'Only thing he could do': Why Prince Andrew stepped down. But will he stay away?

In the face of mounting criticism after a television interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew bowed out of royal duties, but questions remain about his future.

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In the face of mounting criticism after a BBC interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Prince Andrew bowed out of royal duties, reportedly at the behest of his mother, the Queen, and elder brother, Prince Charles. (Albert Leung/CBC)

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In royal terms, it was unprecedented.

Prince Andrew's "trainwreck" interview with the BBC about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was quickly excoriated for its arrogance and Andrew's seemingly tone-deaf focus on himself, as well as the lack of empathy he showed for Epstein's victims.

"None of it made sense," said Mark Borkowski, a British public relations expert. "I watched it live and it's better than the current series of The Crown for drama and action and content. It was unbelievable. It was equivalent to the naughty boy explaining to his housemaster why he'd been out of bounds the night before."

For a few days afterwards, it seemed as if Andrew was trying to forge ahead. But in the face of mounting criticism and supporters of his charities fading away, Andrew bowed out of royal duties (reportedly at the behest of his mother, the Queen, and elder brother, Prince Charles). 

On Wednesday, Andrew issued a statement in which he said he deeply sympathized with Epstein's victims.

"It was the only thing he could do. It was the right thing to do, because he would have become the elephant in the room," said Borkowski. "At least he's done the right thing for his nephews, his brother and his mother."

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew arrive at the Ascot racecourse on June 21, 2018. (Peter Nicholls/Reuters)

Since Andrew's statement that he was stepping down, there's been speculation about what will come next for Queen Elizabeth's second (and reportedly favourite) son. There is some thought that he will keep a low profile for a very long time.

"He's persona non grata," said Borkowski.

If the tabloids are to be believed, however, there's a sense Andrew isn't so keen on living in retreat. "Does the Duke STILL not get it?" The Daily Mail asked Thursday as it reported he was ready to fly off to Bahrain in connection with the entrepreneurial Pitch@Palace initiative he founded. Apparently members of his family suggested the trip wouldn't be a good idea, and he stayed home.

There aren't a lot of precedents for this scenario within the Royal Family, but after Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, there was a similar expectation that he would live a quiet life out of the limelight. It didn't quite work out that way.

See a series of images of Andrew riding with the Queen on Friday:

Riding in Windsor

3 years ago
Duration 0:51
Prince Andrew was seen riding a horse near Windsor Castle on Nov. 22

"That turned out not to be the case, as he made a very highly publicized visit to Nazi Germany in 1937," said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris.

"The Duke of Windsor kept trying to carve out a public role for himself after his abdication … [and] ultimately during the Second World War he was sent off to be governor of the Bahamas, which gets him out of Europe. He was never able to find that public role."

Princess Eugenie, left, Prince Andrew, and Princess Beatrice arrive for the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018, in Windsor, England. (Chris Jackson/Reuters)

For Andrew, there's a sense that his standing within the Royal Family might already have been on a downward trajectory.

"I think there's already a trend for when the next reign takes place towards a streamlined Royal Family, and Prince Andrew's behaviour is simply accelerating that process," said Harris. 

But what about the impact on his family? Elder daughter Princess Beatrice is engaged to be married next year. Might that be postponed, or would she find herself with a wedding smaller than the rather lavish nuptials of her sister Princess Eugenie last year?

The sisters do private charity work, and Harris said it will be "interesting to see if they quietly take up any of their father's charitable patronages."

How real is The Crown?

Olivia Colman has assumed the role of Queen Elizabeth in Season 3 of The Crown. (Sophie Mutevelian)

Warning: A spoiler or two ahead.

Fans who had been living with great anticipation for the return of The Crown have been chatting amongst themselves over whether they prefer Claire Foy or Olivia Colman in the role of Queen Elizabeth.

While the actors playing that part may have changed with the arrival of Season 3 of the Netflix series, one thing is still the same: the signature mix of fiction and reality that the show offers up.

Take, for example, episode two.

"We have the fact that Princess Margaret attended an official dinner at the White House with President Lyndon Johnson and First Lady Lady Bird Johnson," said Harris. "Then The Crown introduces speculation regarding how that dinner went and what was going on behind the scenes and how she bonded with the Johnsons."

News reports of the day about the dinner were rather unremarkable. The Crown's version of the dinner isn't.

"The press coverage of that dinner does not mention sing-alongs and dirty limericks," said Harris. "The Crown takes some dramatic licence to give us a sense of the characters and what they were like and Princess Margaret's personality."

Marion Bailey portrays Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, left, and Helena Bonham Carter portrays Princess Margaret in a scene from the third season of The Crown. (Des Willie/Netflix via The Associated Press)

In any dramatic retelling of a real story, choices are made — some characters and events become the focus, while others fade away. Harris wishes, for example, there was more of Princess Anne in the series, and thinks it's a shame they haven't done more with the Commonwealth.

