LONDON: Britain’s Prince Andrew provoked a backlash Sunday following an extraordinary TV interview in which he denied having sex with an alleged victim of the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, as public relations experts branded the hour-long exchange “disastrous”.
Queen Elizabeth II’s second son was lambasted from all quarters for his lack of judgement and empathy with the victims, his extraordinary defence that he was at a high street pizza restaurant, never sweated and claim that he only stayed at the sex offender’s home because he was ‘too honourable’.
The unprecedented interview was the first time Andrew has answered questions about Virginia Robert’s allegations.
It was a PR gamble intended to clear his name but in attempting to justify his relationship with Epstein, Andrew appeared Sunday to have opened himself up to even greater criticism.
Roberts, now Giuffre, claims she was forced to have sex with the royal on three occasions — in London in 2001 when she was 17, in New York and on Epstein’s private Caribbean island.
PR consultant Mark Borkowski said the exchanges were “like watching a man in quick sand” and that he had “never seen anything so disastrous”.
Meanwhile media lawyer Mark Stephens, who represented James Hewitt after his alleged affair with Princess Diana, called the interview “a catastrophic error”.
“(He) seemed unconcerned by the seriousness of the matter, laughing and smiling at several points during the interview… and expressed no regrets or concern about Epstein’s victims,” added The Guardian.
“Not one single word of remorse,” screamed the front page of the Mail on Sunday following the interview on the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Saturday evening.
Andrew, 59, who is eighth in line to the throne, has been dogged for years by critism of his links to Epstein, who was found dead in a New York jail in August.
Giuffre, who alleges that Epstein abused her for years and farmed her out to his wealthy friends, first made her allegations against Prince Andrew, who has repeatedly denied them, in a 2015 US civil court deposition and has repeated them in more recent TV interviews.
“I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened,” Andrew said referring to her claim that they had sex, adding he had “no recollection” of having met her.
The prince told interviewer Emily Maitlis he was in fact “at home with the children” on the March 2001 night in question, after earlier taking his daughter Princess Beatrice to a pizza restaurant.
He denied they had shared a sweaty dance at a London nightclub on the basis he cannot sweat due to a condition related to having fought in the 1982 Falklands War.
And he said a picture showing him with his arm around Giuffre, with Epstein’s friend Ghislaine Maxwell in the background, was “a photograph of a photograph of a photograph”, hinting that it could have been doctored.
Epstein, a US multi-millionaire, pleaded guilty in 2008 to procuring a girl under the age of 18 for prostitution and served 13 months in a US prison before being released on probation.
A coroner ruled that he committed suicide by hanging while awaiting trial on federal charges he trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex.
Nonetheless, Andrew, who had hosted Epstein at Windsor Castle, and remained in contact after he was convicted, expressed little regret for the friendship, telling Maitlis it had “seriously beneficial outcomes” unrelated to the controversies.
Jack Scarola, a lawyer for Giuffre, told The Times on Saturday Andrew should “submit to an interview under oath with the investigating authorities” in the US who continue to probe the Epstein scandal.
Andrew said he would “in the right circumstances” but added he was “bound by what my legal advice is”.
The prince also faced uncomfortable questions over staying with Epstein at his Manhattan townhouse shortly after his release from prison, when he was captured on video waving goodbye to a woman at the front door.
A witness has described seeing Andrew getting a foot massage from a young Russian woman there.
He repeatedly insisted he was “not close” to the disgraced financier and that his home was simply “a convenient place to stay”.
Andrew also claimed he spent several days there to end their friendship face-to-face — in an “honourable” way — but ultimately conceded it was “the wrong thing to do”.
“It was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down,” he said.