Prince Andrew’s interview was intended to ‘draw a line’ under the issue of his links to a convicted paedophile. Instead, it reignited interest in the story, writes Terry Prone.
Prince Andrew has just earned himself a unique position in media history: the guy who sat himself voluntarily in front of a firing squad with the firm conviction that he was bulletproof, heavily supported by servitors who communicated for several months with the firing squad, their confidence uninhibited by their absolute ignorance of what was involved.
To instance just one example of that ignorance: they didn’t seem to realise that, because she’d won the exclusive of a lifetime, the interviewer would have to behave towards him like a pit bull with a bleeding ulcer.
It is believed that a PR professional working for the prince resigned in the last few weeks when it became apparent that nothing would prevent his employer from turning up for his appointment with the reputational grim reaper.
The prince and those closest to him believed this would “draw a line” under the issue.
Anybody with even a smidgeon of experience in reputation management would have told them something very different.
The prince would have argued it was time to tell the whole truth. To tell his side of the story.
That it was unacceptable that the British public would see him in the false light cast by media innuendo.
That’s what they all say, the famous people who self-immolate on TV. Nothing matches the confidence of an untried amateur who is in the wrong and whose public perception and public role are at stake.
They have no clue how to perform under pressure but nonetheless hold warmly in their hearts the complete conviction that they will nevertheless be stellar at it.
A good media trainer would not only have put to the prince the questions that were put to him in the broadcast interview, but a rake of others. And at the end of the first simulated interview, an honest media trainer would have told the Prince not to go on, because his story made no sense. It would influence nobody to see him in a better light (except perhaps his ex-wife.)
It would re-ignite the interest of the FBI. It would establish him as out of touch with the realities of the viewers, 99.9% of whom would have no clue what he meant by “a straightforward shooting event”.
Because this man is self-evidently not bright, the trainer would have to tell him that nobody would need to come up with a killer question. He himself would come up with the killer answer and would have no sense of how badly he had served himself and his family.
If he insisted on appearing, as he appears to have insisted, then it should have struck some of the people around him to remind him that this was a triangular story. One dead convicted pervert. Several pimped victims. And the prince. Who seems to have cared only about two points of the triangle: him and Epstein.
If he was to create a context in which the rest of his side of the story might actually be heard, then early on in the interview, he had to show empathy with the victims. But that would — as we now know — have been to falsify the reality, because he had no such empathy.
Even at the end, when the interviewer offered him a free pass; an invitation to add anything he felt he hadn’t dealt with, he indicated that no, he was grand and had nothing to add.
The victims never entered his head. Nor did the morality of the entire debacle, or his responsibility to the public. No, he had just let the royal team down a bit.
But then, this has been revealed as a pretty weird thought-process. Take him congratulating himself for being “honourable” in continuing to meet up with Epstein after the latter was convicted.
Where’s the honour? Well, the story goes, he wanted to be decent and tell Epstein face to face that it wouldn’t be acceptable for a member of the royal family to be seen with a paedophile who had served time. It would have been possible for him or the Foreign Office to send an emissary or a message indicating that, long after the convict was released, the Prince wouldn’t be availing of Epstein’s incredibly convenient gaffe any more.
He didn’t do that, and you have to ask why. What, in their past shared experience, persuaded a member of the royal family to go walking in Central Park with a convicted paedophile to end their B&B relationship?
Quite apart from the self-evident risk of being photographed with a convict, the prince seems to have felt that in some way the value of their friendship outweighed the crimes committed against young women. That’s not a version of honourable behaviour his mother would recognise.
When, as a communications professional, you’re dealing with someone whose reputation is about to go over the cliff like Roadrunner, you have to demand that they support their assertions of innocence with evidence.
You weren’t in the country on the day of the crime? Great. Let’s be having your passport, your mobile phone records, your taxi receipts to the airport, your air tickets. You couldn’t have been in another location, sweating, because you have a medical condition? Great.
Let’s be having your RAF medical records and an affidavit from whatever kind of hospital consultant specialises in sweat to say you’re always dry as Sahara sand.
When the person whose reputation is at risk produces, instead, a memory of humble little old him having a ho ho ho pizza on that day and drags his teenage daughter into it, you have to wonder.
The problem is that nobody around Prince Andrew did professional wondering, and as a result, a quiet retreat to private life beckons him imperatively.