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Thursday, February 27, 2020

Prince Andrew steps back from royal duties as Epstein storm swirls

Experts on the royal family have described the interview as the biggest public relations debacle for the British royal family since the turbulent aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in 1997.

By: New York Times | Published: November 21, 2019 8:25:16 am
Prince Andrew talks about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, and Britain is appalled As the furor following the interview built, Andrew canceled a planned visit to flood-hit areas of Yorkshire on Tuesday, The Sun newspaper reported. (AP)

Written by Mark Landler

Prince Andrew announced on Wednesday that he would step back from public life, seeking to contain a firestorm over his ties to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein that threatened to scorch the entire British royal family.

The prince’s extraordinary statement capped a tumultuous four days since his televised interview about Epstein, which brought a storm of negative coverage, prompted companies with ties to the prince’s charities to distance themselves from him, and rekindled calls for him to testify to the FBI about his tangled history with Epstein, who was accused of sex trafficking.

“It has become clear to me over the past few days that my association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organizations and charities that I am proud to support,” Andrew said in a statement issued by Buckingham Palace.

“Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I can step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission,” said the prince, who is also known as the Duke of York and is the second son of Queen Elizabeth II.

The duke, 59, had hoped that the interview, broadcast Saturday by the BBC, would put to rest lingering questions about his ties to Epstein, as well as accusations that he had sex with a teenage girl who had been supplied to him by his friend.

Instead, after the duke submitted to 50 minutes of polite but relentless grilling by BBC journalist Emily Maitlis, his unsavory association with Epstein — fodder for tabloid newspapers and society magazines — had mutated into a full-blown scandal, one that eclipsed the British general election on front pages.

Viewers expressed shock and anger at Andrew’s lack of sympathy for Epstein’s victims, as well as his unpersuasive denials of sexual misconduct, which included peculiar assertions, such as that he has been medically unable to perspire since his combat tour in the Falklands War.

Experts on the royal family have described the interview as the biggest public relations debacle for the British royal family since the turbulent aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in 1997.

On Monday, a woman who has accused Epstein of sexually abusing her as a child called on the prince to speak to U.S. authorities. “Prince Andrew, and any others who were close to Epstein, should come forward and give a statement under oath on what information they have,” the woman, who calls herself Jane Doe 15, said at a news conference in New York.

In August, another woman, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, accused the prince of having sex with her three times when she was 17 years old and had been offered to him by Epstein. Under insistent questioning by Maitlis, Andrew insisted he had “no recollection” of meeting Giuffre.

As the furor following the interview built, Andrew canceled a planned visit to flood-hit areas of Yorkshire on Tuesday, The Sun newspaper reported.

British papers were full of analysis of his future role in the family, particularly after the death of the queen, who is 93. People close to the palace said she has traditionally favored Andrew and forgiven his indiscretions.

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, is said to be frustrated with his brother’s behavior, viewing him as a liability. Once he ascends to the throne, people who follow the royal family expect him to push for a more “streamlined” structure, in which fewer family members would have a conspicuous public role.

The British public has also proved less forgiving. While viewers found many things about the interview offensive, many reacted most viscerally to Andrew’s reply when he was asked whether he regretted his relationship with Epstein, which continued after the financier had served time for soliciting a minor for prostitution.

“Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes,” he said.

“Unbecoming?” the BBC interviewer, Maitlis, replied with a tone of incredulity. “He was a sex offender.”

The duke quickly backtracked, saying: “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite. I mean, in the sense that he was a sex offender.”

Equally damaging was his explanation about why he stayed with Epstein at his Manhattan mansion in 2010, after his host was released from prison. It was “convenient,” the prince said, though he insisted that he had made the visit solely to break off their relationship.

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