Newsnight presenter interviews Prince Andrew

The Prince Andrew Interview: A Right Royal PR Screw Up

Just the other week we were talking about this year’s biggest PR fails. We thought we’d found the worst of the bunch, but then the Prince Andrew interview happened.

Since it aired on Saturday, the Duke of York’s interview with Emily Maitlis has been hailed as one of the most disastrous PR moments in history. Addressing the allegations against him and his connection to paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the prince’s curious explanations were met with a slew of scathing articles, mocking memes, and much ado about Woking’s Pizza Express.

The interview, which was given with the Queen’s permission, went against the advice of his public relations guru Jason Stein, who apparently ditched Prince Andrew as a client when he couldn’t be talked out of doing it. And the prince’s lack of guidance showed. He blundered through the one-hour interview providing golden soundbites galore for his would-be critics, and making himself look more culpable than ever before.

So what exactly did he do wrong? Well, everything really. His Highness ticked just about every box of what NOT to do during a PR crisis.

Downplaying

After starting the interview with a schmoozy “it took our schedules a while to align”, the Prince wasted no time in downplaying his connection to Jeffrey Epstein. He claimed it would be “a stretch” to say they were close friends, despite Maitlis pointing out that the Prince had spent plenty of time staying with Epstein in his various homes.

Bizarrely, he claimed it was actually Epstein’s girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, who was his friend (who herself has been accused of being Epstein’s accomplice), and that Epstein was more or less just a plus-one. Later on, he also referred to Epstein’s penchant for sexually abusing children and people trafficking as “unbecoming” behaviour.

Unbelievable Explanations

When you’ve messed up and you’re in the thick of a PR scandal, the best course of action is to be honest, as opposed to using elaborate and seemingly fantastical explanations which arouse further suspicion and provoke ridicule. Which course of action did Prince Andrew opt for? Yep, the latter one.

The prince headed to NYC to stay with Jeffrey Epstein for several days after Epstein’s 2010 prison release, during which they were photographed strolling in Central Park. Prince Andrew’s explanation for bunking with a known felon? He was apparently meeting him to break off the (non-close) friendship and stayed there for a few days out of convenience. As you do. He cited his “tendency to be too honourable” as the reason for his bizarre behaviour.

That wasn’t his only weird explanation. Addressing the infamous 10th of March 2001 date, in which he supposedly had sex with the 17-year-old Virginia Roberts, he claimed he’d actually been to Woking’s Pizza Express – something he only snobbishly remembered because of how unusual it was for him. Much to Woking’s dismay.

He also addressed Roberts’ claims that he was a sweaty dancer, sharing an unusual anecdote about the state of his sweat glands. Apparently, he’d suffered an “overdose” of adrenaline during the Falklands War, and had lost his ability to sweat. Okay then.

Pleading Ignorance

The Prince’s claims of ignorance were also something to behold. He consistently told Maitlis that he “didn’t remember” and had “no recollection” of meeting Virginia Roberts – a girl trafficked by both Epstein and Maxwell – despite detailed testimony from various witnesses and a pretty damning photograph of the pair, with Ghislaine Maxwell in the background.

That wasn’t the only time he cited ignorance. He claimed that in 2006, he had absolutely no idea that an arrest warrant had been issued for Epstein earlier that year for the sexual assault of a minor because it wasn’t in the British press and Epstein himself had never mentioned it. Such was the Prince’s lack of knowledge, and the lack of knowledge of the Royal aides, that Jeffrey Epstein was invited to the 18th birthday party of Andrew’s daughter, Princess Beatrice. A presumably vetted event.

Lack of Empathy

If anything could’ve subdued the onslaught of Prince Andrew at this point – besides a royal black hole to swallow him up – it would have been a shred or two of empathy for the victims of Jeffrey Epstein. Unfortunately, that was the last thing on his mind. After his barrage of downplaying, unbelievable explanations, and declarations of ignorance, the honourable Prince told Maitlis he was simply seeking “just as much closure for me as everyone else”. A royal screw up indeed.

Moral of the story? Don’t ignore your PR professional.

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