The choking cloud of Jeffrey Epstein’s paedophilic legacy has been floating over the Atlantic for some time. It does its best (or worst) in matters of US and British celebrity, warts and all. It has not, for instance, exempted the British Royal Family, whose cupboard stocked with misbehaviours and raunchiness got just more crowded with the antics of the Duke of York.
Prince Andrew’s performance on Saturday on the BBC’s Newsnight was an object study of how not to self-exonerate. The prince had been thick with Epstein, though hardly a luminary when compared to that particularly chocked address book. The meetings between them were sufficiently frequent to warrant questions. Madeleine Aggeler reminds us: Mar-a-Lago in 2000; his presence at Epstein’s spacious abode in 2010; the foot massages from “two well-dressed Russian women” in 2013.
But when it came to alleged misdeeds, the prince can count himself high up in the rankings, with one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, adamant that she was forced when underage to have sex with the royal on three separate occasions.
In September, it became clear that the FBI was conducting an investigation into Prince Andrew’s Epstein link. As a member of the US Department of Justice revealed, “The US investigation is focusing on several potential victims in the hope that they can provide more details about Prince Andrew and his connection to the Epstein case.”
The level of Buckingham Palace’s seriousness regarding such claims is measured by the degree royal excursions are shortened. The palace has not been quite so sympathetic to Prince Andrew as they might, a point made by the shortening of a golf vacation in Spain over the summer.
Feeling some pressure to make a statement on the matter, the prince took the plunge with Newsnight. It became clear early on that levels of remorse were low. Knowing Epstein, for instance, had been a “useful” matter. “I wanted to know more about what was going on in the international business world, and so that was another reason for going there.” As for Epstein himself, the prince felt “regret that he quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming”.
Staying friends with Epstein despite his conviction did niggle Prince Andrew. He saw little trouble with those regular accusations of Epstein being a sex offender, but once the law had caught up with him, the prince had to “kick” himself “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.” Trust a royal to deploy a sporting metaphor to paper over misdeeds.
Prince Andrew conceded making errors, but these were more in the case of being caught out. His visit to Epstein in New York in December 2010 had been advertised as their “breakup” meeting, as doing so by phone would have been a “chicken’s way of doing it”. This particular process seemed lengthy and luxuriant, taking four days and a dinner party. Put it down to convenience, explained Prince Andrew, a nice place to crash. Even better, put it down to a matter of honour: “I admit fully that my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable, but that’s just the way it is.”
As for Giuffre, the prince dug in. He had never met her, or at least never recalled doing so. An evening in March 2001 spent at the home of Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s girlfriend and able procurer-in-chief, had escaped his memory, despite a photograph showing the Royal arm clasping Giuffre’s waist. “I’ve said consistently and frequently that we never had any sort of sexual contact whatever. I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.” That same royal could apparently bi-locate: while this kanoodling was supposedly taking place, he was at home with his family after a visit to the Pizza Express at Woking with daughter Beatrice.
In a darkly comical effort to sink Giuffre’s claims, notably one involving both dining and dancing at the Tramp Nightclub in London, Prince Andrew suggested a most curious alibi. Giuffre had recalled profuse sweating. Impossible, retorted the prince. “There’s a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I don’t sweat or I didn’t sweat at the time and that was… was it… yes, I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at”.
Such a specimen devoid of empathy impressed, albeit negatively, the Sunday Mirror. “No sweat… and no regret.” Read in a different way, Prince Andrew was being the consummate Britannic Royal: incapable of remorse or being flustered. In the face of such impropriety, the prince could summon smiles and even laugh, chided The Guardian.
That said, the prince’s sociopathic tendencies proved catching. Ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, only had praise for this man, an unusual species that combines honesty and “pure real truth”, remaining “steadfast and strong to their beliefs.” Perhaps her own degree of combination of pure real truth, with a pinch of honesty, could best be summed up by the assistance Epstein once gave her in the lean years: a gift of $15,000 to tie her over. That’s balance for you.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org