Prince Andrew

Prince Andrew rolls the dice

Prince Andrew’s grilling by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis is definitely the interview of the year.

The widespread criticism and hullabaloo would have anyone believe it was a ‘car crash’ and Prince Andrew should never have done it. I am not sure I agree.

Prince Andrew – car crash interview?

To me labelling this as a ‘car crash interview’ is simply journalists quoting some self-publicists who know how to grab the headlines.

First, if Prince Andrew hadn’t eventually done an interview, the very same media now saying it was a car crash – would have been saying it was time he broke with tradition and gave his side of the story. In this day and age, the public, encouraged by journalists, believe they have a right to a full explanation. There is no such thing as privacy for the Royal Family or many others.

Prince Andrew knows this.

And everyone knows it is infuriating to be accused of something (for 8 years so far) without being able to tell your side of the story.

He sounded like a man who wanted to set the record straight

I believe Prince Andrew weighed it up and on balance decided he wanted to have his chance to set the record straight. In the past, the Royal Family has not done this. They have stuck to the ‘never apologise, never explain’ rule. Of course, there have been exceptions: Princess Diana’s Panorama interview in 1995 and more recently Prince Harry and Megan’s ITV interview on the difficulties of dealing with non-stop press intrusion. 

I watched the Prince Andrew interview very carefully, paying particular attention to the body language and also looking for a level of coaching. This sort of long-form interview is very different from three minutes to get your point across. We all know the public will decide whether someone is lying or not based not on what they say, but on the impression they give. Any side-stepping or ‘bridging’ will give the impression of guilt. (This assumes the watcher was open-minded at the start of the interview).

Prince Andrew come across as completely credible

What I saw was completely credible and I totally fail to see how the interview itself was a ‘car crash’. His Royal Highness blowing his top, or demanding the questions were inappropriate would have been a car crash. If he had contradicted himself it would have been a car crash. If he had stumbled and look shifty and defensive it might have been described as a car crash. He did none of these things.

One of the things I look for above all else is the coherence of the argument. Were there any bits that didn’t add up? I could not hear any.

Interview criticism

Most of the people claiming it was a car crash are not specific about why they believe that. But there are three strands of criticism of the interview itself.

  1. The Prince should have shown more compassion, sympathy, concern, etc. for women who were trafficked for sex.
  2. He should have apologised or shown regret for his friendship with Epstein.
  3. His choice of words in categorising Epstein’s behaviour as ‘unbecoming’ was inappropriate (but quickly corrected).

From where I sit these would have been minor improvements to a very well handled interview. I fail to understand why so many people should be so vitriolic about someone cautiously regretting a friendship! Since when was being friends with the wrong sort of person a crime. Especially if they were not a close friend and especially if you did not know what they were up to. As for concern for the women (or indeed any victims of paedophilia), he was not asked about this and if he had artificially inserted this into the conversation all the Twitter trolls who are convinced he is guilty would have just howled that it wasn’t real.

Body language was mostly well controlled

Some have criticised his body language. Given that very few of the allegations were new to him it is a bit difficult to get much from the body language. You are not seeing the first reaction to new information. There were some accusations (staying at a beach house four times a year) that clearly did hit the mark. They were new to him and he was outraged because he believed they were untrue. We briefly saw the outrage because (it seemed) he had not heard this accusation before. That we could read in the body language but it did not harm his credibility.

I have friends who did not believe a word Prince Andrew said. Their reaction was: We know what men like him are up to. Who is he kidding? They are all at it.

I also have friends who think it was a credible and impressive interview and he came across as a guy who wanted to put his side of the story over.

It does seem worth saying that while the angry, the disbelievers, the haters of privilege, etc. are all over Twitter, there will also be a group of cooler heads who judge things differently but who are not choosing to share on Twitter.

Was it right to do the interview?

For me, Prince Andrew handled the interview extremely well. He answered each question directly, did not try to control the interview, gave detail and whilst not being overly emotional, he certainly showed his vulnerability.

I recommend Emily Maitlis’s own account of the interview in the Times (behind a paywall) and will quote her here:

‘Our news world is so often full of bland figures trying wilfully to be more bland. Say nothing. Avoid scrutiny. Dodge and deviate from every question asked. And whatever comes of this, I must admit to respecting an interviewee who is prepared to approach head-on every single thing that he is asked.’

The more you say, the more everyone else says

However, it is not clear whether doing the interview was wise. It was certainly a high-risk strategy. And the problem is that the more you say, the more everyone else says. He took this issue from a low-level grumbling story to front page across the world for three days. He opened the gates to a feeding frenzy of people who were never going to believe a word he says because he is a man with money, power and privilege.

