Prince Andrew is locked in a “power and status game” with brother King Charles, and the battle over how long he stays at his home, Royal Lodge in Windsor, is just one component, according to the prince’s next biographer, Andrew Lownie.
Now Charles is king, it is said that he wants to be tough with Andrew, but that he has allowed him to remain at Royal Lodge while Andrew’s ex-wife and housemate Sarah Ferguson recovers from breast cancer surgery.
“The problem is there is a contract with the Crown Estate. Andrew can stay there on peppercorn rent in return for doing it up,” Lownie told The Daily Beast. “Andrew is digging his heels in because he argues he needs a large house—it has 30 rooms—for when his grandchildren come to stay, and it’s part of a wider power and status game with Charles. Optics don’t look good, but that won’t worry Andrew. I don’t see him ever leaving.”
Lownie does not see a way back for Andrew to a public royal role after being accused of sexual assaulting Virginia Giuffre when she was 17 and being sexually trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein—which Andrew emphatically denies—and then paying Giuffre millions of dollars in an out-of court settlement.
Andrew doesn’t seem the type to do—on his own initiative and independently of the family—selfless public service, as his sister Princess Anne so devotedly does officially, to redeem his reputation.
“No, because of his temperament and the way he continues to behave he cannot make a comeback,” said Lownie. “He’ll be let out for family occasions, but he is by nature a hermit so he won’t be too worried.”
Lownie says that he is a monarchist. That’s somewhat gobsmacking because with two revelatory best-selling royal biographies, The Mountbattens and Traitor King, he has established himself as a mask-shattering observer of the British Royals.
In The Mountbattens he disclosed that Lord Louis “Dickie” Mountbatten, mentor to both Prince Philip and the young Prince Charles, led a long double life as a bisexual while his wife, Lady Edwina, had numerous affairs with famous men. Traitor King, a searing portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, detailed the Duke of Windsor’s readiness to become Hitler’s stooge on the British throne in the event of surrender in 1940—including the fact that he was heard hoping that the country would be bombed into submission.
His next book will be about Andrew and Fergie. It promises to be just as sensational. He agrees that the seemingly tireless tabloid pursuit of Harry and Meghan has conveniently deflected attention from Andrew, and that in terms of reputational damage to the Windsors he is by far the biggest problem.
Lownie said, “Andrew is the bigger problem as Harry will disappear, and there will be sympathy for him if and when he and Meghan divorce, but more and more embarrassing stories about Andrew will continue to appear.”
Andrew’s friendship with Epstein, and the self-destructive interview about that and other matters he gave to the BBC’s Newsnight in 2019, returned to the news this week.
Andrew told Newsnight that he broke off his relationship with Epstein in December, 2010, once he had finished a year of house arrest in Florida. Now that has been contradicted by an email discovered in court papers—as reported by the Mirror—that has him seeing Epstein in June, a critical time difference because he was then still under house arrest.
Lownie and I discussed what that “house arrest” meant—that Epstein had cut a sweetheart deal with South Florida prosecutors in which he was able to make 14 trips to New York and five to the Caribbean, so it would have been very easy for Andrew to have lunch with him without being observed. Does Andrew have some serious lapses of memory when it comes Epstein?
“Andrew has never done himself any favors when he has tried to explain his time around Epstein,” Lownie told The Daily Beast. “His former private secretary, Alastair Watson, said that he had first met Epstein in the early 1990s, not as Andrew claimed in 1999. He claimed he cannot sweat, but I have plenty of testimony of him sweating at the time Giuffre claimed she was with him in London.”
Why was Andrew so easily drawn into this dangerous orbit?
“Epstein introduced him to useful people—not just business contacts but international statesmen and intellectuals,” Lownie said. “The two worked hand in glove swapping contacts. And, astonishing as it is, I believe that, for a while at least, that did not alarm British officials who directed Andrew’s work as a trade envoy. Epstein, or people working on his behalf, were, I believe, part of the trade delegations. The Foreign Office will not release details of who accompanied the Duke on his trips, so this cannot be confirmed—just one of many instances where documents related to Andrew remain sealed.
“My research suggests that the Epstein story is more complicated and that Andrew’s closeness to Epstein was more to do with money than sex with young women—after all, he never lacked the opportunity for sex, many women regarded him as a good catch. Andrew, of course, is not the only person who was swimming in these waters. Scores of well-known international figures—politicians, financiers and celebrities were entertained by Epstein, and were on the infamous ‘Lolita’ flight.”
