Prince Andrew’s excommunication from royal life, announced this week by Queen Elizabeth, was a dramatic moment, for sure. But, as he prepares to continue fighting or end or settle his legal case with his underage-rape accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre, Andrew’s expulsion was also an inevitable endpoint of a long sequence of questionable behavior and multiple alarm bells.
Consider these dates. December 2010: Prince Andrew is photographed walking in Central Park, New York, with Jeffrey Epstein, who had been freed after serving just 13 months of an 18-month sentence in Florida for sex trafficking minors. Six weeks later, the Mail on Sunday publishes the now infamous picture from 2001 of Andrew and Virginia Giuffre, aged 17, at Ghislaine Maxwell’s house in London.
March 2011: At a private ceremony at Windsor Castle, the queen makes Andrew a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order “for personal services to the Queen.”
That’s not a case of a tin ear. It gave notice that the queen had raised the royal ramparts to shield her second son. Clearly, she accepted his version of events.
This was the pre-#MeToo era, and Andrew had the hubris that came with royal power and privilege. From the beginning, his lawyers sought to paint Giuffre as low-rent nymphet on the make (a line still peddled by another Epstein buddy, Alan Dershowitz). Subsequently the word “strenuously” became embedded in the legal rebuttals of Giuffre’s account, as in: “The Duke strenuously denies the allegations.”
A key figure in sustaining the royal narrative was—to give him his full title—Baron Geidt of Croberg in the County of Ross and Cromarty, or, more chummily, Lord Geidt. He’s been in the news recently in his role of “ethics adviser” to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a title that might suggest a hopeless cause. (He ruled that Johnson did not “deliberately mislead” an investigation into who paid for an expensive renovation of the Downing Street flat occupied by the prime minister, although, tut tut, he said Johnson had acted “unwisely.”)
From 2007 to 2017 Geidt was the queen’s private secretary. In that role, he was the most powerful of the queen’s advisers, and he was said to be the safest pair of hands the monarch had had since the days of her first private secretary, conjured from obscurity to fame by the Netflix drama The Crown, Tommy Lascelles, the stern defender of palace probity.
Geidt was, by all accounts, a deft guide to the queen at a time when the monarchy was straining to remain relevant in a new century when the court’s opulence and the family’s inbred social attitudes reflected another age. Building a united front around Andrew could not have happened without Geidt’s assent.
And, for a while, Andrew’s transgressions of taste and judgment, as legion as they were, did not seem to be dangerous to the institution. Geidt, however, was discovering that his powers as an enforcer did not match those enjoyed by Lascelles when the queen was still a novice in the job.
In 2017 he was forced out. He had crossed both Andrew and Charles who—in a rare moment of agreement—complained to mother. Charles wanted to take over more of the queen’s role than Geidt thought appropriate, and Geidt was too keen to police Andrew’s business projects and spending habits. Geidt’s departing present from the queen was his Scottish baronetcy. (He was born in London and this was an effort to reinforce the royal connections to Scotland at a time when Scottish nationalism was on the rise.)
That outcome gave Andrew renewed comfort that the queen had his back. The same was not true of Charles. By that time, the heir had his own court at Clarence House, very much a court-in-waiting, and they were far more skeptical of Andrew’s entanglement with Epstein.
But all of this was complicated by the queen’s unbroken affection for Andrew. This was confirmed to me some time ago, by someone close to the family. Andrew, it was explained, always played the jokey extrovert to Charles’s more guarded introspections. He also shared his father’s alpha male line in humor, and his mother enjoyed his company.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for mothers to have favorites among their children. A good case in point is one of the 14 prime ministers who have served the queen, Margaret Thatcher. She had twins, Mark, a son, and daughter Carol.
Thatcher’s preference for Mark became public in 1982 when he disappeared while competing in a trans-Sahara motor race. For six days the so-called Iron Lady dissolved into torrents of tears until her son, who had simply lost his way, turned up. (There is a scene in The Crown where the queen is amazed to see this side of Thatcher.) His sister was publicly upset by her mother’s bias.
The problem here is that maternal bias in a queen can have consequences. Charles has long resented his mother’s tolerance of Andrew’s louche habits and cupidity, particularly the way that Andrew was always ready to exploit the queen’s largesse, and he was not fussy about how he did it.
For example, the queen funded the conversion of Sunninghill Park, the 12-bedroom country house, as her wedding gift to Andrew and Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson. But in 2007, Andrew, hungry for cash, sold the house to Timur Kulibayev, the billionaire son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan, for 15 million pounds, 3 million over the original asking price. The house was never occupied, and was demolished in 2016.
That kind of dealing, with shady people pleased to oblige Andrew’s needs in return for a very public royal connection, was one of the reasons why he was so ready to party with Epstein, to whom he was a trophy. It’s important to stress how long and durable that relationship was. It was emphasized when, at Maxwell’s trial, a photo emerged of Epstein and Maxwell staying at Craigowan Lodge, a seven-bedroom hideaway on the queen’s favorite estate, Balmoral in July 1999, as Andrew’s guests. (The queen was not at Balmoral at the time.)
For a long while, it seemed that Andrew had successfully shrugged off the taint of his visits to Epstein’s playpens of depravity. But when Epstein was arrested for a second time, in July 2019, the relationship was suddenly under scrutiny again. Two weeks later, with Epstein dead and the case closed, Andrew’s role was being pursued more vigorously by Giuffre’s lawyers, alleging that she had been forced into having sex with him three times. In November 2019, Andrew decided to try to swat that problem away in an interview with Emily Maitlis, a particularly cogent and incisive BBC reporter.
We don’t know if the queen assented to this interview in advance. For a large part of her reign, the BBC had been dutifully deferential toward the monarchy. The corporation was still regarded almost as an accessory of the royal soap opera, always mounting exquisitely produced coverage of the annual ceremonials or special events, like the marriage of Harry and Meghan. Andrew set up the interview expecting it to turn out like one of those warm embraces, where he could appear the injured party.
But this was not his mother’s BBC. As Maitlis said afterwards in the Guardian, “This is a man—a prince—who did not come to repent. He came to earn back his right to tell the story his way.” He showed no remorse at all for Epstein’s many victims.
Whatever the queen felt, Charles took the moment to have Andrew banished from making official public appearances. Even then, it didn’t do much to humble Andrew. And he didn’t seem rattled when Maxwell was finally tracked down and arrested in July 2020, even though that put his position in more jeopardy. And later, in the week before his father’s funeral, in April 2021, he was telling people—wrongly—that he expected to be able to resume public duties shortly. He pressed his mother to let him appear at the funeral in the uniform of an admiral of the fleet. She demurred, banning any military uniforms.
In this, the queen’s platinum jubilee year, marking at 70 years the longest ever reign of a monarch, her second son is a pariah, being rendered as far as it is possible within the system a non-person, and left, in the words of the official announcement to defend his case “as a private citizen.”
Has the queen finally accepted that Andrew is a creep? To her subjects, Elizabeth has always been above reproach. It is sad to see that, if she had a failing, it was the very human one of expecting more from a son than he was capable of giving.