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Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein: Why it's a 'troublesome time' for the royals

Prince Andrew's friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein came under renewed scrutiny after the U.S. financier's jail cell suicide, and Prince Harry and Meghan were both criticized and supported for their decision to take private jet flights earlier this month.

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Prince Andrew's friendship with U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein has been under renewed scrutiny since the convicted sex offender's suicide in a New York jail cell earlier this month. Both Andrew and the palace have denied he had any involvement in the sex scandal surrounding Epstein. (Albert Leung/CBC)

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What was he thinking?

Prince Andrew's judgment over some of the company he keeps has long been questioned, particularly his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

But the media spotlight on any links there may have been between the two found a renewed focus in the days following Epstein's jail cell suicide on Aug. 10, particularly after pictures emerged from 2010 of the Queen's second son looking out the door of Epstein's New York mansion. Court papers released the day before the U.S. financier's death also alleged that Andrew groped a woman while at Epstein's home.

Denials of any involvement in the sex scandal have come from Buckingham Palace and Andrew himself, most recently in a lengthy statement Saturday, but there's no sense the story is going away.

"This story is going to run and run," British PR expert Mark Borkowski said in an interview last week. "It's one of those conspiracy-type stories that carry on for years and years and years."

That potential to "run and run" lies in the many unknowns that surround the Epstein case and Andrew's own character.

Prince Andrew rides back from church with his mother, Queen Elizabeth, after the service on Aug. 11, 2019, near Balmoral Castle in the Scottish Highlands. (Duncan McGlynn/Getty Images)

The recent statements from the palace were hardly the first on the matter. When international headlines in 2015 blasted allegations that Andrew had sex with an underage U.S. girl more than a decade previously, the palace was quick and vigorous in its rebuttals and denials.

Still, said Borkowski, "they never quite rinsed out the stain," and he sees the palace struggling to deal with the story now.

"It's a very difficult situation," he said. Andrew "might not be implicated in any of the lurid stories about Epstein's sex parties and whatever but … what the palace are inheriting at the moment is just his incredibly poor choice of company."

In a statement issued Saturday, Andrew denied seeing any suspect activities when he visited Epstein. "At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction," the statement said. 

But he admitted it was a "mistake and error" to see Epstein in 2010 after he pleaded guilty to paying a teenage girl for sex.

It appears to have been long-standing acquaintance.

In his statement Saturday, Andrew said he met Epstein in 1999 and saw him "infrequently," probably no more than once or twice a year during the time he knew him. "At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction."

That Andrew would make statements himself is unusual.

"His view has always been, say nothing, it'll go away," Daily Mail journalist Andrew Pierce said in an interview last week. "But he saw the danger, the damage to his reputation and to the reputation of the Royal Family from that photograph, which is why he felt he had to speak out, because he was in the lair of the sex offender, waving goodbye to young girls."

Within the Royal Family itself, there is apparently both support and worry. 

Vanity Fair royal correspondent Katie Nicholl said via email a few days ago it's a "troublesome time" for them. "While Andrew has his mother's full support, I have been told that his friendship with Epstein caused tensions with Charles, who was always very concerned about the connection," Nicholl said via email. 

"According to the family source I have spoken to, the Queen has Andrew's word that he has done nothing wrong. She loves him, believes him and is standing by him."

Prince Andrew reviews voting results during a Pitch@Palace event on May 28, 2019, in Toronto. (Albert Leung/CBC)

Andrew — who's been nicknamed Randy Andy and Air Miles Andy — has faced controversy before. He has also spent a lot of time trying to position himself as a supporter of business. (On a recent visit to Canada, he was promoting entrepreneurship and innovation through his Pitch@Palace program.)

But how exactly things will shake out in the latest controversy is quite unclear. 

"These are global headlines," said Borkowski. "This [story] has America ... and Epstein's lair, the girls, the parties, all those implications — this is a very difficult thing to shrug off because it's a very rich story."

With files from Margaret Evans

Flying and footprints 

Prince Harry and Meghan were the focus of criticism for taking flights on private jets recently, but also found support from high-profile celebrities. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images)

Andrew wasn't the only royal in the media spotlight over the past few days.

Reports emerged that Prince Harry and Meghan, who have tried to position themselves as environmentally conscious citizens, had apparently left a hefty carbon footprint behind after two round-trip flights on private jets to Western Europe.

For some observers, this was hypocrisy at its finest.

But Meghan and Harry also had high-profile celebrity supporters, including Elton John, who hosted the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and their young son, Archie, at his home in the south of France. 

The singer, who was a friend of Harry's mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, came out swinging on Twitter in defence of the couple and against a "malicious" media report surrounding the royal visit to his home in Nice. He said he and his husband, David, provided the couple with a private jet flight — and a carbon offset. 

