If you love The Daily Beast’s royal coverage, then we hope you’ll enjoy The Royalist, a members-only series for Beast Inside. Become a member to get it in your inbox on Sunday.
Official sources at Buckingham Palace have declined to distance themselves from a bizarre claim by friends of Prince Andrew that the photograph of him taken with his arms around Jeffrey Epstein’s teenage sex slave, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, is a fake because his fingers are more “chubby” than the picture suggests.
Critics, however, have been quick to pour cold water on the extraordinary claims, saying that a host of evidence pointed to the images being genuine.
It is of course possible that Andrew genuinely believes himself to be the victim of a sophisticated piece of digital trickery, but to many observers the outlandishness of Andrew’s “fake news” claims, and the speed with which Andrew’s argument was demolished, gives a telling insight into just how badly he is being damaged by the ongoing Epstein scandal—and how desperate he is becoming as he looks for increasingly absurd ways out of the hole he finds himself in.
The identities of the supporters who made the claims questioning the authenticity of the photograph to London’s Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph have not been revealed. However, with Andrew currently sequestered with his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, away from the public gaze on an extended golfing holiday at an exclusive private resort in Spain, some detect Fergie’s fingerprints on this disastrous attempt at a more active style of media management.
The Standard’s source told that paper’s veteran royal correspondent, Robert Jobson: “Look at his fingers in the photo. The duke has quite chubby fingers, they don’t look right and nor does the height of the duke and the girl.”
In markedly similar language, what appears to be the same source told the Telegraph: “Look at the picture. It has clearly been faked. Andrew’s fingers appear quite slender, like a girl’s fingers. They are also a strange shade of red. His real fingers are actually much chubbier; quite small and chubby.”
Well, a close look at the picture actually does no such thing, as social media users were quick to point out.
It is a familiar argument that any picture or, these days, video is fake—Donald Trump famously suggested the notorious Access Hollywood tape was fake—but such claims will do little to restore Andrew’s credibility given what has emerged about Andrew’s close relationship with Epstein since the billionaire’s death.
The chubby fingers fightback on Andrew’s behalf comes after several weeks of damning revelations about his friendship with Epstein, including, just this week an account of him receiving a foot massage from two “young well dressed Russian” women at Epstein’s home when he stayed there for a week in 2010—after Epstein had been released from jail of soliciting a minor for prostitution.
Andrew has now issued two personal statements in a desperate attempt to get ahead of the story, but his critics say their anodyne and generic tone has merely added to a sense of outrage over his refusal to properly account for his friendship with Epstein.
The Telegraph, quoting “a senior source” said: “The duke is adamant and has been consistent since 2011 that he does not recall ever meeting Miss Roberts, let alone the photo being taken.”
The sources say that they believe the picture was faked to generate a tabloid payout. It has been claimed Roberts was paid over £140,000 ($170,000) by the Mail on Sunday for the picture.
Unsurprisingly, the Mail was quick to defend the picture.
One of the claims, that Andrew and Giuffre are the “wrong” height relevant to each other in the picture was quickly debunked; Andrew is around 6ft tall, and Giuffre is said to be 5ft 8in, much as the picture suggests.
Andrew’s anonymous press agents are also making attempts to pick holes in his accuser’s story and these efforts are another feature of the fresh round of briefings, with one telling the Telegraph: “Claims that Miss Roberts went to Tramp nightclub in London with the duke and he was drinking cocktails with her are just not true. The duke doesn’t drink, he is teetotal, anyone who really knows him knows that.”
Well, yes, Andrew’s teetotal status is well known. There is only one problem—Giuffre never alleged she saw Andrew drinking. She said that Andrew bought her drinks at the bar, a quite different matter.
Yet more evidence that the picture is genuine comes from a Google street view picture of the exterior of Ghislaine Maxwell’s London mews house, where the picture was taken, which clearly shows the unusually sized window frames matching the ones in the picture.
More compelling than any side-by-side comparison of the chubbiness or otherwise of Andrew’s fingers, of course, is the overall context and tone of the photo, especially Maxwell’s satisfied grin as she surveys the scene. Maxwell is known to have lined up women for Andrew and Epstein.
The flash in the window, the Mail says, hides the identity of the photographer; none other than Jeffrey Epstein itself.
If this is a forgery, it’s an exceptionally good one, well-attuned to the delicate emotions and power dynamics going on in the room.
This scandal isn’t going away. And if Andrew really wants to convince the world he had no idea about Epstein’s seedy world of abuse and exploitation, he’ll need to do better than say he has chubby fingers.
He would do better to answer the specific questions about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, which he has so far declined to answer.