I CONFESS that I’ve been a lone voice in the first royal scandal of 2015. That’s right, I’ve been saying nice things about Prince Andrew.
He’s not quite the freeloading, self-interested layabout that he’s been painted. Not that that’s any excuse if there is any truth in the allegations that have been made by Virginia Roberts.
Just in case you’ve been on a different planet for the last few weeks, a quick reminder. Roberts says that when she was 17, she was forced to have sex with ‘Randy Andy’ or ‘Air Miles Andy’ (take your choice – he’s certainly not being referred to as ‘the Duke of York” these days).
She says she was abused on three occasions in 2001 when she was 17 – in London, New York and at an orgy with other girls in the Caribbean.
Not that the Prince is actually the subject of the court action Roberts has launched. That honour falls to convicted paedophille and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, a regular acquaintance of a Prince not known for choosing his friends wisely.
But in the rush to damn Prince Edward yet again (his ‘previous’ include questions about the sale of his Berkshire home, strange meetings with Colonel Gaddafi’s son and a holiday paid for by a convicted gun smuggler), royal correspondents in particular have been too prepared to bury any notion that he has a good side.
He has. How do I know? Well, I’ve been to his place, I’ve met him and I’ve seen him at work.
When I say his place, I actually mean his mum’s place. Prince Andrew has rooms in Buckingham Palace and he agreed to see me during my time as editor of the Gloucestershire Echo.
He has been a strong advocate of apprenticeships – something the Echo campaigned to promote – and we wanted him to get involved in our annual Apprenticeship Awards last year. He agreed to attend the launch of the awards at Gloucestershire College’s Launchpad vocational centre in Tewkesbury in April.
In front of a large audience of both apprentices and leading business folk, he spoke passionately about the achievements of young people and about apprenticeships as a route into a job.
I’m not going to make anything of the fact that he spent a long time chatting to the young women in the hair and beauty section because he spent just as long with the engineering and construction apprentices. But I’ve now stopped defending him after his “performance” at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
His ‘people’ made it clear beforehand that he was finally going to have his say on the legal saga. The media pack gathered, excited to have a legitimate reason to have a break from the economic stuff, and anticipated a bullish response from an outraged Andrew.
But none of it. He was wearing new glasses that were clearly meant to make him look trendy but instead – perched as they were half-way down his nose – just made him look more out of touch than ever.
He said he wanted “to reiterate” and “to reaffirm” the statements already made on his behalf by Buckingham Palace. He added that his focus remained on his work. And that was it.
Pathetic. He showed more passion in front of the youngsters in Tewkesbury. He needed to come out fighting if he wanted us to really believe that the serious claims against him were hogwash.
And it got me thinking again about his ‘generosity’ in coming to Gloucestershire. He actually didn’t bother to find the time to meet me in person at the Palace but left it to those ‘people’. And we had to change the day of the launch because those same ‘people’ had been asked to ensure he could arrive by helicopter without messing up any other planned visits. It really isn’t so far from SW1A that he couldn’t have come by car.
All the positives he scored last April have quickly been undermined – whatever did or didn’t happen with a certain 17-year-old.
Kevan Blackadder is a media consultant who runs Blackadder Media Limited. Kevan was previously editor of the Gloucestershire Echo and assistant editor of the Bristol Post. A Cumbrian who moved to the South West “for a couple of years” in the 1980s, he can’t quite believe he’s been there ever since.