I suspect this is why the Prince’s new PR advisor, Jason Stein, resigned ahead of the interview.  He would have been blamed for the feeding frenzy and it would have blighted his career.

Although the coverage of the last few days has been bloody and fuelled by huge amounts of ‘fake outrage’ on Twitter, not to mention a lot of PR people wheeled out to say it was a mistake, the key question is what happens in the next three months? After all this venting, will more come out? Will the story continue to be as toxic for the Royal Family or will everyone move on, having had their say? That is the real gamble.

If one believed in honest journalism in the modern world, you would hope that there are some investigations going on into the other side of the story.  After all, fuelling the fire in the way this interview did, also makes the protagonists a subject of more interest.

Lindsay Williams

About Lindsay Williams

Prior to founding her communications training agency, The Media Coach, Lindsay Williams worked as a journalist from 1983. She specialised in financial and business journalism since 1991. After thirteen years in the BBC with local radio, regional television, Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live, she moved to Reuters Financial Television as Deputy Programme Editor. Working freelance from 1998, she was contracted in a variety of roles including as an executive producer for Bloomberg television delivering half hour profiles of Chief Executives, as a producer with Sky Business Unit and at CNBC. She has had articles published in Sunday Business, The Business, The Times and in specialist magazines such as Companies & Finance and Impact. For the majority of her journalism career she specialised in reporting business and finance. Lindsay Williams hosts a range of bespoke communication skills courses for The Media Coach which include Media Training, Presentation Training, Crisis Media Training and Message Building.

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4 replies
  1. Matthew Scott says:

    Hi Lindsay, I have to admit that this news story was not really on my radar. I had heard Prince Andrew had links with Jeremy Epstein, but was not interested in the story. I also don’t tend to follow the royal stories, and didn’t know anything about Prince Andrew whatsoever. I might if pressed have said he was the Duke of York and was once married to Sarah Ferguson, really nothing else. The profile this story has now gathered is absolutely astonishing. I watched the interview, and it appeared to me that he spent the entire time lying, including unsolicited, irrelevant lies, I mean what was the point saying that he didn’t really do partying, when people have photos and videos of him at parties, and partying isn’t wrong. And in terms of not contradicting himself, how does he know a photo was taken upstairs in an apartment where he says he has never been upstairs. I usually am very cautious in suspecting people of lying, but I actually felt guilty just watching him, I remembered being a 5 year old and telling mum really awkward and painfully stupid lies.

    These are all points that I’m sure we can disagree on, but in terms of results, he has lost 5 business and 2 university backers from his charity since the interview. That is why I felt compelled to engage with your commentary, how can that be anything other than a bad outcome from a media relations perspective?

    Reply
    • Lindsay Williams says:

      Well, I find your comments very interesting because you had no previous view on Prince Andrew and you clearly ‘read him’ as a complete liar from start to finish. In this you are with the majority of people who are publicly sharing their opinion. And clearly, the publicity the interview gathered is astonishing and all comment appears to be unanimous that in the court of public opinion he is guilty of much worse than just having the wrong friends. If this is the final judgement then Prince Andrew will join a very select group of people who decided to lie – loudly, blatantly and publically: Bill CLinton and Jonathan Aitken come to mind but there are not many. Because I saw something different than you – I am left feeling very uneasy about the ‘court of public opinion’. The Prince has been pilloried for getting the tone wrong. Lambasted for not stating sympathy. Created outrage by not regretting a friendship. Are these such serious crimes? Or do we just take these as part of the evidence that he was knowingly having sex with a trafficked woman? And for me a couple of key questions: how much more is there to come out (and perhaps the Palace know something now that they didn’t know before the interview), and if he is telling the truth why is no one else speaking up for him.

      Reply
  2. David Nelson says:

    Perhaps the Prince Andrew interview is the prime example of an event where post event spin management was highly necessary. There was no-one batting for the prince in the 3 days the story was leading…

    Reply
  3. Matthew Scott says:

    I agree with you on the friendship point, I think if you have a deep friendship with someone you would not “ghost” them to use the modern terminology, Andrew can simply be regarded as old-fashioned on this point. Also I would say that staying at the Epstein residence because it was “convenient” simply reflects the fact that Prince Andrew appears to be a schnorrer. A lot of the reason for the negative reaction can be summed up by Hunter S. Thompson’s famous statement, “‘In a closed society where everybody’s guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity”. There’s a healthy dose of that in this affair.

    Reply

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