Revolutionary Measures

Learning to keep your mouth shut – Prince Andrew

When it comes to public relations I’ve always advocated that people get out there and tell their side of the story. After all, nature/public opinion abhors a vacuum so will fill it with its own views if you don’t speak up.

But of course success depends on both what you say and how you say it, as Prince Andrew is currently finding out, following his recent BBC interview with Emily Maitlis. “Car crash” is probably the kindest description of the programme, which saw the Duke aim to address questions about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein amid claims that he had slept with a 17 year old girl introduced by Epstein.

My suspicion is that Andrew wanted to replicate the success of the late Princess Diana and her own Panorama interview. The difference is there she was very much seen as the victim of the royal family, whereas the Prince’s position is very different. Essentially it appears he believed that an interview would clear his name but I think he neglected three key factors:

1. The nature of the allegations against him

There is clear evidence that Andrew visited Epstein after he was first convicted of soliciting a minor for prostitution. There is also a photograph of the Duke that seems to show him with his arm around Virginia Roberts, the 17 year old who alleges that he slept with her. In the interview he says he has no recollection of ever meeting her, and even says he has checked if the photograph could have been faked. None of this creates much sympathy on either side of the Atlantic, particularly given the strong push by Roberts’ lawyers to get Andrew to testify under oath. The allegations against him are simply too serious to be removed through a TV interview.

2. The Prince’s manner and previous behaviour

I’ve been at a couple of events that Andrew attended, and while I certainly didn’t speak to him directly, I’d say he didn’t have the strongest interpersonal skills in the world. He certainly seemed to mean well and clearly had an interest in technology/engineering (which is what the events were about), but came across as awkward and difficult to relate to. For all I know all royals of his generation share the same traits, particularly as he wasn’t being groomed for potential future kingship. However, this manner came across in his language and behaviour in the interview, which didn’t earn him any sympathy. Saying that he felt he’d “let the side down” through his visit to Epstein doesn’t come across as remorseful in an age where we expect public figures to show more empathy. He’s also not helped by his previous behaviour – being branded “Randy Andy” in his navy days for his sexual exploits, as well as being alleged to have used his connections to benefit from deals with shady oligarchs from Kazakhstan.

3. There’s an election on

While the public like the chance to peer into celebrity/royal private lives at the best of times, we’re currently in the midst of an election. So frankly, anything that isn’t about manifestoes, political posturing or Boris Johnson wearing boxing gloves is going to hit the headlines. This is not the time to bury such news, or think the that media and public will move on quickly. I even heard Alistair Campbell being asked on Radio 4 if this mirrored the Royal’s (in)famous annus horribilis when Diana died and Windsor Castle caught fire. Clearly, that’s a real stretch, but demonstrates the media’s appetite to keep the story running.

Most people believe that Andrew forced through the idea of doing the interview, against the better judgement of royal PRs. However, there’s one tantalizing, Machiavellian alternative. Perhaps he’s just been sent out to show what old-school royals are like in order to both deflect attention from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and to show instead how much more in touch with both their feelings and the population they are. Or perhaps the royal family is bored with the election too. If that’s the case, Alistair Campbell has nothing on the Queen when it comes to successfully spinning a story for the greater good……

November 20, 2019 - Posted by | PR | , , , , , , , , ,

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