Uncles have always had a bad press when it comes to princes: ambitious, venal or lecherous, and sometimes all three. That is how Prince Harry must now be regarding his very own embarrassing uncle, Prince Andrew, as the latest round of scandalous allegations about his behavior emerge, thanks to Virginia Roberts Giuffre suing him in Manhattan federal court for historic sexual assault.
The claims about Andrew’s behavior have been in the public domain for some time, but Giuffre’s court action, which was filed in New York on Monday, is a 15-page suit that explicitly states that ‘In this country no person, whether president or prince, is above the law, and no person, no matter how powerless or vulnerable, can be deprived of the law’s protection. Twenty years ago, Prince Andrew’s wealth, power, position, and connections enabled him to abuse a frightened, vulnerable child with no one there to protect her. It is long past the time for him to be held to account.’
It remains to be seen whether Giuffre’s suit has any chance of success. Ever since the allegations against Andrew emerged in connection with the Jeffrey Epstein case, the Duke of York has demonstrated a Teflon-like ability to avoid any criminal proceedings, despite the irreparable damage that the stories, and the horrendous Newsnight interview, have done to what remained of his reputation. If Giuffre’s civil action were to succeed, then its impact would be largely symbolic, although it seems unlikely that Prince Andrew would be gracing any more New York soirées with his presence in the future. Not that he can expect to be invited to many now.
The pressing problem for brand Sussex is what this means for Prince Harry’s reputation. Since he so dramatically staged his own quasi-abdication from ‘The Firm’ at the beginning of 2020, and, fearing that he had been upstaged by covid, reiterated his and Meghan’s desire to be alone via a low-key, barely reported Oprah Winfrey interview, he has concentrated on building his brand in the United States with a mixture of charm and noblesse oblige. Although he has frequently talked of his estrangement from his family and desire to make his own way in the world as a private citizen, his lucrative Netflix contracts and the Archewell non-profit organization have drawn implicitly on his status as the younger son of the King-to-be, and also on the wholesome family image that he and his wife have been at pains to demonstrate to the world. Who could forget those heartwarming images of their chickens, running about their ‘Archie Chick Inn’ coop as Oprah looked on indulgently?
Alas, those chickens are now coming home to roost. The Sussex ‘brand’ is one based around wholesomeness and charm. The latest revelations about Prince Andrew are sleazy and toxic, and an ever-present reminder that the British royal family has often operated in an unaccountable fashion that, one day, could spill over into the international embarrassment that has now occurred. Harry either has to take even greater steps to distance himself from this particular dodgy uncle, or run the risk of finding his carefully cultivated new life being engulfed in the mire.
If the Duke of Sussex looked to historical precedent, he might remember the exploits of his great-great-uncle, the Duke of Windsor. When Edward, post-abdication crisis, found himself in exile with his own American wife Wallis Simpson, with other routes of income closed to him, he embraced the media as far as he could, writing a lucrative and revelatory autobiography, A King’s Story, and selling family secrets to Life magazine. It paid his way, and led to his becoming persona non grata from the royal family forever, a figure to be talked of in hushed and disappointed tones.
Andrew has already become this outcast. Although it is widely and uncritically reported that he is the Queen’s favorite son, it is hard to see that there will ever be a route back to public life for him, whatever happens with Giuffre’s lawsuit. And Harry, through his own hubris rather than potentially criminal activities, has seemed keen on ostracizing himself from his family, too. He might well revile his uncle’s activities, but as he continues to fight the battle for public opinion, this latest outbreak of sleaze and scandal will do nothing to help his and his family’s cause to be a very modern kind of post-royal entrepreneur.