I set up a communications agency earlier this year. During a conversation last week with a prospective client about reputation management, I was asked how I would dig HRH The Duke of York out of his current predicament.
Prince Andrew is currently in limbo. In PR terms, he remains a Royal PR sore, ridiculed by the news media, pilloried on social media and still living (indirectly at least) on the public purse with no one willing to offer him work.
The toughest of tough PR gigs
For a PR practitioner, Prince Andrew would be the toughest of tough gigs. His ‘brand’ is toxic thanks to his friendship with the deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. His ill-advised attempt to explain it away in an interview with respected BBC journalist Emily Maitlis was a catastrophe. And now he faces a civil lawsuit from an American woman, Virginia Giuffre, who alleges that he sexually assaulted her.
The court of public opinion has already made up its mind about Andrew – guilty of poor judgement to some, he is guilty of far worse to others.
Lawyers say there is no good legal way forward. If Andrew fights the lawsuit he will look unsympathetic. If he ignores it, he will cause collateral damage to the rest of his family and possibly even to the institution of the monarchy. Even if he settles with no admission of anything, some will still see it as an admission of something.
Start with an apology
Nothing can happen without a full and unreserved apology. And not the mealy-mouthed type he made when he announced he was stepping back from public life ‘for the foreseeable future’. Andrew has to acknowledge his own serious failings in associating with Epstein and has to admit he fell seriously short in terms of both his own judgement and the public’s expectations of a senior royal figure.
He then has to resolve his legal woes. Ms Giuffre was a vulnerable 17 year old – and thus a minor in the eyes of the US legal system – when they were photographed together at Ghislaine Maxwell’s London mews house in 2001. Andrew could apologise for the distress his association with Ms Giuffre caused her without admitting to any sexual activity. However, this will depend on a legal settlement and a generous financial offer to her. Only then would the damaging drip-feeding of allegations in the media stop and enable both sides to draw a line somewhere.
Legal settlement is essential
In the wake of a near total mea culpa and a legal settlement, something like internal exile and some form of charitable work is possible for Andrew. No public events, no waving from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, no media appearances, no more riding with the Queen, no more Air Miles, no golf. Some have suggested sending him to Africa as a charity worker but this would have bad optics. Andrew would be the very worst kind of ‘white saviour‘. He needs to find an appropriate charity in the UK and devote his life to it.
The only public figure whose example sets anything like a precedent would be the disgraced politician John Profumo. The then Secretary of State for War was forced to resign in 1963 after it emerged that he had lied to Parliament about a sexual affair with Christine Keeler, a model who was also in a relationship with the naval attache at the Soviet Embassy. Profumo later went to work for a charity in the East End of London and maintained an absolute public silence on the matters that led to his resignation. This redeemed Profumo to some and the media more or less left him alone to his good works for the rest of his life.
What is the best he can hope for?
Nothing Prince Andrew has said or done suggests he fully understands his current predicament. His former PR advisor resigned after the Prince rejected his advice not to go ahead with his ill-fated interview with the BBC. No one in their right mind will take Andrew on as a client until he accepts that he has transgressed and that he needs serious help. Once he does, he will have to work hard to cease being newsworthy. That is the best he can hope for.