Unexpected winner in Andrew sex scandal

 

COMMENT

On Tuesday night this week, dozens of NATO leaders gathered at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the organisation.

As the great and good sipped wine (and a few very powerful people made fun of President Donald Trump) there was one person conspicuously absent from the high-profile event.

In 2015, the Queen promoted her second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, to the rank of vice-admiral. This would normally have seen the 59-year-old front and centre at this week's military shindig, gladhanding world leaders and chortling along with Presidents.

Instead, he was nowhere to be seen.

Queen Elizabeth has been meeting NATO leaders without her son Andrew by her side. Picture: Geoff Pugh/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth has been meeting NATO leaders without her son Andrew by her side. Picture: Geoff Pugh/WPA Pool/Getty Images

It has been three weeks since the Duke sat down with the BBC's Emily Maitlis to finally, publicly answer questions about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and to address the accusation that he had sex with Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein's alleged sex trafficking victims.

For 49 excruciating minutes the royal wheeled out a confounding series of alibis in an attempt to disprove Giuffre's (formerly Roberts) allegations before incredulously terming Epstein's behaviour "unbecoming".

Within the space of a week what had been, reportedly, an exercise in drawing a line under the entire PR crisis had instead swiftly felled Andrew's royal career, with him being ousted from official duties and made to vacate his Buckingham Palace office.

There is no question this is the biggest crisis that the royal family and the Queen have had to deal with in a generation. No other Windsor has stepped back from their post since King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936.

However, if Her Majesty is to take even an iota of comfort as this debacle continues to unfold, it is that this situation has dramatically burnished the image of one of her other children, namely Prince Charles.

 

For years, perhaps even decades, Charles suffered through poor public approval and all round derision. He talked to plants, waxed lyrical about homoeopathy (much to the chagrin of the medical profession) and found organic farming fascinating.

Then there was his disintegrating marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales. As their union crumbled in the '80s and into the '90s, he was increasingly cast as the uncaring, stodgy Prince who was too busy sloping off for assignations with Camilla Parker Bowles to see or do anything while his wife suffered.

The Princess' death in 1997 compounded anti-Charles feeling. The month after she passed away, only 42 per cent of people thought he would make a good king.

In fact, between 1991 and 1997, Charles suffered a 40 point drop when people were asked if he would make a good king - which was one of the biggest drops ever measured by the research firm Ipsos MORI.

Even as the new millennia dawned and he started going about the business of repairing his tattered image, Britons still struggled to see him as the right man for the top job. In 2010, 64 per cent of Charles' future subjects wanted the line of succession to skip a generation and for Prince William to follow his grandmother as sovereign.

The bottom line is, the picture was bleak. While his mother and sons enjoyed widespread public adoration, the very people Charles had spent his life waiting to rule were rejecting him. Again.

Subtly, slowly things have changed in the last decade or so. He and wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, have worked like troopers, visiting hundreds of towns, scout halls, leisure centres and regional markets to shake hands and smile. Charles has also emerged as a doting father and grandfather, helping improve his image.

And then came the events of November and Andrew's obtuse, mortifying interview. In under an hour he managed to confirm many of the worst assumptions people make about the royal family: That they are pompous, out-of-touch and privileged to the point of nearly being unable to function outside of the gilt cage of the Palace.

And then Charles stepped in.

Andrew’s trainwreck interview created an opportunity for Charles to win some popularity with the public. Picture: Sang Tan/AP
Andrew’s trainwreck interview created an opportunity for Charles to win some popularity with the public. Picture: Sang Tan/AP

In the first week after Andrew's interview aired, an image started to form (via media reports) that the Prince of Wales was playing a direct role in managing the situation.

According to reports, Charles sent his highly trusted private secretary Clive Alderton back to the UK from New Zealand, where the Cornwalls were on tour at the time, so that he could sort things out.

A source told The Times: "Prince Charles and his private secretary were determined that this should not be allowed to drag on and on. The question of the election was critical."

A picture started to come into focus: Of Charles taking the reins and showing true leadership as an aghast public waited to see how the royal family would respond.

"In Prince Andrew Scandal, Prince Charles Emerges as Monarch-in-Waiting," a headline read in The New York Times. "It's Prince Charles and his people who are increasingly pulling the strings," former BBC royal correspondent Peter Hunt wrote in The Spectator.

Suddenly, the Prince of Wales seemed to be assuming an authoritative role. A family friend told Vanity Fair: "Make no mistake, Charles is furious. I imagine he will feel that Andrew has let the family down, and that he misled his mother over the interview, and in doing so has compromised the Queen."

Charles, the Queen and Andrew. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Charles, the Queen and Andrew. Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Adding to his image as a proactive force is that Charles' long mooted vision of a slimmed down monarchy is now starting to look like a savvy strategy.

Paring back the 40-plus members of the extended Windsor family who crowd the Buckingham Palace balcony for Trooping the Colour to only a handful of senior members will make the royal family seem like a streamlined, focused machine rather than a bloated, hoary institution.

Whether Charles' recent actions were driven by a keen sense of moral duty or whether he was purely acting ruthlessly to try and stymie the damage being done to the monarchy is up for debate. What is clear is that there is widespread approval of the way he has handled this disaster and he seems to be finally earning public respect. Next week Prince Charles turns 71. I would wager there is no better birthday present.

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



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