gnaw.
“I mean this first came out in 2011 and it was a surprise to…to all of us because the photographs were published at a separate time to when I was there and then we sort of questioned what on earth is going on and as a family we discussed it.”
As the interview drew to a close, the Newsnight presenter quizzed Andrew: did he regret his relationship with Epstein? The Duke said it was the wrong decision to visit the convicted sex offender in 2010. He admitted he benefited from his association with Epstein, but had nothing to do with the financier’s crimes.
“Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes.”
Emily Maitlis interjects: “Unbecoming? He was a sex offender.”
The Prince says: “Yeah. I’m sorry, I’m being polite. I mean in the sense that he was a sex offender.”
Reflecting on his behaviour Prince Andrew commented: “I stayed with him and that’s… the bit that… as it were, I kick myself for on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the Royal Family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.”
Final comments from The Duke of York: “I think you’ve dragged out most of what is required and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity that you’ve given me to be able to discuss this with you.”