They may have turned against some royals, but editors have no appetite for a republic
Curb your enthusiasm, fellow republicans. Now is not the time to sharpen those guillotine blades. I’m afraid the gross misbehaviour of one pathetic princeling, a man of hubristic insensitivity, will not topple the crown.
The Windsors will survive this turmoil, much as they did that rocky period in the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. Despite some facile claims about the throne being shaken to its foundations by Prince Andrew’s unwise choice of a friend and his clumsy TV interview, the Buckingham Palace soap opera still has a way to run. This royal line’s singular achievement is survival.
There is no political will to end the anachronism that is our constitutional monarchy. Nor is there a public clamour to bring it down. As for the mainstream media, a clear-eyed assessment of its relationship with the royal family suggests its owners and editors have no appetite to call for a republic. They are happy to rock the boat but not to overturn it. Better to keep them where they are. Praise them, condemn them. It’s all good for sales.
Before we turn to the Andrew business, consider the media’s treatment of his nephew, Prince Harry, and his wife, Meghan. The unfolding saga of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is a classic case of media hypocrisy and royal hauteur.
A fairytale start. Isn’t she a beauty? Not only a commoner, but mixed race, too. The palace moving with the times. Endless newspaper pages of guff. TV scenes of a glittering wedding. Media job done: the couple lapped it up; the people lapped it up.
It was over almost as soon as it began. Royal correspondents reported “rumours” of a tiff, even a rift, between the new duchess and her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge. I have no idea whether there was, or is, any truth in it, and frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn, but the allegations changed the media narrative.
A royal row is manna for the tabloids. After a brief interlude of fawning when the duchess gave birth, the press turned frosty once again. This was exacerbated by the coverage of her estranged father: the Mail on Sunday seemed to have him on a recall button, coaxing indiscretions at will. The tabs were cooking with gas.
Harry decided to take matters into his own hands by issuing a hands-off statement. Avert your eyes, hacks. Play nice. In fact, don’t play at all. We’re not public property.
As media tactics go, this was a big mistake. And it got worse. On a trip to South Africa, the couple starred in an ITV documentary so lacking in impartiality it looked like a promotional video. Poor me, said the duchess, standing amid genuine poverty. It hadn’t taken long for a new recruit to acquire the royal family’s sense of entitlement.
Then, as if on cue, Prince Andrew stepped on to the stage. He had been ducking and diving in the wings for months. Learning nothing from the experience of Harry and Meghan, he made his own attempt to win public favour with a television appearance to explain his extraordinary friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
After months of silence, interspersed with occasional releases of carefully crafted palace statements, the prince ignored professional advice by giving an interview to one of British TV’s best and most forceful presenters, Emily Maitlis. She had researched and rehearsed. We do not know if he did the same, but his performance suggests otherwise.
In casting himself as a victim of circumstances beyond his control, he relied on what passes for his wits to counter Maitlis’s questions. By common consent (from the Times to the Telegraph, from the Sun to the Mirror) it was a car crash. He betrayed a lack of empathy for Epstein’s victims and gave wholly unconvincing answers to several questions.
Among them was his failure to explain why he stayed for four days in Epstein’s New York home in order to tell him he would not speak to him in future.
His choice of vocabulary when addressing his friend’s multiple abuses of young girls was utterly inappropriate. Unbecoming, he said. The exasperated, almost whispered, response from Maitlis spoke for the nation: “Unbecoming? He was a sex offender.”
It unleashed unanimous condemnation by the press, and notably by the Queen’s most obedient servants. Rarely has a Times leading article called anyone, let alone a prince, “inept, tone-deaf … reckless … an embarrassment and a disgrace”.
The Daily Telegraph summed it up perfectly: “As an exercise in making a bad situation worse, it has few equals.” Elsewhere, “the Duke of Hazard” became a figure of fun. “Now he’s really taking the pizza,” said the Sun. For the Metro, he was “the prince of porkies” and for the Mirror, the “pariah prince”. Social media was replete with gifs belittling the Queen’s second son.
Amid pages of criticism, all gratefully repeated and amplified in TV commentaries and in radio phone-ins, other unanswered questions were repeated. How did he afford a £13m chalet in Switzerland? Why did he sell his house for £3m more than its asking price to the oligarch son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s controversial former president, Nursultan Nazarbayev? What part did he play in Epstein’s decision to pay off the debts of his former wife, Sarah Ferguson, who he stubbornly refers to as “the duchess”?
Those newspaper nicknames of long ago – “Randy Andy” and “Air Miles Andy” – have been forgotten. They were light-hearted compared with the dark tagline now routinely appended to his name: “the prince and the paedophile”. Several papers called for him to be stood down. A serious decision had to be made, although the Queen and her retinue of leaden-footed advisers took their time to punish him.
If the palace thinks the media will allow this rogue prince to fade into the background, it should think again. He will be fair game from now on, pictured every time he appears anywhere in public. As for the rest of the family, they will go on struggling to avoid both proper and improper media scrutiny. But they should beware of what will happen in the post-Elizabethan era. Then, perhaps, we republicans will have reason, at last, to rejoice.