Queen’s four-day Andrew deadline

THERE are many places in the world where the press is going to be in coming days. In Washington watching the Donald Trump impeachment circus. In Wuhan as the deadly coronavirus snakes its way around the world. And, outside the tiny church in rural Norfolk.

Her Majesty's weekly outing to get her fill of the good word is normally a fairly sedate affair. A handful of partially frozen photographers assemble outside a Sandringham church to dutifully record the 93-year-old's appearance.

A clutch of diehard royal fans wait in the cold to catch a glimpse of the Queen. However this Sunday is likely to attract a far bigger crowd and a much, much bigger media throng.

That's because whoever is sitting beside her in the back seat of her specially designed Bentley as she rolls up will be a clear signal of how she intends to handle the latest crisis to roil Buckingham Palace.

This week's church foray will be the first time the Queen will appear in public since news broke that Prince Andrew had failed to co-operate with the FBI.

This is despite last year saying he was "willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency" investigating convicted sex offender Jeffery Epstein.


The Queen and Prince Andrew arriving at church on January 19. Picture: Joe Giddens/AP
The Queen and Prince Andrew arriving at church on January 19. Picture: Joe Giddens/AP


Will she take him again this Sunday? Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Will she take him again this Sunday? Picture: Chris Jackson/Getty Images


Yesterday, the United States lawyer Geoffrey S. Berman held a press conference in Manhattan and revealed that, "To date, Prince Andrew has provided zero co-operation." (The New York Times has reported that the FBI and federal prosecutors have approached the Duke of York's lawyers about an interview but "there was no response at all".)

On August 11, just 24 hours after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his New York jail cell, the Queen very pointedly took son Prince Andrew to church with her. The shots of the duo, especially the Prince's toothy smirk, immediately went global. Her Majesty was making a pointed comment: Andrew has my full support.

So will we see a repeat performance (and to be clear, it was very much a performance) this Sunday? Because whether the Queen does or does not invite her son, a former navy captain who once threw plastic hams while on a TV game show and met Colonel Gaddafi's son, will be hugely telling.

Option one: she takes him and we are treated to an encore mother-son double act. This would likely provoke an already testy public whose capacity for tolerating royal messes is severely limited. We could also add in a huge outcry on social media and the UK papers rightly working themselves into a lather.

For the Queen, whose personal brand is already on shaky ground with younger Brits after Harry and Meghan's hasty departure, this move would surely damage her public standing further. She would be spending a significant amount of her social capital. It would also give credence to the perception she was putting maternal fealty above the reputation of the crown.

In 1997 when Diana, Princess of Wales was killed, the Queen and the Palace proved themselves infamously out of step with public sentiment. If Her Majesty does take her son to church this week, it would similarly be either a fairly blunt rejection of, or total failure to actually comprehend, the current level of antagonism towards Andrew.

Option two: Andrew is not with her. This route has its own dangers. Most obviously it would look like the Queen has washed her hands of her wayward child and did not have the appetite to use her regal imprimatur to help protect Andrew any longer. However, while every parent's tolerance has a limit there would be a certain, not entirely flattering, cold-bloodedness to it.

Complicating matters, if the Queen did go for this option and yet had not already publicly commented on the most recent developments (or was seen to be pushing her son towards speaking to US authorities) this would look like a toothless bit of theatre.


Basically, the Queen is in a bind and however she manages the coming days will surely be one of the bigger tests of her reign. Sure, she's had to deal with various constitutional kerfuffles, her children's extramarital shenanigans (current count: five marriages, three divorces) all the while trying to keep the restless, disaffected public, many of whom are not particularly sold on a hereditary monarchy, on side.

But the Andrew situation is in a different league. To be clear, the Duke has not been charged with any crime. However, his association with a man such as Epstein has bought law enforcement and lingering stench of villainy right up to the Palace gates. (In all fairness, it should be noted that in 2002, Princess Anne became the first member of the royal family to be convicted of a criminal offence after her English bull terrier bit two children. She was charged with being in charge of a dog that was dangerously out of control in a public place, pleaded guilty and slapped with a fine).

How the Queen navigates these treacherous waters will have a profound impact on both public approval and on her legacy. We have seen time and again she can put regal duty before personal feelings, for example in regards to Princess Margaret and her wish to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend. Or when, after her ascension, she left her two tiny children at home in London to spend months travelling around the world to fulfil her role as head of the Commonwealth.

However, Andrew has long been something of a blind spot for her. When the photo of Andrew and Epstein out for a walk in New York first emerged in 2011, the Queen responded by delving into her monarchical bag of tricks to try and inure him from the scandal. So, she invested him in a private ceremony, with the highest honour she could, making him a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order. (The poor Duke of Edinburgh only got the same shiny gong, given out for "personal service" to the Queen, in 2017).

In 2020, that sort of symbolic Queenly manoeuvring will only aggravate and incense. There is more at stake here than just how well the royal family can weather another controversy, rather this is legacy-making stuff. After a lifetime of service to have her image blighted by not her responding adroitly and commandingly here would be a terrible shame.

Pressure is likely to keep building on Andrew, and the Palace, to voluntarily sit down with the FBI to tell authorities what he saw when he was hanging out with Epstein during their time together in London, New York and on the financier's private island in the Caribbean.

And pressure is likely building on the Queen to find a way to deal once and for all with this sad and tawdry situation, no hollow gestures allowed.


Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media organisations