RICHARD KAY: The deal no one dreamed possible was done before Andrew even arrived at the castle – and it bore the imprint of both Charles AND William
At the end, it was just the two of them: Mother and son talking quietly and agreeing a future neither in their worst nightmares would have dreamed possible.
If the extravagantly ornate ticking clock on the mantelpiece of the Queen’s private apartment in Windsor Castle where they met yesterday had wound itself back half a century to when the Queen was consoling the schoolboy Andrew over a grazed knee, say, there would not have been a more intimate moment.
Here was Prince Andrew, the Queen’s favourite, who for the first 22 years of his life had exalted in the pre-eminent status of heir in line to the throne, effectively handing in his badge of office.
That lofty rank of second in the order of succession had, of course, long since disappeared with the birth of his nephews William and Harry, then diminished further with the arrival of the brothers’ own families.
But now he was to relinquish the use of his birthright, HRH – His Royal Highness – the lofty title that has preceded his name on letterheads and official communiques for almost 62 years.
The deal had been done before Andrew arrived at his mother’s door, a short drive from his own Windsor home, Royal Lodge. Officially, it had been determined for him the moment a judge in New York had thrown out his last real hope of avoiding the catastrophe of a court case over claims that he had sexually assaulted a girl of 17.
The deal had been done before Andrew arrived at his mother’s door, a short drive from his own Windsor home, Royal Lodge, writes RICHARD KAY
Unofficially, the writing had been on the wall ever since the calamity of his TV interview, in which he claimed he had no recollection of meeting his accuser Virginia Roberts and that her account of them having sex in the UK and US ‘didn’t happen’ – only for him to compound it by failing to offer a word of sympathy for Virginia or the other victims of his paedophile friend Jeffrey Epstein.
For two years, the Andrew debacle has cast a long and profoundly disturbing shadow over the Royal Family and its room for manoeuvre. At the same time, family sympathy for a prince too often given the benefit of the doubt has ebbed away. As one public relations disaster after another piled up, Andrew was at a crossroads.
Affection between the royal siblings runs deep. When one has a domestic crisis, the others rush to their defence. It was the same when Prince Edward wobbled over his membership of the Royal Marines and later when Charles was mired in a bitter war with Princess Diana.
For the royals, blood is always thicker than water. But with the Duke of York, sentiment has been replaced by steely pragmatism. The endless twists and turns of his unsavoury case risk reputational damage to the institution of monarchy on a scale not seen since the 1930s Abdication crisis.
The start of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year forced royal hands. Yesterday it was made clear there had been family conferences over the Andrew issue of the kind not seen since the dark days of the War of the Waleses, when it was Prince Philip who forced the matter to a head.
With no Philip, the role of head of the family and domestic enforcer has fallen to Prince Charles. It has meant overcoming a natural aversion to confrontation.
All the same, he has made no secret that when he comes to the throne he foresees a slimmed-down monarchy with fewer members, one that he hopes is more in touch with modern life.
For the royals, blood is always thicker than water. But with the Duke of York, sentiment has been replaced by steely pragmatism
Under his plan, the number of front-rank royals we would see at formal ceremonial occasions would be considerably reduced, with Andrew’s daughters Beatrice and Eugenie the most senior family members surplus to requirements.
At times it led to tensions between the brothers with Andrew quite naturally upset that his daughters, the only two blood princesses of their generation and with the HRH style, being sidelined.
When the uproar over Andrew’s Newsnight gaffe emerged, it was Charles who pressed the case for his brother to give up his public duties and step back from royal life. Even so, he did not desert Andrew, for whom he has always felt a strong bond of affection. Rather than turn his back on him he offered a shoulder for him to lean on.
It has always been like that. In the fallout that saw Andrew give up his position as roving trade ambassador, the prince considered finding a position for his brother on his own staff.
But he thought better of it, ruefully admitting to a friend: ‘The trouble with my brother is that he wants to be me.’
Nevertheless, I understand the two princes had a lengthy heart-to-heart in which Andrew admitted his folly over his friendship with Epstein but insisted he had done nothing wrong – beyond showing a serious lack of judgment.
Prince Andrew is seen with his arm around Virginia Roberts while Ghislaine Maxwell stands in the background, in a now infamous photo from early 2001
He also strenuously protested his innocence of the allegations made by Virginia Roberts who has accused the prince of rape. But rather than being reassured by Andrew’s strategy over the past two years, Prince Charles has been infuriated by it. He has been powerless to act – until now.
Charles, however, did not act alone. The decision to force Andrew to relinquish his military titles and royal patronages also bears the imprint of Prince William. An increasingly articulate and influential family member, William has recognised the risk to the royals’ good name that his uncle poses.
He is also, at 39, a man without the sentiment of his father and whose relationship with Andrew is not so close.
The Queen values William’s impact – as she did over the Prince Harry furore – not least because she recognises that if the monarchy is going to have a long-term future, it rests in his hands, not his father’s. She has also come to appreciate his decisiveness, so reminiscent, she believes, of her beloved Philip.
Thanks to the grounding he has found through marriage to Kate, William is also far more attuned to modern attitudes towards the royals and their lives of privilege.
On Monday, he was at Windsor carrying out an Investiture on his grandmother’s behalf, and it may well be that these two wise heads discussed the PR disaster the royals are facing over Andrew.
This unprecedented ‘sacking’ of Andrew also required the input of senior courtiers who have long been urging a damage -limitation programme to protect the monarchy.
For Andrew, the forfeiting of his military positions will be the cruellest cut of all. After all, he was born royal so he cannot have HRH removed – he will simply not use it.
But thanks to his two decades of service in the Navy, he loves the military side of royal life, and was especially proud of inheriting from his father the position of Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, for example.
It was Andrew’s desire to wear formal Service dress at his father’s funeral in April that lay behind the decision that all the royal men would be in morning coats instead.
Some will doubtless see the irony in Andrew now joining Prince Harry in no longer being able to wear military uniform. For they are the only two royal princes who have served in the Armed Forces in a time of war and seen action – Harry in Afghanistan and Andrew in the Falklands.
It is tempting to wonder what further humiliations can possibly befall a man whose bravery as a helicopter pilot, luring Argentine missiles away from British warships, was never questioned.
Will he, say, continue to live in the cosseted luxury of Royal Lodge with its staff of valets, butlers, maids and chefs? Suggestions that he might move away from Windsor, however, are wide of the mark. The Queen has grown to depend on his near-daily visits.
And as a new grandfather, he would not want to be separated from his two daughters.
Which brings us to Fergie. So often the source of his troubles in the past, she has been a resilient fixture bolstering him on the darkest of days.
Now, as he is cut adrift from the only life he has ever known, her role is as important as ever.
So could remarriage be on the cards? It might just be the most sensible move he can make, the first step in rebuilding his life.