Never in her long reign can the Throne have felt quite so lonely. Never have the blows come quite so hard and quite so fast.
The scandal over Prince Andrew barely two months ago. Then the double crisis of the declining health of Prince Philip and Prince Harry’s decision to quit royal life.
And now, with the focus once again swinging back on to Andrew, the Queen’s remarkable ability to face whatever adversity throws at her will surely be severely tested.
But last night, as the impact of the claims from New York that the Duke of York had provided ‘zero co-operation’ over sex offender Jeffrey Epstein threatened to engulf Buckingham Palace with the sordid case all over again, royal aides acted ruthlessly to protect the Queen.
The palace declined to offer any response to the comments from US prosecutors that Andrew had not responded to interview requests. This appears to be in sharp contrast to the support offered to the duke in the aftermath of his disastrous Newsnight broadcast last November.
With focus once again swinging back to Andrew, pictured during BBC interview, the Queen’s remarkable ability to face whatever adversity throws at her will surely be severely tested
What makes this all the more extraordinary is that in recent times Andrew had put his own problems to one side to be a reassuring presence for his mother. He is thought to have spent more time with the Queen at Sandringham than any of his other siblings.
He accompanied her to church last Sunday and has been with his father as Philip battles to overcome the illness that saw him admitted to hospital just before Christmas.
He was also permitted to hold his annual January shooting weekend for friends on the Norfolk estate.
Nevertheless, the impact of these latest developments on the Queen will be immense. Andrew has always been her favourite. When he took command of rescuing so many of Windsor Castle’s treasures from the fire in 1992, she thanked God he was there to organise things.
It wasn’t the first time the Queen had felt a surge of maternal pride in her second son. She has always regarded him as a ‘hero’ for his bravery in the Falklands War, when he served as a ‘decoy’ helicopter pilot with the dangerous role of distracting deadly Argentine Exocet missiles away from British ships.
There have been claims from New York that the Duke of York had provided ‘zero co-operation’ over sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The Duke is pictured at Epstein’s New York home
Invariably when the royal going gets tough and with Philip increasingly frail, it is Andrew whom the Queen likes to have around her. It is why when the upheaval over Harry and Meghan was at its height this month, he was a welcome and distracting presence at Sandringham.
Far from driving him out of her close circle because of the fallout over his inept TV interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, the Queen sought to keep him near. While his public life as a working royal was being dismantled, domestically things could not be closer.
Which makes the palace silence over the claims from US attorney Geoffrey Berman that the prince had been unco-operative in their sex-trafficking investigation all the more baffling. Aides said the matter was being dealt with by the duke’s legal team.
So what is going on? Technically the palace is sticking to the letter of Andrew’s new life. After standing down from all royal duties last year because, as he put it, the Epstein scandal had become a ‘major disruption’ to the Royal Family, he is no longer a ‘working royal’ and therefore the palace no longer speaks for him.
All the same, it was clear that last night’s development from New York had clearly caught the duke’s team unawares. In his ‘car crash’ interview, Andrew had said he was ‘willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency’. One figure familiar with the case suggested the announcement issued at a news conference outside Epstein’s New York mansion was an attempt to call the duke’s bluff.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, standing with victims of childhood sexual abuse, speaks at an event held by Safe Horizon, a non-profit victim services agency, in front of Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan residence
The choice of the backdrop of his friend’s infamous home cannot have been lost on Andrew. It was the scene of the sensational video footage of the duke waving goodbye to a young woman during his ill-judged trip to New York which he claimed he made to break off his friendship with the convicted paedophile.
For the Queen this marks another embarrassing low point just as the royals are trying to heal the wounds over the Harry crisis by getting back to work. Coming on a day when the Duchess of Cornwall was on a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp and William and Kate were at Holocaust anniversary occasions, it is another major distraction.
Far from disappearing from public view since quitting his royal role, Andrew has remained visible. Many thought he might choose to spend time out of sight at his skiing lodge in the Swiss resort of Verbier. Instead he has remained in the country.
Yesterday he was understood to be at his office at Buckingham Palace where his remaining staff are due to leave at the end of the week. His private secretary Amanda Thirsk, who will take over his Pitch at Palace charity, is already thought to have left.
But whatever the dramas that have come and gone, in the Queen’s eyes, he remains the son who can do no wrong.
Unlike Charles and Anne, both of whom were born when she was still Princess Elizabeth, Andrew was the son who came along when she had reigned for the best part of a decade. He was named after his paternal grandfather, the dissolute gambler Prince Andrew of Greece, who saw little of his son Prince Philip and died penniless on the French Riviera.
Prince Andrew leaves sex offender Jeffrey Epsteins home and go for a stroll together through New York’s Central Park. This picture was taken in 2011
‘The Queen knew the ropes by then and was able to give him all the quality time that Charles says he didn’t get,’ says a former courtier. ‘She so loved looking after him she even curtailed her foreign travel.’
At bath time, she put on an apron and bathed him, and she would rock him to sleep. At Windsor Castle he was allowed to race his bicycle down its wide corridors and play skittles along them while his mother dealt with her red boxes of government papers in the late afternoon.
On Saturdays at teatime, he would routinely sit with his parents – Charles and Anne were away at boarding school – watching the BBC’s Grandstand sports programme on TV. On Sundays he would watch cricket with them, also on TV. Despite this early exposure to our national games, his passion became golf.
The fact is, such maternal closeness with her third child – and with Edward, born four years later – has never changed. ‘They are just as close today,’ says a former lady-in-waiting.
Perhaps that hasn’t entirely worked in Andrew’s favour. Rarely chastised as a child, he grew up, says a courtier, ‘with a pompous level of self-importance based on being second in line to the throne’. The Queen has always tried to help him in this respect by making sure he has a ‘role’ – though not always, it must be said, with success.
Jeffrey Epstein’s $50million in New York City. The palace declined to offer any response to the comments from US prosecutors that Andrew had not responded to interview requests
Of course, the arrival of his nephews William and Harry pushed him down the line of succession, and he felt it. And when William and then Harry started families, Andrew and his daughters Beatrice and Eugenie were pushed further to the margins.
It is ironic that, in the vacuum that has emerged as a result of Harry and Meghan’s decision to give up their royal life for a new existence in Canada, Beatrice and Eugenie will almost certainly be called upon more often to help their grandmother. Already I understand there are plans for them to attend this summer’s palace garden parties at her side.
But then, as Andrew is fond of reminding people, they are the only ‘blood princesses’ of the younger royal generation.
The question now is whether a rehabilitated Andrew’s own hopes of being with them come to pass. The omens suggest it looks extremely unlikely.