When Prince Andrew agreed to an hour-long television interview on the BBC to discuss his relationship with American pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, he knew it was a high-risk move.
The Prince had never talked publicly about his association with Mr. Epstein, who died in prison last summer while facing criminal charges related to sex trafficking dozens of young girls. The Prince had spent years issuing statements denying he knew anything about illicit activity at the financier’s homes in New York, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, even though he’d been a frequent guest. He’d also rejected allegations that he’d had sex with underaged girls procured by his friend, despite a photograph showing him with one teenage victim.
On Saturday, Andrew hoped to finally clear the air and face the allegations head on, telling the BBC’s Emily Maitlis he’d answer any question. But instead of winning over skeptics, he’s now facing a storm of criticism for appearing arrogant, inconsistent and so hard to believe that some royal watchers have questioned whether he should step down from his duties.
“It was a car crash,” said Mark Borkowski, a public-relations consultant who works with celebrities. Andrew came across “as a hubristic person who doesn’t recognize the modern age and looks like a dinosaur. There was no contrition, there was very little self-effacing. … It was the equivalent of a sporting team getting the mother of all thrashings.”
Like many observers, Mr. Borkowski said the Prince’s attitude during the interview could be summed up in one exchange, when Ms. Maitlis asked if he regretted his association with Mr. Epstein, who had been convicted of sex offences involving a minor in 2009.
“Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes,” the Prince said.
When Ms. Maitlis shot back: “Unbecoming? He was a sex offender,” the Prince replied: “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite.”
Mr. Borkowski said it appeared the Prince ignored the advice of his staff and bulled ahead with the interview. “It doesn’t take anybody with a public-relations degree to recognize that it was a very poor judgment,” he said. “The world is talking about it. Unfortunately, the world is talking for all the wrong reasons.”
In series of Twitter posts, the BBC’s former royal correspondent Peter Hunt, who still does commentary work on the Royal Family, said the interview raised questions about Andrew’s future role. “Prince Andrew’s judgment has long been called into question – now it’s also the Queen who’s exposed after the [BBC] interview,” he said. “Will Prince Charles have the courage to do what he should do – and tell Prince Andrew to retire from public life on the basis his judgment has been called into question one too many times?”
Charlie Proctor, editor of the news website Royal Central, put it more bluntly: “I expected a train wreck. That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad.”
The Prince said he’d spent months mulling over whether to do the interview. Several media reports said his senior public-relations adviser quit over the Prince’s decision to go ahead with the broadcast, suggesting a rift within the Royal household.
During it, he insisted he never met one of his chief accusers, Virginia Giuffre, who has alleged she was ordered by Mr. Epstein to have sex with the Prince three times. Ms. Giuffre alleged the first occasion was in 2001, after they drank and danced at a London nightclub. She described him as sweating profusely on the dance floor, but Andrew said that was impossible because he had contracted a medical condition while serving on a ship during the Falklands War in 1982 that meant he couldn’t sweat. It came on because of “an overdose of adrenalin,” he explained.
He also said he couldn’t have been at the club on the date in question, because he vividly remembers being with his daughter, Princess Beatrice, at a Pizza Express in Woking, which is near an estate he once owned. When asked how he could recall that so clearly, the Prince replied: “Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do.”
His main regret over the entire episode seemed to boil down to the impact it has had on the image of the Royal Family.
“I let the side down, simple as that," he said.
Police are still investigating Mr. Epstein’s one-time girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of British publisher Robert Maxwell. Lawyers for Ms. Giuffre and other victims have called on the Prince to testify in court about his relationship with both Mr. Epstein and Ms. Maxwell. “I would love to see Prince Andrew submit to an interview under oath with the investigating authorities,” her lawyer Jack Scarola told the Daily Mail. “Talking to the media doesn’t quite cut it.”
Andrew said he would agree to testify, but only after consulting his lawyers.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.