Saturday, 23 November 2019

Pince Andrew : anatomy of a PR disaster

Prince Andrew's private office to be moved out of Buckingham Palace

Duke intends to keep working on mentoring scheme despite saying he would step back from public life

Simon Murphy , Jim Waterson and Kevin Rawlinson

Fri 22 Nov 2019 18.34 GMTFirst published on Fri 22 Nov 2019 17.22 GMT
Prince Andrew and Amanda Thirsk

 The Duke of York with Amanda Thirsk. Reports suggest Thirsk will take up a role as the chief executive of Pitch@Palace, where she has already served as a director since 2014. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
Prince Andrew is preparing to leave his private office in Buckingham Palace as he seeks a way to maintain control of an entrepreneurial scheme he set up, despite having agreed to step back from public life.

The palace confirmed on Friday that the Duke of York intended to continue working on the Pitch@Palace scheme, even as Barclays became the latest among a growing number of organisations to sever ties with him over his links to the convicted child sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein.

“The Duke will continue to work on Pitch and will look at how he takes this forward outside of his public duties, and outside of Buckingham Palace,” a spokesman said on Friday. “We recognise there will be a period of time while this transition takes place.”

The news came shortly after it emerged that the aide who orchestrated the duke’s disastrous interview about his Epstein links is no longer his private secretary.

Amanda Thirsk, who was said to have played a key role in persuading him to agree to the BBC interview, will reportedly run Pitch@Palace.

On Friday, Buckingham Palace refused to confirm the details surrounding Thirsk’s departure from her long-standing role. A spokesman said: “We would not comment on the impact on any individual member of his team.”

It follows Barclays’ announcement late on Friday that it was pulling its support as a major sponsor from the prince’s mentoring scheme. In a statement, it said: “In light of the current situation, we have informed Pitch@Palace that going forward we will, regretfully, no longer be participating in the programme. Pitch@Palace has been historically highly successful in supporting entrepreneurs and job creation and we hope a way forward can be found that means they can continue this important work.”

Earlier, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) said it had dropped Andrew as its patron, with the prince also stepping down from the same role at London Metropolitan University.

The BBC confirmed it would air a damaging Panorama interview on 2 December with Virginia Giuffre, the woman who claimed she was made to have sex with Prince Andrew on three occasions including when she was 17.

Giuffre, formerly called Roberts, spoke to Panorama three weeks ago for an investigation the programme has been working on for months scrutinising the prince’s connections with Epstein, who killed himself in August as he awaited trial on new sex trafficking charges.

But before the episode was ready to air, the prince agreed to do a sit-down interview with rival BBC programme Newsnight.

The interview with Emily Maitlis, during which the royal denied claims he slept with Giuffre and failed to express sympathy to Epstein’s victims, prompted an outpouring of criticism. He told the Newsnight presenter he only went to stay with Epstein in New York in 2010, after Epstein had served jail time for child sex offences, to inform the financier that he could no longer associate with him.

Who were the main players behind the Prince Andrew interview?
A round-up of the personalities behind the eye-opening royal interview, from the Duke’s aides to the journalist who secured the scoop

Guardian staff
Sun 17 Nov 2019 19.35 GMTLast modified on Mon 18 Nov 2019 10.21 GMT

Samantha McAlister, Emily Maitlis, Jason Stein and Amanda Thirsk
 Left to right: Samantha McAlister, Emily Maitlis, Jason Stein and Amanda Thirsk Composite: Getty/Alpha/Rex

Jason Stein

The former special adviser to Amber Rudd and spokesman for Liz Truss was hired by Prince Andrew in September to mastermind his PR fightback – but left by mutual consent two weeks ago after his advice to reject the Newsnight interview request was ignored. It was reportedly suggested that Andrew should instead focus on charitable work and then agree to two newspaper interviews next year. His Twitter profile says he is now a director at Finsbury Global, a strategic communications firm that specialises in “creating, sustaining, protecting and rebuilding reputation capital”.

Amanda Thirsk

Private secretary to Prince Andrew and director of his Pitch@Palace Global operation. It is understood that Thirsk clashed with Stein and pushed hard for Andrew to do the interview in the face of his initial scepticism, persuading him that it was the best way to draw a line under the rumours about the nature of his relationship with convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. A former banker, she joined Andrew’s office in 2012. Described by one colleague as a “force of nature” who thinks “the Duke has done nothing wrong … All he did was go and see his friend.”

Emily Maitlis

The lead presenter of Newsnight who was widely praised for her forensic interview technique and had practised with editor Esme Wren standing in for Andrew in rehearsals. Speaking before the interview on Friday’s Newsnight, she told fellow presenter Kirsty Wark the interview was “very uncomfortable”. “It’s hard to describe what it feels like to be sitting in Buckingham Palace, opposite the Queen’s son, Prince Andrew, and quizzing him about his sexual history,” she said. “After Epstein’s death, the talks intensified – we had to make it clear it would be no holds barred.”

