In the end it was a bald, bland, 146 word statement which brought down the curtain on the royal trial of the decade – and did so before even an interval G&T had been ordered or front row ticket sold.
Make that the trial of the century. In the seven and a bit decades left to us it’s hard to see another royal becoming so mired in muck that it threatens to spill over the top of their Hunter wellies and suck them under.
Hard to see another case with so much hinterland in the form of car crash television interviews, ghoulish co-stars, ill-judged comments and cack-handed public relations strategies. So if you hear the sound of jeering from the cheap seats there is a reason: this would have been an eye-watering spectacle, OJ, Britney and Wacko Jacko rolled into one and dialled up to 11.
The statement advises Judge Kaplan of the United States District Court that Prince Andrew, defendant in Case No. 21-cv-96792-LAK, has reached an out of court settlement with Virginia Giuffre for an undisclosed sum.
READ MORE: Is Michael Gove, saviour of the UK, an Asterix for our times?
The trial, had it gone ahead, would have seen the Prince accused of sexual assault in a civil legal action brought by Ms Giuffre. As it now stands, he has not been found guilty of anything and is therefore innocent. Furthermore, the statement makes no admission of liability or wrong-doing on the Prince’s part.
But it does says that he will make a “substantial donation” to Ms Giuffre’s charity in support of victims’ rights (presumably Victims Refuse Silence, a non-profit organisation operating from a Facebook page and “aiming to change the landscape of the war on sexual abuse and human trafficking”).
It states that he never intended to malign Ms Giuffre and acknowledges that “she has suffered both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks”. It commends her “bravery” and expresses his regret for his “association” with Jeffrey Epstein, a man who “trafficked countless young girls over many years”. For the record, Epstein died by his own hand in prison in 2019.
Probably, anyway: 52% of Americans actually believe he was murdered, though to give that some context, 26% of Americans also think the sun orbits the earth.
What does Virginia Giuffre get? Closure of a sort. Money certainly, though we’ll never know exactly how much. No overt apology, of course, beyond that expression of regret. And vindication? That’s where the legal high-wire act comes into play.
READ MORE: Have we seen the end of Wordle?
Trying to ascribe a winner here is invidious, that’s what the out of court settlement and its carefully chosen words and highly finessed phrases is meant to avoid. But the words of Ms Giuffre’s lawyer David Boies are worth noting. Referring to the statement and the commitment to file what’s known as a stipulation for dismissal, he said: “I believe this event speaks for itself.”
It will probably have to if Ms Giuffre has signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) as part of the settlement. Speaking to Sky News last week, legal expert and former BBC correspondent Joshua Rozenberg said an NDA was likely to have been included. Whether it is enforceable in the face of, say, a million dollar book deal is another question.
On the same channel was Nigel Cawthorne, author of Prince Andrew: Epstein, Maxwell And The Palace, who said he thought the Prince’s reputation remained unsalvageable and that the public would want to know where the settlement money was to come from. “Is Mother going to put her hand in her pocket?” he asked. It’s estimated that legal costs could run as high as £10 million.
What is clear is that the announcement of a deal came quite out of the blue. In fact it so blind-sided people it felt like one of those dead-cat-on-the-table stunts Boris Johnson is so fond of pulling. Only this was no stunt.
What it means is that the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year can process more smoothly than it would otherwise have done, and Prince Andrew can now test that assertion that his reputation is unsalvageable. At the very least he can begin to claw back some of the accoutrements of his position he was forced to give up, or which he had taken from him.
Some of these he may be content to do without. His gigs as Honorary Air Commodore of RAF Lossiemouth, say, or as Colonel-in-Chief of the Small Arms School Corps, whatever that is. Others, such as the Collar of the Order of the Federation (thank you, Dubai) or the Sash of the Order of the Aztec Eagle (hello Mexico!), I’m sure he has been allowed to keep.
But slipping back into the comforting embrace of that HRH title – it stands for His Royal Highness, as if you didn’t know – would be a boon. A profitable one. But will it come? Who knows. At the time of writing the Palace had made no comment at all on the settlement.
Even if there is a degree of rehabilitation, the fallout from the case will continue and the smoke will take some time to clear. The problem is what, if Prince Andrew was a rock band, you would call his patchy back catalogue. There are few hits, but plenty of stinkers.
When I was growing up he was already known by the tabloid nickname ‘Randy Andy’ and his reputation as what used to be called a ‘playboy’ was being satirised in song by Spitting Image (“My close friends call me Randy/I’m a naughty guy” etc.).
He seems to have quite liked the sobriquet, initially at least. You can check out grainy YouTube footage of him smirking when Selina Scott mentions it in a TV interview from the 1980s, and him explaining that it dates from his days at Gordonstoun when he blundered into a girls dorm by mistake.
Meanwhile, in an interview in 1996 with American chat show host Diane Sawyer to promote her book My Story, the freshly-divorced Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson said she spent much of her married life renting videos while her husband frolicked with concubines. She even put an exact number on it, for some reason: 27. And on and on.
An aside: I met Prince Andrew’s mum once. Sort of. She came to my school in the company of the then-Secretary of State for Scotland. I remember a diminutive figure, very posh and absolutely caked in make-up, who asked lots of questions. My job was to hold open a door for her. We had several rehearsals and I was so good at it when the time came that I was surprised the scene didn’t make it into The Crown.
Anyway, the point is the Queen is polite and respected, something Prince Andrew seems not to be. He has been described as “being brusque to the point of rudeness” – this by a former British ambassador, so you can imagine what he really thought – and the same complaints were voiced in diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks in 2010.
Elsewhere, stories whose sources are those hoary old favourites ‘a royal insider’ or ‘a former staff member’ tell of behaviour which goes well beyond “being brusque”. And those stories are legion. So the Prince, who was once so fond of jetting about the place at taxpayers’ expense that he was dubbed Air Miles Andy, is a man with much baggage. Despite the end of legal hostilities in the Virginia Giuffre case and the prospect of a trial/media circus removed, that’s now truer than ever.
The settlement letter released last week ends with Prince Andrew pledging to demonstrate his regret for his association with Epstein by “supporting the fight against the evils of sex trafficking and supporting its victims”.
The arrogance of which the Prince is often accused may mitigate against him taking that baton too far, but should he choose to there are many, many miles to run: in 2016, the International Labour Organisation estimated that five million people were victims of forced sexual exploitation.
For a man with a reputation to save, fighting that has to be worth taking off your cufflinks and rolling up your sleeves for.