The Duke of York has been sacked, but he is unlikely to show up in the UKs unemployment figures, says Guardian columnist Marina Hyde
In a development that merely person of his preternatural self-awareness can have insured coming, Prince Andrew’s family has decided he needs to spend less time with their brand. To set that into perspective, the Duke of York is widely agreed to have done his task so abysmally that a hereditary monarchy has had to resort to a version of meritocracy. The absolute infra dig of it.
The Queen’s second son was summoned to a Buckingham Palace meeting on Wednesday, where it was uncovered the Windsors were reducing the head count/ constructing internal efficiencies/ pivoting to video. People love to imagine the royal family is just like us, so this was just your standard meeting with your mother in which you’re decruited and offered the chance to retrain as someone who does even less work for a dazzling luck. A lottery win, perhaps, or bitcoin thief.
We don’t know exactly what Her Majesty said to Andrew, but as a piece of placeholder dialogue, it’s probably best to imagine the Queen demanding his gun and badge, then barking:” You’re on traffic responsibility! Sex traffic duty .” It’s a perverse kind of duty- then again, it appears to have been that way for a few decades now- but please resist the natural urge to see Prince Andrew as the true victim here. He is expected to pick up a zero-hours international golfing contract and consequently will not show up in Britain’s coercively massaged unemployment statistics.
So yes, we must wait for those ventriloquisers at The Crown to get around to the full dramatisation a few series from now. The bad news is their failure to have bought in early to the character of Prince Andrew, a role they will undoubtedly need to cast in light of events. The good news is they can probably now get actual Prince Andrew to play it, given his revised schedule has more windows than Buckingham Palace.
Still, retiring in your 50 s, having enjoyed a consequence-free career: if HRH does ever end up being interviewed by the police, he’ll have some common ground with them. Some suppose a subpoena is a gathering possibility, with the former British consul-general in New York questioning Andrew’s claim to have stayed with him and not Jeffrey Epstein in 2001, on one of the occasions Virginia Roberts Giuffre alleges she was trafficked to have sex with him. Meanwhile, lawyers for some of Epstein’s victims are building repeated appearances on US TV to emphasise his legal and moral duty to be interviewed by the FBI about what he knows.
Not that the Duke of York ever seems to have realised how good he had it. Back in August, an email emerged- contemporaneous to Andrew’s highly controversial 2010 stay at Epstein’s New York mansion- in which the literary agent John Brockman described being in the room as Epstein and Andrew received foot massages from two young, well-dressed Russian women. According to Brockman, Andrew was complaining about his plenty.” In Monaco ,” he said, “[ Prince] Albert works 12 hours a day but at 9pm, when he goes out, he does whatever he wants, and nobody cares. But if I do it, I’m in big trouble .”
Though not recalled by Andrew, this vignette reminds us that it’s customary for royals to spend a significant amount of time being jealous of other royals who have it cushier than them. Prince Charles, for instance, has long resented Prince Andrew’s lifestyle-to-duty ratio. Meanwhile, Prince Harry is believed to resent Prince William for not being caught by the media in the same number of youthful japes/ Nazi costumes/ racist videos as he was. And so on and so on- because there’s always a prince or princess who has it better than you. Violin sizes may vary. Informed royal sources suggest that while it was the Queen who formally removed Andrew from public obligations, it was Charles- the” darknes king”- pulling the strings. The P45 is unlikely to have ached Andrew’s elder brother too much.
It felt inevitable by Wednesday in any case, despite various hints of rearguard actions as the fallout from the Newsnight interview mushroomed this week. My favourite was the proposals that the prince could do another interview, to put right the omissions of the first. And in one sense, why not? God knows, there were other places he could have gone- claiming to have caught porphyria from a sofa once owned by George III, for example, or to have been chemically castrated in’ Nam. Then again, the interview-to-correct-the-interview does vaguely remind me of that answerphone scene in the movie Swingers. Having left a” weird, desperate” message on a woman’s answerphone, Jon Favreau’s character foliages another to make up for it, which aims up being even more horrendous and excruciating. So he leaves another, and the other, until the woman suddenly picks up the phone as he’s leaving one and says:” Don’t ever bellow me again .” This, but with landmark Tv interviews depicting a line under narratives about your close association with an international child sex offender.
