Published On: Thu, Nov 21st, 2019

After Disastrous Epstein Interview, Prince Andrew Steps Down From Public Duties

After Disastrous Epstein Interview, Prince Andrew Steps Down From Public Duties

LONDON — Prince Andrew announced on Wednesday that he would step back from public life, seeking to contain a firestorm over his ties to the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein that threatened to scorch the entire British royal family.

The prince’s extraordinary statement capped a tumultuous four days since his televised interview about Mr. Epstein, which brought a storm of negative coverage, prompted companies with ties to the prince’s charities to distance themselves from him, and rekindled calls for him to testify to the F.B.I. about his tangled history with Mr. Epstein, who was accused of sex trafficking.

“It has become clear to me over the past few days that my association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organizations and charities that I am proud to support,” Prince Andrew said in a statement issued by Buckingham Palace.

“Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I can step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission,” said the prince, who is also known as the Duke of York and is the second son of Queen Elizabeth II.

The duke, 59, had hoped that the interview, broadcast Saturday by the BBC, would put to rest lingering questions about his ties to Mr. Epstein, as well as accusations that he had sex with a teenage girl who had been supplied to him by his friend.

Instead, after the duke submitted to 50 minutes of polite but relentless grilling by the BBC journalist Emily Maitlis, his unsavory association with Mr. Epstein — fodder for tabloid newspapers and society magazines — had mutated into a full-blown scandal, one that eclipsed the British general election on front pages.

Viewers expressed shock and anger at Prince Andrew’s lack of sympathy for Mr. Epstein’s victims, as well as his unpersuasive denials of sexual misconduct, which included peculiar assertions, such as that he has been medically unable to perspire since his combat tour in the Falklands War.

Experts on the royal family have described the interview as the biggest public relations debacle for the British royal family since the turbulent aftermath of the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in 1997.

People with ties to Buckingham Palace said they could not recall a senior member of the royal family having been suspended so abruptly and publicly from his or her duties. Some praised the decision, saying it would take the prince out of the spotlight and buy time for the palace to try to rehabilitate his image.

In his three-paragraph statement, Prince Andrew attempted to undo some of the damage himself. He expressed regret for “my ill-judged association” with Mr. Epstein, who killed himself in a Manhattan jail in August.

“His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for the victims,” the prince said, “and I deeply sympathize with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure.”

Prince Andrew said he would be ready to help “any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigation, if required.” During the BBC interview, the prince said he would have to consult with his lawyers before testifying under oath about his ties to Mr. Epstein.

On Monday, a woman who has accused Mr. Epstein of sexually abusing her as a child called on the prince to speak to the American authorities.

“Prince Andrew, and any others who were close to Epstein, should come forward and give a statement under oath on what information they have,” said the woman, who calls herself Jane Doe 15, at a news conference in New York.

In August, another woman, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, accused the prince of having sex with her three times when she was 17 years old and had been offered to him by Mr. Epstein. Under insistent questioning by Ms. Maitlis, Prince Andrew insisted he had “no recollection” of meeting Ms. Giuffre.

Prince Andrew’s public duties have included stewardship of [email protected], a five-year-old effort to “accelerate the work of entrepreneurs” by helping them connect with potential advisers and investors.

Several companies have already moved to distance their brands from [email protected] Those companies included Cisco Systems; Aon, a British insurer; and KPMG, a consulting firm. Aon asked for its logo to be removed from the [email protected] website because it was not a partner of the organization and never had been.

Even before the duke agreed to speak, his decision to go before the cameras had opened divisions inside Buckingham Palace. The Sunday Times reported that the prince’s public relations adviser, Jason Stein, resigned two weeks ago because he believed that the interview “could backfire.”

As the furor following the interview built, Prince Andrew canceled a planned visit to flood-hit areas of Yorkshire on Tuesday, The Sun newspaper reported.

British papers were full of analysis of his future role in the family, particularly after the death of the queen, who is 93. People close to the palace said she has traditionally favored Prince Andrew and forgiven his indiscretions.

Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, is said to be frustrated with his brother’s behavior, viewing him as a liability. Once he ascends to the throne, people who follow the royal family expect him to push for a more “streamlined” structure, in which fewer family members would have a conspicuous public role.

The British public has also proved less forgiving. While viewers found many things about the interview offensive, many reacted most viscerally to Prince Andrew’s reply when he was asked whether he regretted his relationship with Mr. Epstein, which continued after the financier had served time for soliciting a minor for prostitution.

“Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes,” he said.

“Unbecoming?” the BBC interviewer, Ms. Maitlis, replied with a tone of incredulity. “He was a sex offender.”

Credit…New York State Sex Offender Registry

The duke quickly backtracked, saying: “Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite. I mean, in the sense that he was a sex offender.”

Equally damaging was his explanation about why he stayed with Mr. Epstein at his Manhattan mansion in 2010, after his host was released from prison. It was “convenient,” the prince said, though he insisted that he had made the visit solely to break off their relationship.

The questions about Prince Andrew’s association with Mr. Epstein have simmered for years. But they exploded back into view last summer, after Mr. Epstein’s arrest on sex trafficking charges and the publication by The Daily Mail of a photograph of the prince walking with his friend in Central Park.

“That’s the bit that, as it were, I kick myself for on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family,” he said in the interview. “We try and uphold the highest standards and practices, and I let the side down, as simple as that.”

Members of the royal family have often lost their way when they have talked about their personal problems on television. Prince Charles confessed to adultery in a 1994 documentary, and Diana told an interviewer a year later that “there were three of us in this marriage,” referring to Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles, who later became his second wife.

Until the latest tempest over Prince Andrew, the royal family was most distracted by the trials of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan. The couple opened up in a TV interview, discussing her struggles with being a royal and new mother, and his tensions with his brother, Prince William.

The brothers, Prince Harry said, were on “different paths at the moment.”

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