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Prince Andrew on BBC Newsnight. Photo/BBC/Supplied

Bill Ralston: Why Prince Andrew's interview was a PR disaster

There is a rule in public relations that “explaining is losing”, which makes it hard to find the words to describe the Party Prince’s failure.

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for the 93-year-old Queen when it comes to allegations about her family’s often embarrassing sexual escapades.

The last time it happened, you may recall, it was Prince Charles and Camilla, Diana, Princess of Wales, and a coterie of dodgy blokes squiring around her. Probably the most embarrassing part was the bugged phone recording of Charles saying he wished to be Camilla’s tampon.

Now, more than 20 years after that debacle, her second son is caught up in a scandal involving the dead billionaire paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, in the early 2000s, allegedly having rogered Epstein’s then 17-year-old “sex slave”, Virginia Roberts. Prince Andrew, who has since stepped down from royal duties, went on the BBC’s Newsnight programme on November 16 to deny all. A big mistake.

There is a rule in public relations that “explaining is losing”. Fronting up to the media with a meandering, evasive line of answers to some pretty shocking questions involving sexual impropriety is probably not a smart move, and so it proved to be for the Duke of York.

Andrew, described by the now-married Virginia Roberts Giuffre as sweating in a London nightclub back in 2001, denied all. He does not sweat, he says. He also denied any knowledge, carnal or otherwise, of Giuffre. This statement was rendered somewhat dubious, as there is a photograph of the pair together – she grinning like a teenage loon, he, with a startled grin – his arm around her bare waist.

“From the investigations that we’ve done,” he explained, “you can’t prove whether or not that photograph is faked or not because it is a photograph of a photograph.”

Furthermore, he could not have been with Giuffre at the aptly named Tramp Club in London that night, he said, because he had taken his daughter Beatrice to a Pizza Express in Woking for her birthday. The words “Pizza Express” and “Woking” are not usually used much in the context of the royal family.

When asked why he stayed in New York with convicted paedophile Epstein, he explained it was “the honourable and right thing to do”, but that “my judgment was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable”. He conceded that, with the benefit of hindsight, it was “definitely the wrong thing to do”. You think, Andrew?

In PR terms, it is generally preferable to get your point of view and position personally established in the public realm, because if you don’t, your enemies and others will do it for you. However, when you are mired in a sex scandal and unable to come up with any better answers than those listed above, it is probably best to retire to a bunker and remain mute. He may need to find better advisers on media matters.

Doing the interview in the plush south drawing room of Buckingham Palace is probably not the best look, either. It is, after all, his Mum’s house, not his own. He swore he had not noticed young girls flitting around Epstein’s house because, as a member of the royal family, he was used to “members of staff walking around all the time”. Perhaps that is why he chose Buckingham Palace as the interview setting, to ram home the point.

Nothing he said or did during the interview seriously rebutted Giuffre’s claims that Epstein had forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew on three occasions, including once in an orgy on Epstein’s private island.

As I said earlier, the poor Queen.

This column was first published in the November 30, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.