After a bizarre photo sought to ‘prove’ Prince Andrew ‘could not have had sex with his accuser in a tiny bath’, RICHARD KAY asks: Is the prince planning to use his inheritance from the Queen to fight to clear his name?
This was a far from ideal week for the King to discover — via a bizarre photograph published on a newspaper front page — that his brother Andrew could not have had sex in a bath with the then 17-year-old girl who claims he raped her.
After endless headlines dominated by the interminable Prince Harry crisis, courtiers have been working hard to reset the royal dial. So it is not hard to imagine their despair on seeing this risible image, which was used to support the claim that the tub in question was too small for sexual activity.
Two important royal initiatives — Charles responding to the energy crisis by opening three of his homes as warm spaces for the elderly and poor, and his daughter-in-law Kate’s early years campaign — may have been drowned out by just what Andrew and his accuser, Virginia Roberts, could or could not have got up to in that notorious bathtub.
We are not yet five weeks into Coronation year. But already, the best intentions of the Royal Family to shelve their divisions in the run-up to Charles’s celebrations in May are looking distinctly threadbare.
And it is the Andrew ‘issue’, or at least the perception that he is seeking to reopen the whole sorry saga, that is potentially the most damaging of all.
It was a far from ideal week for the King to discover — via a bizarre photograph published on a newspaper front page — that his brother Andrew could not have had sex in a bath with the then 17-year-old Virginia Giuffre who claims he raped her
Any lingering sympathy that may have existed for the late Queen’s second and favourite son was almost certainly lost when that extraordinary staged photograph emerged a week ago.
It showed two fully clothed adults lying in the bath of Ghislaine Maxwell’s Belgravia mews house, wearing masks of the faces of the alleged protagonists: Ms Roberts, 39 (now known by her married name, Giuffre), and the Duke of York, who will be 63 in a fortnight.
As one commentator put it bluntly: ‘Yeah, that’s right — they took a picture of two people in a bath to show that two people couldn’t get into it.’
And if the intention was to cast doubt on crucial elements of the case against the Duke and thus help clear his name, the omens were not good.
The picture was released by Ian Maxwell, brother of Ghislaine — who last year was convicted in the U.S. of child sex-trafficking. It immediately triggered a backlash, not least because of the accompanying front-page headline in the newspaper that first published the picture: ‘The photo that “clears Duke” over bath sex’.
Mr Maxwell’s strangely worded claims that the dimensions of the bath showed it was ‘too small for any sort of sex frolicking’ only added to the scorn.
So what is going on — and is all this a clumsy attempt by Prince Andrew to restore his reputation and ultimately resurrect his royal career?
If the coded messages that emanated from Buckingham Palace earlier this week are accurate, then any hope the Prince might have of a return to public life is mere wishful thinking.
Any lingering sympathy that may have existed for the late Queen’s second and favourite son was almost certainly lost when that extraordinary staged photograph emerged a week ago
The King was clear that, putting aside his brotherly affection for Andrew, the decision by the Queen a year ago to remove all his official roles was the right one and remains non-negotiable. In taking this view, Charles is fully supported by his heir, Prince William.
What makes this state of affairs so perplexing is that Andrew fully understands their position. What’s more, I am told he accepts and has come to terms with it.
However, sources close to Andrew tell me there is a distinction between what Andrew actually wants and what is being circulated, allegedly on his behalf.
Friends insist he was not behind the leaking of the Maxwell picture, which in any case looks to have seriously backfired.
His aim, for now, is a partial restoration of his ‘HRH’ style — he has been forbidden to use it in public — and the opportunity to attend some high-profile events.
‘The Duke is a Garter Knight, an honour he values extremely highly, and he wants to be able to attend occasional engagements as a participant, such as the annual garter ceremony at Windsor,’ says a figure close to him.
Prince Andrew with his arm around the then-17-year-old Virginia Roberts (now known by her married name Giuffre)
As a veteran of the Falklands War, he would also like to be able to wear uniform — another privilege denied him when he was stripped of all his honorary military titles — from time to time.
But as long as Prince Harry, who lost his roles with the Armed Forces when he chose a life of exile, is similarly excluded from donning uniform, Andrew is unlikely to get his way.
READ MORE: Lawyer to the stars nicknamed ‘Mr Loophole’ says Prince Andrew should not unravel his settlement with sex assault accuser Virginia Giuffre – and advises the Duke to instead ‘search for a more meaningful existence’
Another ambition, according to the close source, is for him to be publicly welcomed as a member of the Royal Family and ‘not be treated as an embarrassment’. That, alas, may be out of Andrew’s hands.
Meanwhile, friends of the Duke deny that he has authorised a campaign to try to turn the tide of public opinion. As one source says: ‘He doesn’t have a media team at all at the moment.’
