28 November 2019
Bagging a Royal
by J R Thomas
I had a text from my friend in Boondoggle, USA, last week. He wanted to know what it was that Prince Andrew had been convicted of, because as he put it: “the trial has not been reported over here”. Nor over here, my friend. That is because we are sticking to the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland dictum of “sentence first – verdict afterwards”. In fact, we are going a couple of steps further than the Queen of Hearts suggested; sentence first – trial later. Because, as I had to tell my friend, there has been no trial, no charges, not, as yet, even an investigation.
The Duke of York certainly appears to have done what most of us do sometimes, and a few of us, alas, do a lot of the time. Kept bad company; and taken rather too much generous hospitality from persons with a lot of money; and had a roving eye for persons of the opposite sex. Add to that, being rather extravagant and a little flash and fond of sitting at the front of airplanes – preferably private jets (those flying temptations of the devil), also tending to the haughty and short-tempered and rather obviously feeling self- entitled.
He may have gone further than this; a number of ladies suggest that he took advantage of their weakness and naivety and youth, and the party-party hospitality of Jeffrey Epstein, to have improper relations with them, when they were underage. There can be no doubt that Mr Epstein was a deeply unpleasant person of odious habits and illegal practices with underage girls, and that a number of those girls have been horribly scarred by what happened to them. Did the Prince participate in this? He, strongly, with genuine sounding alibis, says not. He regrets his friendship with Epstein; he, somewhat belatedly, sympathised with Epstein’s victims. Three of the girls say the Prince had sex with them whilst they were underage and effectively being coerced, Ms Giuffre Roberts saying it very strongly, giving dates and places and a photograph. There is not much independent evidence either way, as might be expected for events of over fifteen years ago. The FBI are likely to begin more detailed investigations soon. Scotland Yard’s finest are also rumoured to be considering the alleged London end of this. Even the French police are said to be considering opening a file. When all that has been done, and the reports sent to the appropriate prosecutors to consider if action is needed to bring anybody to justice, then we shall have evidence, one way or the other, and we then may take our stances. Or, alas, possibly not, because relying on memory and circumstance after all this time may mean that nothing conclusive is provable.
But all that proper process is terribly boring. It could take years. Let’s get furious now. We don’t need evidence to get angry, there are after all a huge number of “Royal experts”, of “palace insiders”, of persons “close to the Queen/Prince of Wales/Duchess of Sussex/Prince William/Metropolitan Police” (take your pick, none of them have names or are in any way identifiable, and few sound credible). Those “expert insiders” tell us that the Queen has cancelled the Duke’s 6oth birthday party and fired him from his royal roles, that the PoW will remove him from the civil list of payments (slight hitch on that story, it was abolished some years ago), that Meghan is disgusted (though no doubt not entirely upset that the spotlight has swung away from her); and so on. Of course we are furious. Remove his titles. Sack him from all his charities. Cancel his daughter’s royal wedding. Throw bricks at his Bentley.
Er. Aren’t we just being a little previous here? You don’t have to like the man; indeed there does seem to be a constant theme in his adult life that he does not display the humility, even-temper, good humour, and frugality that is so appealing in more popular members of the royal family. But as yet he is convicted of no crimes, he fought bravely in the Falkland War, his treatment of his troubled ex-wife has been exemplary, and he clearly adores his daughters and they him. And he has done a lot for charity – mostly not in the more fashionable causes, but in promoting entrepreneurship among the disadvantaged.
Which brings us to the other barrel being used to bring the Prince down. The curiously named Pitch@Palace. Too apt a name as it turns out. The Duke has been a great advocate for this, albeit it did defray some of the expenses of his lifestyle, especially in his tendency to lavish foreign travel. It also brought him a lot of corporate friends, who in the event, turn out not be the sort of friends who stick around when the merde starts flying. Never have large corporates made such swift decisions. Gone, fled, departed, ratted. We will not name names because we are not that sort of news bringer, but you probably know who they are. Major banks, a leading firm of accountants, an airline, a techie business, amongst others. Fighting to disassociate themselves and get to the exit. Horrified by the revelation that the Prince’s vehicle for the charity is entitled to 2% of profits from successful businesses helped along by P@P. (Though it never has taken it.) “What!” they cry “That cannot be right. Where does it say that?” On the last page of the application form. “Ah” these leading financial and business institutions say “On the last page. Obviously we would not see that. Totally unacceptable.” (Try that next time you object to penalty payments on your Sparklyloan.) So your corporate expertise does not extend to reading the small print, major banks and accountants? Just to rubbing shoulders with royal persons, spending shareholders money to get inside Buck House, glittering receptions and reflected glory? Who is actually behaving badly here?
Monarchy is in many ways an absurd system of governance in a modern democracy. Yet it has a real value in separating the dignified and representational functions of the state from the purely political. It may not be perfect, but it often works better than any elective system. Britain is lucky in that the monarchs of recent centuries have come to understand and perform their duties with a real comprehension as to what is needed (to be fair, there are presidential systems that have achieved the same, especially Ireland and Italy). For monarchy to work, an archaic system in a technological age, it needs a little magic, a sense of duty from the monarch, the sort of head of state who keeps her cornflakes in tupperware boxes and switches out lights when leaving the room, and never seems to be tired or bored. The Duke of York has not conformed in his life to such ideals, but then, has never seemed likely to have the top job. He may be a bore, extravagant, self indulgent, a bad judge of people, not hugely bright (as those royal experts will all assure you), or he may be kindly, humorous, brave, hard working. But whatever he is, until he is convicted of any crime, he is entitled to be treated as we would wish to be treated ourselves – with politeness, respect, and by that strange old edict that proclaims he is innocent until legal process finds him guilty.