Who knows what the Latin is for ‘annus even more horribilis’?
In 1992, the Queen iconically used the expression after a year which had seen the disintegration of three of her children’s marriages including that of Prince Charles. (The fact he will one day be the head of the Church of England made the prospect of his divorce quite the theological headache.). The same year, fire had destroyed part of Her Majesty’s beloved Windsor Castle giving rise to the famous image of the diminutive monarch surveying her damaged home.
However it now looks like 2020 is set to surpass that year in terms of sheer horribleness given the last 12 months has seen the house of Windsor take one PR hit after another.
This morning, things only getting worse with the Daily Mail publishing a new report reviving allegations that Prince Andrew had sex with then-17 year old alleged trafficking victim Virginia Roberts Giuffre.
Today, the British tabloid has unveiled the first of what it promises will be a four-part series delving into the allegations involving the royal and Roberts Giuffre.
Roberts Giuffre, who now lives in Cairns, has previously alleged she had sex with the duke on three occasions- in London, New York and the Caribbean- during the period she alleges she was being trafficked by wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Andrew has repeatedly and categorically denied her accusations. In a statement late last year, Buckingham Palace said “It is emphatically denied that The Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation”
In November last year, Andrew sat down with BBC journalist Emily Maitlis for a TV interview to finally address the scandal, offering up a series of bizarre ‘alibis’ to try and counter Roberts Giuffre’s narrative, with the father-of-two demonstrating a shocking lack of empathy for the women abused by Epstein in the process. In the wake of the car crash media outing, the duke was forced to quit as a working member of the royal family and to ignominiously retire from public life.
Central to Andrew’s rebuttal of Roberts Giuffre’s claims is that he says he had been in suburban Woking on the day in question, having taken his daughter Princes Beatrice there for a birthday party.
Now, the Mail is reporting that Beatrice has “absolutely no recollection” of the party while the family that hosted the celebration has “confirmed Beatrice came but cannot recall what happened and whether the prince was there.”
The Mail has also reported that the royal protection officer who was on duty the weekend in question has died.
Meanwhile, the housekeepers working at the duke’s then home, the now-sold Sunninghill Park, “can’t remember” Andrew’s comings and goings that weekend.
The story also includes diary entries from the day – March 10th, 2001 – which suggest that Andrew had a manicure booked in the afternoon which offers more details about the timeline of the afternoon and evening in questions.
The Mail story also calls into question Giuffre Roberts’ recollection, recounted in her unpublished memoir, that her alleged sexual interlude with Andrew began in a bathroom in Maxwell’s home.
Reporters for the paper say that floor plans for the room reveal that it is “cramped, if one wished to perform anything other than solo ablutions” and that there it does not contain “a freestanding Victorian bath tub in the middle of the room, as described by Miss Roberts.”
For the Queen and the palace, today’s revival of this muckiest of chapters in royal history is dismal news.
Last night, William and Kate Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis made their red carpet debut as a family, attending a pantomime in support of the ailing theatre industry. This weekend’s royal coverage should have been dominated by this moment, all big smiles and Cambridge tots, an adorable balm of cuteness so needed by a nation still in the grip of the pandemic.
Instead, allegations involving sex with a 17-year-old are threatening to breach the palace’s gates again.
This latest PR disaster comes after more than 12 months of devastating press for the house of Windsor.
The earliest days of 2020 saw Buckingham Palace face its biggest crisis in a century with the bombshell exit of Harry and Meghan Duke and Duchess of Sussex as official working HRHs. Their choice to chart a new, independent course away from the palace may have been motivated by personal factors but in their choice was a blunt repudiation of royal life. The institution, having lost it’s two most glittering stars, was cast in a particularly bad light and globally to bot.
In the wake of Megxit, what the Windsors then needed was a carefully calibrated show of togetherness and unity to try and restore some of the royal brand’s lustre. The COVID pandemic put paid to that notion, meaning that the usual rate roster of photogenic, Union Jack-waving events such as Ascot and Trooping the Colour were off the table.
Instead, the eight working HRHs left were left to try and buck up a beleaguered nation, Zooming away with the best of intentions. Their hearts and Wi-Fi might have been in the right place but the Sussexes glamorous new life in California and their headline-grabbing series of comments, deals and announcements kept the press and public firmly in their thrall.
And today, the Queen’s favourite son is again facing global scrutiny over his ties to Epstein, a convicted sex offender.
Making things even worse for the 94-year-old monarch is the fact that there is no end in sight for this sordid and brutally damaging saga with Maxwell set to stand trial next year and Andrew locked in what has been termed a “Mexican standoff” with US prosecutors over potentially being interviewed by authorities.
As Her Majesty faces the festive period away from her family, still isolating alongside Prince Philip in ‘HMS Bubble’ at Windsor Castle, it would seem there is not much for her to celebrate.
The new year might bring a slow resumption of normalcy as the COVID vaccine is wheeled out in the UK but it also seems likely that there is much more to still play out- which could potentially do even more damage to the image of the royal family- before the Andrew/Epstein chapter can be closed.
As 2020 draws to a close, perhaps the biggest question for the Queen and Buckingham Palace is, will 2021 be even more horribilis still?
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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