Prince Andrew broke off from his annual winter ski trip in France and flew home early Sunday night to confront an increasingly lurid series of sexual allegations by a young woman who claims she was used as an underage sex slave by disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein.
He is expected to spend the next few days closeted with lawyers and advisers at his home, Royal Lodge, in Windsor Great Park.
The woman, who has been identified by name in the British press and also in a statement issued by Buckingham Palace on Sunday, but is referred to as Jane Doe 3 in her court filing, claims that when she was 17 she was flown to London to give an erotic massage to Andrew.
The palace initially responded to the court filing by dismissing the claims as “long-standing and ongoing civil proceedings in the United States to which the Duke of York is not a party…” but was forced into dramatically issuing further statements after an extraordinary series of revelations were made in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, which carried a previously unpublished interview with the woman.
The palace said in a fresh statement: “It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with [the woman]. The allegations made are false and without any foundation.”
However, the prince’s reputation is taking another battering, as it is becoming clear that despite his denials of sexual impropriety, he clearly did meet the young woman on several occasions in Epstein’s company. A picture circulating, showing the prince, then 44, with an arm tightly wrapped around the bare midriff of the very young girl, proves that they were in the same room at least once.
It is the steady accretion of detail that may yet be the most damaging factor in the battle for British hearts and minds. In the newly published interview, the woman claims that after she was flown to London as a “present” to the prince, they went to a London nightclub. “We went on to Tramp…He was the most hideous dancer I had ever seen,” she tells the Mail. “He was grabbing my hips and he was pouring with perspiration and he had this cheesy smile.”
In another section of the interview, after she has been flown to Epstein’s Manhattan home, the woman says Andrew is smiling “ear to ear,” as he had just been given a present, “some kind of big blow-up toy that was his Spitting Image puppet.”
The reference to a prop from a British satirical show that ended in 1996 is just so obscure for an American woman (now 32 years old) that it’s hard to credit it is simply made up. It’s also exactly the kind of spoof present that would have made Andrew laugh.
In the interview, the woman goes on, “A beautiful girl called Johanna Sjoberg, who worked for Jeffrey, was sitting on Andrew’s knee. Ghislaine [Maxwell, a British socialite in Andrew’s circle] guided me over to Andrew and I think he recognized me, though I don’t know if he remembered my name. We kissed each other on the cheek and Ghislaine placed me on his other knee.”
The Mail on Sunday reports that Sjoberg confirmed the encounter in a separate interview, saying she was 21 at the time and had been hired by Ghislaine Maxwell to answer phones and serve drinks for $20 an hour.
Maxwell was not available for comment but has described all claims against her as “untrue” and “obvious lies.”
Jane Doe 3 has also made the shocking claim that she was paid about $15,000 (just under £10,000) by the 58-year-old Epstein as a reward for her encounter with the prince. She did not allege the prince gave her the money.
The scandal has hit at a time when underage sex is the focus of intense public concern in the U.K., following the case of Jimmy Savile, a BBC entertainer who was posthumously found to have sexually abused hundreds of underage girls. Despite the fact that the girl in the Epstein case, at 17, was under the age of consent (18) in her home state of Florida, she was over the age of consent in all three locations where she alleges Prince Andrew had sexual contact with her (London, New York, and the British Virgin Islands).
However, at this stage in the news cycle, and with the palace now having issued three firm denials that he had sexual relations with the woman, such a detail is unlikely to help Andrew’s cause.
The allegations are gathering traction because they feed into the “randy Andy” narrative that pegs Andrew as an insatiable womanizer. When he was 30, this might have seemed OK to some. When he was 40, less so. Now, at the age of 54, he is starting to morph slowly but surely from playboy prince into a dirty old man.
Andrew still plans to fly to Davos in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum on January 21, representing the British government.
The woman in question, meanwhile, has business of her own to take care of—she is reported to be shopping a memoir.