Lownie believes that the notorious photo of Andrew with Virginia Giuffre, his most damaging accuser, is authentic, but that he had questions about parts of her allegations.
The problem is that he is naïve, arrogant and stupid and didn’t prepare himself properly.
“Unfortunately the claims were never tested in court so, at the moment, it’s his word against hers,” Lownie said. “His lawyers and Buckingham Palace for a long while attempted to discredit her and he even at one stage claimed he had no memory of her. That line of defense collapsed because of his determination to avoid going to court and because he refused to cooperate with American law enforcement. There was also the impact of the testimony of Johanna Sjoberg that he groped her. The final financial settlement with Giuffre didn’t look like the actions of an innocent man.”
Andrew’s advisers told him not to do the Newsnight interview, Lownie said, adding he understands “his family were for it. The problem is that he is naïve, arrogant and stupid and didn’t prepare himself properly. He’s had plenty of PR people over the years, but few have stayed because he always thinks he knows best.”
Andrew seemed very happy to have the now-jailed Ghislaine Maxwell as a friend (including, as documented in a photograph of them at Balmoral) until suddenly he wasn’t, a fair-weather friend to be dumped when she became toxic.
“Andrew contacted Maxwell after Giuffre started making her claims, and that really drew attention back to her past with him,” Lownie told The Daily Beast. “She was briefly Andrew’s girlfriend and a key fixer in the Epstein network both financially and sexually. He was happy to entertain her at Balmoral, Windsor and Buckingham Palace, but everyone distanced themselves after she was arrested, which is a polite way of saying yes, she had to be dumped. The interesting question is whether she remains loyal or begins to talk.”
It seems that Andrew shares the lot of Prince Harry, he was the spare. How did that shape his life and character?
“Until 1982 he was second in line to the throne after Charles which was a blessing and a blight,” Lownie said. “His royal future wasn’t mapped out for him as it was for Charles and he could follow his own career in the Navy. He was better looking, more popular and under less scrutiny than Charles. The problem is that he has limited interests—golf, girls, shooting and watching videos—so he has never really tried to make anything of his opportunities. His siblings Anne and Edward have slotted in and done their duty as ‘spares’ but he has more of the self-regarding and self-indulging temperament of his great uncle the Duke of Windsor.”
Andrew’s 20 years in the Royal Navy are probably the most underreported part of his biography. Lownie is a famously dogged researcher. Had he managed to fill in this gap?
“His service in the Falkland Islands war presented him as a hero. Although he was in danger at times, as anyone is during war, there were code words used to decide which aircraft were safe for him to fly and what missions they performed. Most of his time in the Falklands was spent on anti-submarine patrol and ferrying supplies.
“Like Harry in the army, it was hoped that service would give a structure to his life. But he was regarded as a duffer in the Navy, and over-promoted. The files remain closed and few have talked but those who have done so to me depict a pompous, naïve, unambitious figure who was sent on staff courses as no one knew what to do with him, was promoted on a ‘Special List’ and rose to the dizzy heights of commanding a minesweeper. He was depressed by his career failures and divorce.”
Andrew was her weak spot and he could do no wrong. She protected him to the end of her life, effectively giving those who wanted to reign him in two fingers.
In the planning of Philip’s funeral, Andrew reportedly wanted to appear as an Admiral of the Fleet, in a rather HMS Pinafore moment. The costume appealed to him, and he was firmly slapped down.
“The queen kept promoting him on his significant birthdays, even after the Epstein storm broke making him a Vice Admiral in 2015,” Lownie noted. “He’s a great man for hiding behind a uniform. Witness the annual farce about taking part in the Garter ceremony.”
Had Queen Elizabeth II’s death left Andrew without the Great Protector who allowed him such license while she was still alive?
“He was part of the Queen’s second family, where she was more indulgent, and he made her laugh,” Lownie told The Daily Beast. “Andrew was her weak spot and he could do no wrong. She protected him to the end of her life, effectively giving those who wanted to rein him in two fingers. Now he has lost that protection, Charles and William have united to bring him down a peg or two and try and keep him and his family under the radar because they, as the future of the monarchy, have most to lose by his antics.”
Andrew Lownie is co-host, with the film maker and writer Phil Craig, of the weekly podcast The Scandal Mongers