You couldn’t script it, except you almost could. “One just has to get on with it,” declares Colman’s Queen, circa 1964, when a new postage stamp makes her look less glorious Gloriana and more, in her own words, “old bat”. Half a century later, in what passes for real life for royalty, the Queen’s middle son finds himself being chargrilled at Buckingham Palace by an implacable Emily Maitlis about his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. He denies allegations that he had sex with 17-year-old Virginia Giuffre (then Roberts) – “Never happened”. He will essentially ignore Epstein’s victims and thoughtfully advise himself: “I‘ve just got to have a thick skin and get on with it.”
Where to begin with a woeful exercise in damage control that took a Taser to a viewer’s suspension of disbelief? Sentence you would never expect to hear in a royal interview: “There’s a slight problem with the sweating.” He was attempting to cast doubt on an allegation by Giuffre involving “sweaty dancing” and sex. “I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenalin in the Falklands war when I was shot at,” explained Andrew with elaborate patience. Oh, dear. This sort of thing can only encourage former BBC sports reporter and conspiracy theorist David Icke, who believes humankind is controlled by shape-shifting, presumably non-sweating, lizards, one of which is the Queen.
If this didn’t involve real victims for whom Andrew displayed little concern or any other identifiable feeling beyond mild irritation, you might have laughed. He had no recollection of having met Giuffre, despite photographic evidence. “That is what I would describe as me in that picture but we can’t be certain whether or not that’s my hand …” Maitlis looked like she was getting a migraine. Why, she wondered, had he stayed at Epstein’s New York mansion in 2010, after Epstein was released from jail? “I took the decision that it was I had to show leadership and I had to go and see him and I had to tell him, ‘That’s it’,” he said. “I felt that doing it over the telephone was the chicken’s way of doing it.” So he went unerringly for the headless-chook method instead. “At the time, I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do and I admit fully that my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable, but that’s just the way it is,” said Andrew serenely, now broadcasting direct from Mars.
As his brother was busy making Pizza Express in Woking globally famous, on The Crown new Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson was learning to bow from the neck and make sure his “Ma’am” rhymed with “ham”.
Princess Margaret was drinking, smoking, doing exactly what she bloody well liked. Her specialty: treating her inferiors, which meant everyone, with regal contempt. “It was just one of those things,” she warbled at the piano at one point, in all her careless privilege. A little earlier on Newsnight, her real-life nephew was singing from precisely the same songbook.
THE CROWN, Netflix.
This article was first published in the November 30, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.