"We don't see Commonwealth tours, which is a shame in the Canadian context, as there were some very interesting, dramatic ones during the time period that is shown during Season 3," she said, noting the Queen's visit to Quebec City in 1964, when protesters greeted her.

Still, the series does offer up the tantalizing prospect of what life may have been like for Queen Elizabeth, an enigmatic figure that in many ways the public doesn't really know.

"There's a tremendous amount of curiosity about what the Queen is like behind closed doors. And also what it is like to live in that environment" and be a member of the Royal Family, said Harris.

"It will be very interesting to see what [the show's producers] do with Diana and her public appearances in subsequent series."

Where are Harry and Meghan?

Prince Harry salutes after he and his wife, Meghan, each placed a cross of remembrance as they attended the official opening of the annual Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London on Nov. 7, 2019. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

Don't expect to see or hear much of Prince Harry and Meghan for the rest of the year.

After months when they were the focus of much scrutiny — and made headlines of their own over a controversial television interview — it seems they're taking the next six weeks or so for themselves.

Still, they were making headlines the other day when it was announced they wouldn't be spending Christmas with the Queen and other senior members of the Royal Family at Sandringham, her estate in Norfolk.

Speculation has suggested they may or may not be spending time in California with Meghan's mother, perhaps over U.S. Thanksgiving later next week.

Christmas will also be spent with Meghan's mother, location unknown.

It won't be the first time one of the Queen's grandchildren spends Christmas with the other side of the family. William and Kate have spent Dec. 25 with Kate's family.

Royally quotable

"This is not the emasculation of men. What we are trying to do, though, is to give opportunity and support for the other 50 per cent of the population to have meaningful, successful and fulfilling careers." 

— Sophie, Countess of Wessex, speaking at the 100 Women in Finance New York Gala, on Nov. 13. 

Royals in Canada

Dr. Kevin Smith, CEO of the University Health Network; Sophie, Countess of Wessex; and Nicole Cancelliere demonstrate a minimally invasive robotic surgery for stroke or aneurysm treatment at Toronto Western Hospital on Nov. 14, 2019. (Andrew Downs Photography)

Before Sophie became a member of the Royal Family, she had a career in public relations. But a visit to Toronto last week suggests she might be well-suited to work in another field.

Sophie was in the city on a two-day visit following her time in New York, and spent much of it at Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals. During the visit, she took part in demonstrations of robotic surgery and using radiology to remove clots.

"She's extremely talented when it comes to hand-eye coordination," said Dr. Kevin Smith, president and chief executive officer of the University Health Network. "She would have made a fantastic robotic or minimally invasive surgeon."

Sophie has been hospital patron since 2005 and visited several times, the last being four years ago.

The most recent visit focused on highlighting "cutting-edge areas of care and science," Smith said, and gave Sophie the opportunity to meet patients and staff.

She spent time talking with critically ill patients and showed a "great warmth" and a "real, genuine skill in listening," Smith said. Patients' faces lit up when they saw her. "It was wonderful to hear the exchange between the countess and patients around the [Royal Family] and the Queen particularly, who people talked about with such high regard and respect."

Sophie chats with stroke program patient Murray Rubin at Toronto Western Hospital on Nov. 14, 2019. (Andrew Downs Photography)

Sophie was also "remarkably warm" with staff members and spent a lot of time talking with them, Smith said. 

"She was really well-informed, I think, about the challenges of what it's like to be a frontline nurse or doctor or food service worker or housekeeper."

Sophie was impressed by the impact philanthropy in health and science has had at the hospitals, particularly because it may not be at the same level in the U.K.

"She was, I think, quite bowled over by the amazing generosity, big and small, by patients and families and philanthropists who allow us to do things well beyond what the public purse would permit," said Smith.

All told, Sophie's time at the hospitals was a huge success, Smith said.

"We couldn't have been more pleased with her visit."

Royal reads

  • The fur will be fake on any new outfits designed for the Queen, and that's left some trappers in Canada's North disappointed. [CBC] 

  • British stage and screen actor Imelda Staunton is reportedly in talks to take on the role of Queen Elizabeth in seasons 5 and 6 of The Crown. [Harper's Bazzar] 

  • Fashion in The Crown is doing a lot more than sprinkling some royal stardust. [The Guardian] 

  • Nov. 20 was the 72nd wedding anniversary for the Queen and Prince Philip, but they reportedly spent the day apart. [Forbes] 

  • The scandal surrounding Prince Andrew's friendship with Epstein is only the latest in a long line of royal controversies. [New York Times] 

  • Prince Charles was welcomed to New Zealand's founding site of Waitangi during a visit to the country's far north. [Reuters] 

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.


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