As a national embarrassment, Prince Andrew approaches world-class. There have been tales of dodgy friendships, princely extravagance, a colorful love life, and a not-so-royal manner to delight the tabloids. Only his ex-wife, the Duchess of York (a.k.a. Fergie), can exceed his capacity for the headline-grabbing faux pas.
But the press minders at Buckingham Palace can rest easier. For 10 years, the queen’s second son served his country in idiosyncratic style as an overseas trade envoy, schmoozing for Britain around the world from Afghanistan to Vietnam. No longer. A statement on his personal website on Friday said that in the future he would be pursuing “a more diverse portfolio of activities.”
About time, too, say the prince’s critics, alarmed by a recent spate of awkward allegations. And as details emerged, there’s been talk of discreet pressure on the prince to abandon his international role. A golfing habit and a liking for girls are fine for a 51-year-old divorcé. More troubling is a weakness for the company of the super-rich and a reputation for boorishness.
The list of the prince’s reported friends or acquaintances will certainly have raised eyebrows in Whitehall. Among them: Saif Gaddafi, the Libyan leader’s son, and Timur Kulibayev, son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan, who has reportedly acquired the prince’s former home, Sunninghill Park, for nearly £3 million more than the £15 million asking price.
That’s not to mention his decision to continue a longstanding friendship with U.S. hedge-fund billionaire Jeffrey Epstein—once entertained by the queen in England as the prince’s guest—even after his conviction for soliciting prostitution with underage girls. For good measure, the Duchess of York, forever cash-strapped, woefully admitted that Epstein had helped pay off her debts.
The queen’s second son took up the unpaid role as trade envoy following a 22-year career as a naval officer, serving with distinction as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War of 1982. Since then, he’s traveled the world—last year he spent 49 days overseas visiting 15 countries—to promote British business, using his title to woo royalty-susceptible local potentates.
Not all observers were impressed. A cable from the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan—revealed as part of the WikiLeaks haul—told how the "cocky” prince had entertained British businessmen by openly comparing the level of local corruption to that of France, condemning “idiotic” U.K. anti-corruption investigators who’d jeopardized an arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and ridiculing Americans for their poor grasp of geography.
It’s a personal style that tempted British diplomats, obliged to play host to the prince on official visits, into some undiplomatic language. One former ambassador last year called the prince’s manner “brusque to the point of rudeness.” Another diplomat recommended that an “entirely new role should be found for him as soon as possible.” Apparently, he was known in the Foreign Office as "HBH"—His Buffoon Highness.
The cost wasn’t only to the country’s reputation. The prince—nicknamed “Air Miles Andy”—last year racked up travel bills of almost £620,000 for his foreign trips, according to The Telegraph, all of which was paid by the Treasury. At times the prince, who receives a £249,000-a-year annuity from Parliament—paid indirectly by his mother—has reportedly traveled with an entourage of six, including private secretaries.
That’s too high a price for embarrassment.