Samantha McAlister

A BBC journalist since 2003, she joined Newsnight in 2011, where she is prized for her ability to secure hard-to-get interviews. Her LinkedIn profile says she is “used to persuading reluctant individuals to participate in a globally renowned news programme”. The former barrister and European debating champion has previously booked interviews with former FBI director James Comey and former US president Bill Clinton, and was described on Saturday by Newsnight editor Esme Wren as “indefatigable”.

• This article was amended on 18 November 2019 to correct descriptions of Epstein’s offending.

Amanda Thirsk
 Private secretary to Prince Andrew and director of his Pitch@Palace Global operation. It is understood that Thirsk clashed with Stein and pushed hard for Andrew to do the interview in the face of his initial scepticism, persuading him that it was the best way to draw a line under the rumours about the nature of his relationship with convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. A former banker, she joined Andrew’s office in 2012. Described by one colleague as a “force of nature” who thinks “the Duke has done nothing wrong … All he did was go and see his friend.”

Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein and Newsnight: anatomy of a PR disaster

The Duke of York’s plan to block speculation over his ties to a convicted child sex offender quickly came undone

Kevin Rawlinson
Wed 20 Nov 2019 21.32 GMTLast modified on Thu 21 Nov 2019 07.45 GMT

The plan, it appeared, was fairly straightforward: get Prince Andrew in front of a camera and put a stop to speculation about the nature of his connections to the convicted child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

So, how did it go from that to the Queen feeling she had no choice but to take the barely conceivable step of allowing one of her sons to step back from public duties altogether – in less than five days?

The Duke of York’s strategy had taken a hit even before he had sat down opposite the BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis. Andrew had already lost the services of Jason Stein, the spin doctor hired in September to restore his reputation. Stein had reportedly advised Andrew against the whole thing, preferring a longer-term strategy that included a great deal of charity work and interviews with print outlets to mark his birthday.

The unravelling of the strategy began almost immediately after the interview ended. Andrew appeared pleased with his performance, even giving the Newsnight team a tour of the palace afterwards. But when lines from the interview began reaching journalists’ inboxes early on Friday evening, they were astonished by what they read. By Saturday morning, the story was dominating the news agenda. The headlines were devastating for Andrew. And the interview had not yet even been aired.

The early press reports focused on his claim that his decision to maintain close relations with Epstein despite the financier’s conviction for sexual offences was motivated primarily by the prince’s “tendency to be too honourable”.

Kept back by the BBC was the prince’s claim that he could not have had sex with Virginia Giuffre, which she says she was coerced into doing while a teenager, because he was at home after a visit to Pizza Express in Woking. Nor was his contention that her description of his dancing with her beforehand could not be true because he was unable to sweat at the time.

Those revelations, when they came out, were met with incredulity and were shared widely online, adding fresh impetus to the story.

By Sunday evening, Andrew was facing calls to speak to the FBI from lawyers representing 10 of the Epstein’s victims. While some of the attention was focused on Andrew’s extraordinary defence, there was strong criticism of his attitude towards the victims and the fact that he had not expressed sympathy for them in the interview.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Jo Swinson, said she could not understand “how somebody could be talking about their relationship with [Epstein] without recognising, or understanding, or discussing, how he felt about those victims. And I felt they should have been much more at the centre of that discussion.”

The backlash continued into this week as numerous organisations began to cut ties with the prince. On Monday, it emerged that the accountancy giant KPMG would not be renewing its sponsorship of Andrew’s entrepreneurial scheme, Pitch@Palace.

That night a fresh Epstein accuser gave a press conference in Los Angeles where she detailed allegations that the financier assaulted her when she was 15 and urged Andrew to come forward to the authorities with whatever information he had about his former friend.

On Tuesday, Standard Chartered also pulled out of Pitch@Palace as questions about Andrew’s continued involvement in the scheme he founded in 2014 continued to circulate. They prompted a whole host of other firms to review their involvement or cut ties altogether.

Wednesday morning brought no respite, as it emerged that three Australian universities had severed their links with the business-mentoring charity’s Australian branch. On top of that, the telecoms firm BT said it would not work with Andrew’s digital training scheme while he was a patron.

Later that same day a letter emerged casting serious doubt on Andrew’s claim in the BBC interview to have first met Epstein in 1999. The letter – written to the Times in 2011 to counter reports that the prince had been a friend of Saif Gaddafi, son of the former Libyan dictator – had come from his own former chief of staff, who said that the prince had met Epstein in “the early 1990s”.

At first, Buckingham Palace sought to defend Andrew over the apparent discrepancy. “The duke’s words in the interview speak for themselves,” said a spokesperson.

By Wednesday afternoon, the palace sought to bring the issue to a close with Andrew’s announcement that he would be stepping back from public duties and was “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency” with their Epstein investigations if required.

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