What is undeniable is that a shift in the landscape has encouraged Andrew to test public reaction to his two main objectives: repairing his image and working out what he can usefully do with his life in future.
One friend who has been close to these discussions insists the Duke ‘is not actively considering a return to public duties’. He adds: ‘What the rest of his life looks like at the moment is difficult to know. Clearly he has to get his good name and reputation back. He’s not in the business of settling scores, but just because he gave one bad interview he does not deserve to have his name sullied for ever and a day.’
Many will find this description of the Prince’s self-inflicted fall from grace pretty one-sided. After all, it was not just the matter of the car-crash BBC Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis that sank Andrew. There was last year’s courtroom humiliation when he settled the civil sexual assault case brought against him in the U.S. by Ms Giuffre.
So what are the changes that have emboldened the Prince?
One detail, I understand, concerns relationships within the Royal Family. Andrew was grateful for the kindness extended to the former Sarah Ferguson, the ex-wife with whom he still lives (in separate quarters), during their stay at Sandringham over Christmas.
The Duchess of York was included in the family Christmas lunch at Sandringham for the first time in almost three decades and took part in the Boxing Day shoot — both invitations issued by Queen Consort Camilla.
The two women with similar country backgrounds are said to have got along well. ‘There is no doubt this has helped improve the atmosphere,’ says an old friend of Fergie.
Another major factor has been the success of celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz in his legal battle with Ms Giuffre, who had also accused him of sexual abuse.
What is undeniable is that a shift in the landscape has encouraged Andrew to test public reaction to his two main objectives: repairing his image and working out what he can usefully do with his life in future
In November she dropped the claim against the 84-year-old American, saying she may have made a mistake in identifying him.
‘It has taken time for the significance of this to percolate through,’ says a source close to Andrew. ‘There is a slow realisation that this might allow the Duke to challenge aspects of his own settlement.’
Mr Dershowitz, who previously advised O.J. Simpson and Donald Trump, has urged the Prince to try to overturn the agreement in which Andrew, who made no admission of liability, was reported to have paid Ms Giuffre £12 million — a figure that has since been drastically scaled down.
‘I have never understood why he accepted the settlement,’ the Harvard law professor said. ‘There were many, many good defences he could have raised.’
One line of attack could re-examine whether Ms Giuffre was a genuine U.S. resident when she originally filed her lawsuit against the Duke. If she was not, some have claimed this could nullify her case.
She stated at the time that she was living in Colorado, although lawyers acting for Andrew pointed out that she had in fact lived in Australia for all but two of the previous 19 years.
The other possible avenue would be to look into the deal she struck with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, in which she agreed never to sue any of the dead financier’s contacts, including ‘royals’.
The pugnacious Dershowitz has offered to help Andrew. A friend of the lawyer told me: ‘Alan wants to see her and her mediocre lawyers exposed. He thinks the Prince has a very strong case.’ So far, though, that offer has not been taken up.
One further consideration is that the non-disclosure embargo, which prevents either or both sides from revealing any details of the settlement, expires in March. ‘It was crafted to cover the year of the late Queen’s Platinum Jubilee,’ says a source. ‘Once it is up, there is nothing to stop the Duke possibly becoming more pro-active.’
Andrew is also in a much stronger financial position than he was a year ago, at the time of the settlement. It is thought he was left a substantial inheritance by the Queen and this has provided him with the security — should he wish — to mount a legal challenge against Ms Giuffre.
But the lifting of the embargo cuts both ways. While it may reveal that his settlement with Ms Giuffre was closer to £3 million than £12 million, she too may return to the fray.
Last month, it was reported that Andrew had briefed lawyers in Los Angeles to sue if she repeats her original accusations that she was forced to have sex with him in her upcoming memoir.
None of this will be music to King Charles’s ears, already embroiled as he is in whether to include the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in the Coronation ceremony. But he also knows his brother is passionate about his innocence.
As to the future direction of Andrew’s life, things are hardly any clearer. This week it emerged that the late Queen suggested charity might offer him a route back to public forgiveness. Courtiers say she had in mind the rehabilitation of disgraced former government minister John Profumo, who took on charity work after his lies to Parliament over an affair were revealed in the 1960s.
There is, of course, a further remedy Andrew could consider: to follow his nephew’s lead and write a book.
‘It is inconceivable that he has not thought of this,’ says a long-time friend of the Duke. ‘Plenty in his circle think that’s just what he should do and Fergie, who has written her own memoir, My Story, has got all the contacts in publishing.
‘He would never have considered it while his mother was alive but it would be the perfect riposte now. Of course the royals wouldn’t like it, but Fergie did hers and wasn’t ostracised — and as for Harry, they are even now talking about family reconciliation.’
For Prince Andrew, it might offer a swifter and more satisfying form of redemption than devoting himself to charitable causes. And it would certainly do more to help his case than absurd photographs of masked people sitting in bathtubs.
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