But that, too, raised questions. 

"Carbon offsetting is not a meaningful response to aviation emissions," Greenpeace UK's chief scientist, Doug Parr, said on Twitter. Good work can be done through offsets, but it is no solution."

Other royals took a different approach to summer air travel in recent days. Pictures emerged Thursday of Prince William, Kate and their three children taking a budget flight to Aberdeen, on their way to the Queen's Balmoral estate in the Scottish Highlands.

Royal stories on screen and stage

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

For those who like their entertainment with some royal sparkle, there is an abundance of choice coming up.

Downton Abbey arrives in North American movie theatres on Sept. 20. The award-winning TV period drama's much-anticipated move to the big screen focuses on the impact of a 1927 royal visit from King George V and Queen Mary on the Crawley family and their downstairs staff. (It seems fans are more than eager for the return — reports this week said the movie has sold more advance tickets on the first day of sales in the United States than any other drama this year.)

When Downton Abbey hits movie theatres next month, the story will focus on the impact of a royal visit on the Crawley family and their staff. Above, Lady Edith, centre, played by Laura Carmichael, is greeted by her mother, Lady Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern, left, and her father, Lord Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, second from right. (Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features)

Netflix recently announced a date for Season 3 of The Crown. Olivia Colman, who won an Oscar for her regal turn as Queen Anne in The Favourite, assumes the role of Queen Elizabeth when the next instalment in the series that focuses on her life drops on Nov. 17.

Several stage performances on tap also have a royal theme — from wildly varying eras and with wildly varying approaches.

When the Stratford Festival in southern Ontario inaugurates its new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre next year, actor Colm Feore will take to the stage in the title role of Shakespeare's Richard III, the same play that launched the festival in 1953.

Actor Colm Feore, pictured at the new Tom Patterson Theatre Centre in Stratford, will play Richard III at the Stratford Festival in 2020. (Stratford Festival/Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Diana, Princess of Wales, is the focus of a musical coming to Broadway in 2020. It has already played on some stages, to decidedly mixed reviews.

Also landing on Broadway next year is Six: Divorced. Beheaded. Live in Concert, a pop-filled musical about the wives of Henry VIII, reimagined as a group much like the Spice Girls. Six has played to great success in the U.K. and will have its Canadian premiere at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre in November.

Royally quotable

Zara Tindall, daughter of Princess Anne, had something of a rebellious streak in her younger years. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

"I'd also rather one of my daughters came home with a piercing than a tattoo because at least a stud can be removed. I wouldn't have a leg to stand on if they did, though."

— The Queen's granddaughter, Zara Tindall, who had something of a rebellious streak in her younger years, acknowledged that her tongue piercing as a teenager might make it hard to come down strongly against her daughters Mia and Lena if they ever got a tattoo.

Royals in Canada

Robert Saunders, president of the Canadian National Exhibition, greets Marina, Duchess of Kent, as she and her daughter, Princess Alexandra, arrive at the grandstand on Aug. 30, 1954, in Toronto. (Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Royal visits to Canada in the late summer have been few and far between, perhaps in large part because that's a time of year when members of the Royal Family take holidays themselves. The Queen is well-ensconced in Balmoral right now, as she is each year for her extended stay in the Scottish Highlands.

But in 1954, Canada was on the agenda for Marina, Duchess of Kent, and her 17-year-old daughter Princess Alexandra, as they travelled in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes from Aug. 22 to Sept. 14.

Summer exhibitions featured prominently on their itinerary. Marina opened the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and the duo attended the Fredericton Exhibition. There, they watched the harness racing. "The royal couple were said to have win-pari-mutuel tickets, which paid $10.40 on Abbeland, the favourite," according to a report in the Fredericton Gleaner.

It seems Alexandra was also able to get out and about and meet some people her own age late at night. She "was up until two o"clock with a group of local young people in a private home, playing dance records and having the sort of fun that is any teenager's right, whether she be royal or otherwise," the Gleaner said.

Royal reads

  • Forty years ago, on Aug. 27, 1979, Lord Louis Mountbatten was murdered at the hands of the Irish Republican Army. Our friends at CBC Archives have taken a closer look at his death after a bomb went off on a wooden fishing boat off the Irish coast near Sligo.

  • Olivia Colman's efforts to mimic Queen Elizabeth's accent for The Crown didn't get off to the most auspicious start. [The Telegraph]

  • Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage had a lot to say about members of the Royal Family recently, including his assertion that Meghan has made Harry less popular. [BBC] 

  • Harry's former girlfriend Cressida Bonas is getting married — and her husband-to-be is also named Harry. [The Telegraph] 

  • Letters and photos that offer insight into the public interests and private passions of Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, are now available online to recognize the 200th anniversary of his birth. [The Guardian]

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About the Author

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

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