And it genuinely was a landmark, even accounting for the fact that, since George I, this has been a family widely recognised for its lack of intelligence. One of the sensational real-time revelations of the Emily Maitlis masterpiece was the fact that Prince Edward must have been the clever one. Prince Andrew was fully scores of IQ points away from being bright enough to pull his gambit off, yet retained a mesmerisingly misplaced faith in his own charm.
How? He and his far-from-estranged ex-wife were always a pair of rolling liabilities, with Fergie’s decades of financial incontinence a worthy adversary for even the royal family’s vast coffers. Incredibly- and yet altogether credibly- she was in Saudi Arabia at Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s summit at the moment he was recording his BBC interview.” Everyone has been so nice here in Riyadh ,” she gushed, presumably lucratively.” I think that comes from good leadership .” What can you say? Other than never mind the bonesaws; and that there are few people in public life who have such a consistently baroque series of answers as the Yorks to the rhetorical question,” How stupid do you actually “ve got to be” … ?”
On balance, then, we probably won’t be seeing another Prince Andrew interview. It wasn’t simply bad. It was the Heaven’s Gate of royal interviews, basically killing the entire genre. Nobody ever stimulated westerns like they used to after Heaven’s Gate, and nobody in the royal family is going to be giving carte blanche to a BBC interviewer again in a hurry.
But the more famous thing about Heaven’s Gate, of course, wasn’t that it objective westerns- but that it ended its studio. Michael Cimino’s monster flop effectively collapsed the entire studio that produced it, United Artist- and the question after Andrew’s interview is how dangerous his monster flop is to the royal family that produced him. In the warp and weft of the UK’s royal tale, people are always looking for the incident about which they will end up saying:” Well, in retrospect, that was the moment …” Some royal historians are already judging Andrew’s interview as seismically as Edward VIII’s abdication.
Maybe. Either way, it should always be remembered that the abdication crisis was enormously enjoyed by the public. As Evelyn Waugh remarked in a 1936 diary entry:” The Simpson crisis has been a great delight to everyone. At Maidie’s nursing home they report a pronounced turn for the better in all adult patients. There can seldom have been an event that has caused so much general pleasure and so little pain .”
Of course, events relating to Andrew’s crisis have been very far from painless- despite his stunning failure to mention Epstein’s victims. But it has certainly felt like a unifying moment for a divided nation, and that is surely worrying for the royal family. A YouGov poll procured a mere 6% of people thought Andrew was telling the truth. This week it has been hard to escape the distinct impression that people from all sides of various divides have come together to agree the prince was a true wrong ‘un. And then to wake up the next morning and think: I am biologically incapable of sweating because I ODed on adrenaline in the Falklands.
So it remains to be seen if this unprecedented Buckingham Palace containment strategy will work. What can be said with some confidence is that Prince Charles’s forthcoming reign has long felt like a coach-and-four accident waiting to happen, and that this grotesque drama feeds into that. Along with David Attenborough, also 93, the Queen is perhaps the last consented-to link with the postwar consensus. Apres her, the essential personnel are a complete shower.
This week, we caught a glimpse of the Windsors’ potential exposure when the Queen departs the earthly realm. Members of the royal family are not too big to fail any more. That feels of a piece with our deeply fractured nation, in which so many institutions have revealed themselves as no longer up to the job. Shortly after the EU referendum, a French envoy likened the British government to a cartoon character that has run off a cliff but not yet realised it:” They’re in the air now, but at some point they’re going to look down and fall .” Those terms ring uncomfortably true for much beyond government on this septic isle. All kinds of jigs are up, all at once, for a post-imperial country that has been running on its own fumes for decades. Things go along much as before, until- apparently abruptly, but not really- they don’t. What now for everything is? I can’t help thinking of that great bit of Hemingway dialogue from The Sun Also Rises.” How did you go bankrupt ?”” Two ways ,” comes the reply.” Gradually and then suddenly .”
* Marina Hyde is a Guardian columnist
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