'A huge failure': Queen's biggest Prince Andrew mistake

Daniela Elser, news.com.au,
Publish Date
Tue, 10 Dec 2019, 11:12AM
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew. (Photo / Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew. (Photo / Getty Images)

'A huge failure': Queen's biggest Prince Andrew mistake

Daniela Elser, news.com.au,
Publish Date
Tue, 10 Dec 2019, 11:12AM


After 67 years in the top job, you'd think the Queen would have the business down pat by now. She has perfected Resting Sovereign Face – her signature expression that somehow manages to convey disdain, boredom and a certain wry knowing.

She is an expert at making small talk with everyone from nervously sweating municipal mayors to nervously sweating Presidents.

She even manages to attend the Highland Games every year and actually look like she is having a good time.

Which is why the events of the past few days are so disappointing.

Over the weekend, Buckingham Palace took the highly unusual step of giving a statement to The Times, confirming that Prince Andrew would be attending the traditional day church service that the royal family, en masse, obediently trot along to every December 25.

As happens year in and year out, the clan, done up in their best coats make the walk from Sandringham, the Queen's vast privately owned Norfolk estate, to St Mary Magdalene Church. Wellwishers and hardcore royal devotees line the way and the royal family often stops to chat with them.

This one amble guarantees a sure-fire shot of public good approval and is an annual PR boon for the royal family.

However this year, all of that is at stake.

It has been nearly a month since Prince Andrew, Duke of York sat down with the BBC's Emily Maitlis to discuss his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Over the course of 50 minutes, he managed to convey an arrogance and a complete lack of empathy for Jeffrey Epstein's young, female victims which prompted a global groundswell of anger and incredulity.

Within days he announced that he was stepping back from his official duties, a move that many interpreted as him being essentially sacked from the business of being a full-time working royal.

Goodbye to his paid-for Buckingham Palace office. Goodbye to taxpayer funded international jollies in the name of trade. Goodbye to his pet initiative, [email protected] which has now been reduced to the ignoble "pitch".

Since then the acrimony he has faced has only grown, especially in the wake of Virginia Giuffre's (formerly Roberts) recent interview in which she reiterated her claims that Epstein trafficked her to London where she had sex with Andrew, the first of three alleged sexual encounters.

Andrew has consistently refuted her claims. A statement by Buckingham Palace and which was put out by Buckingham Palace read: "It is emphatically denied that The Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation."

Essentially, Andrew has been well and truly ousted from being a working royal and part of The Firm's public face.

The looming issue now is the fact that he will remain firmly lodged within the family's private bosom and this means he will appear on the balcony during events such as Trooping the Colour and the annual Christmas Day church sortie.

All of which has the markings of five alarm alert, red hot, nuclear PR disaster.

If Andrew rolls up to St Mary Magdalene with his relatives, it will mark his first public appearance since he was humiliatingly exiled and this poses huge potential problems.

Reports have already surfaced raising the spectre of protesters lining the walk to church. The Sun has reported that "sex abuse campaigners are planning to infiltrate the monarchist crowds, which could cause mortifying scenes captured by news cameras from around the world".

The newspaper reported there was no real fear from officials about the protest turning violent but "it's more about the further embarrassment it would cause to the royal family".

It is enough to make any monarch reach for the gin a little earlier in the day.

If Andrew does attend the church service, the message it would send would be abysmal for the royal family's image. Firstly, it would create the impression that his banishment from being part of the public face of the monarchy was nothing more than a temporary slap on the wrist.

Secondly, Andrew is widely held to be the Queen's favourite child. Him trotting along to church will read like a defiant, tone deaf mother refusing to accept just how significantly her son has erred.

(And Her Majesty has form on this front. Remember when, the Sunday after Epstein died in his New York jail cell, she took an idiotically grinning Andrew to church with her in a very clear signal of support?)

The argument from the royal family is that Christmas Day is a private family event and thus, the embattled Duke has every right to be there.

However, this in itself reveals something damning about the how the royal family operates. The fact they continue to cling to the obsolete distinction between "public" and "private" reflects antiquated thinking and a total failure to understand that everything the family does, anywhere and anytime, has bearing on their brand.

According to Dickie Arbiter, the Queen's former private secretary, it is likely that Andrew will actually not walk to Church but will be driven there along with his mother (at 93-years-old, fair enough she doesn't have to endure a frosty morning stroll).

However, even if the Queen et al decide to choose this option, it will still not prevent protesters turning up nor will it negate any of the very serious consequences his attendance will have for the royal family's image.

If Andrew goes to Church on Christmas Day with the family, no matter how he gets there, it will simply seem contemptuous on the part of the royal family. Also, it would be interpreted as a tacit show of support for the Duke – a man who saw fit to invite both Epstein and now-disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein to his daughter's 18th birthday party at Windsor Castle.

And this is the crux of this issue. If Andrew is allowed to turn up, it will represent a huge failure on the part of Queen, the Windsors and the Palace to appreciate, accept and, crucially, to act on the tsunami of public anger that exists right now (whether this is a wilful disregard or just that they are too obtuse to fully comprehend the situation is another question entirely).

Either way, instances when the monarch is seen to be so wildly out of step with public sentiment are dangerous, such as after Diana, Princess of Wales' death in 1997.

With the future of the monarchy having become an election issue as the Brits prepare to go to the polls and with the republican rumblings closer to home in Australia (Labor MP Julian Hills has proposed a plan that would see the country ditch the monarchy without a referendum), the Queen can't afford to ignore public opinion right now.

It might be the season to be merry, but for Her Majesty, it is the season to be savvy.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years' experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.