Prince Andrew is “back.”
Less than three months after he stepped back from royal duties, the disgraced royal has quietly started representing the Queen at official events again. He recently visited the Chinese ambassador to the U.K., where he celebrated Lunar New Year and passed on Queen Elizabeth’s message of support to the Chinese people suffering under the threat of coronavirus.
The Palace is being cagey about whether or not he was there “officially” or not, telling an ITV reporter that it was a “private visit.” You know, the kind of private visit you make to a politician, in front of cameras, to deliver a message from the Queen.
Her Majesty The Queen sent an encouraging message to President Xi and Chinese people: At the critical time of fighting #coronavirus, I express my sincere sympathy for Chinese people, and pray for the speedy control and victory over the virus. It was conveyed by Duke of York. pic.twitter.com/RZItxQ26WS— Liu Xiaoming (@AmbLiuXiaoMing) February 8, 2020
No matter how they characterize it, it certainly looks like Prince Andrew is on his way to being a working royal once again.
The meeting happened on Saturday, with very little fanfare or objection from the press. “Prince Andrew delivers ‘Message of sympathy from the Queen’ to China over coronavirus,” was The Independent’s headline, which was virtually identical to the way other outlets covered the meeting.
His brief exit from his royal duties was referred to euphemistically as a “scandal,” as though he had a wardrobe malfunction or had too many drinks in public.
It’s hard to believe that this mild reaction comes from the same ruthless British press machine that criticized Meghan Markle so relentlessly that she quit the royal family.
(Only Markle’s number-one tormenter, the Daily Mail, appeared to question Andrew’s involvement: “Chinese ambassador reveals Prince Andrew is STILL representing the Queen after delivering a message expressing her sympathy for coronavirus victims.”)
Most of these articles make mention of the fact that Prince Andrew stepped down less than three months ago, but few take the time to explain why in any significant detail.
Here’s a quick refresher: a woman who alleges she was trafficked by late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein also alleges she was raped by Prince Andrew when she was 17. There’s a photo of them together from that time, which he says may have been faked. Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied the allegation that they had any sexual contact, and says he doesn’t remember meeting her.
But here’s what Prince Andrew admitted to: he does not regret his friendship with Epstein, because knowing him had “some seriously beneficial outcomes.” He described the sex trafficking charges as Epstein “conduct[ing] himself in a manner unbecoming.” He remained friends with Epstein, and stayed in his New York mansion, even after Epstein was convicted of sex trafficking.
Prince Andrew has also refused to cooperate with the FBI as they continue to investigate Epstein’s crimes, among them the allegation that he was running a “vast network” of underage girls he trafficked for sex.
This all just happened. Remember the BBC interview that went so badly for him? That was in November. Yes, the news cycle moves quickly — but is this really something we’ve already forgotten? Are we really going to let Prince Andrew creep back into public life, where he receives a cushy salary estimated to total nearly $400,000, to represent the Queen while he rubs shoulders with the rich and powerful? And what would happen if he were sent, on the Queen’s behalf, to a charity that worked with vulnerable people, something working royals are often expected to do? We already know that schools and children’s charities he’s been affiliated with are choosing to cut ties with him, including the private school in Ontario that he used to attend.
Prince Andrew has started performing what look like minor gestures of repentance, maybe in an effort to rehabilitate his image ahead of his daughter’s wedding this spring, where he will walk her down the aisle. He reportedly turned down the automatic military promotion that would otherwise be granted to him on his 60th birthday next week. The occasion might not even grant him his customary birthday flag ordinarily flown in U.K. government buildings. (But before you worry he’s making an unreasonable amount of sacrifices, fear not: he will still get his traditional birthday bells at Westminster Abbey.)
Part of the reason it’s so frustrating to see Prince Andrew get let off the hook so easily by the palace — and, to a lesser extent, by some of the press — is that we’ve seen this cycle play out before, so many times. A powerful man does something shameful, he lays low for a while, and then, when enough time has passed, he’s welcomed back, fairly uncritically. It happened with Mel Gibson. It happened with Louis C.K. Even Harvey Weinstein showed up at a young performer’s showcase in New York in October — and when a female comedian and rape survivor called him out, she got booed and then thrown out of the venue.
We can’t let that happen with Prince Andrew. He needs to be held accountable, by the public and especially by the press. News sources reporting on a public appearance he makes — at his daughter’s wedding, on behalf of the Queen, at a posh event that very few people are granted the opportunity to attend — should remind readers of the disturbing allegations and/or the facts of his ties to Epstein.
He was born into enormous wealth and privilege, and he used those advantages to, at the very least, befriend and uncritically lend credibility to a man he knew had been accused of trafficking teenage girls for sex.
We have to make sure his return to public life isn’t easily accepted. It should be uncomfortable for him, because he should be reminded of the incredible harm Epstein caused, that didn’t bother him while he was enjoying the “seriously beneficial outcomes” that accompanied his friendship. He should be pressed be reporters and questioned by the public. He shouldn’t be welcomed back with open arms.
Meghan Markle, whose only “crimes” were 1) not enjoying constant scrutiny and 2) being Black, hasn’t received as warm a welcome as Prince Andrew seems to be receiving. The press that claimed that her fondness for avocados contributed to draught, called her “demanding” for emailing her staff, and tracked down her eighth cousin to publish his claim that their family was distantly related to a 19th-century serial killer doesn’t have an ounce of criticism to spare for someone who palled around with a known sex trafficker?
Equally disturbing is the fact the Royal Family appears to be standing by him. He doesn’t appear to have been cast aside, in the way Princess Diana was after her divorce from Prince Charles. Unlike Harry and Meghan, who allegedly felt alienated from the rest of their family, Prince Andrew spent Christmas at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, where he was pictured attending church service and talking at length with his brother Charles. He was also seen riding horses with his mother, Queen Elizabeth.
The British monarchy has no real power anymore — their role is purely symbolic. And while the brutal force of imperialism are undoubtedly a part of their legacy, today’s royals largely perform charity work and bring attention to social, environmental and cultural causes. That’s their brand — and if they accept Andrew back into their fold, the rest of the world will have an even better reason to view the Royal Family as a damaged and untrustworthy institution.
One of the most memorable parts of that BBC interview was when journalist Emily Maitlis asked him why he didn’t stop being friends with Jeffrey Epstein, even after his alleged crimes became public knowledge.
Rather than admit he had made a mistake, or talk about the complexity of ending a friendship with an abuser, Prince Andrew chalked the whole thing up to being too good a person.
“I admit fully my judgement was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable,” he said.
Prince Andrew clearly isn’t someone willing to take on any degree of responsibility. So, let’s make sure we don’t forget this.
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