Round a desk with three BBC journalists in Buckingham Palace, Queen Elizabeth’s second son was deciding whether or not to do a TV interview that might change his life.
Three months earlier, in August 2019, the billionaire intercourse offender Jeffrey Epstein had been discovered useless in his New York jail cell whereas awaiting trial on sex-trafficking fees. For almost a decade, Prince Andrew had been dogged by questions on their 20-year friendship — and now was dealing with allegations of his personal. Virginia Roberts, now Giuffre, alleged that Epstein had compelled her to have intercourse with Andrew when she was 17, one thing the Duke of York has at all times denied.
On the palace, Sam McAlister — “booker extraordinaire” on the BBC’s flagship present affairs present, “Newsnight,” who had been in discussions for a 12 months with a publicist working for Andrew’s initiative to assist entrepreneurs and his personal secretary — took her gamble.
Referring to his extravagant journey at taxpayers’ expense and his playboy picture, she informed him bluntly: “Sir, I have lived in this country for over 40 years and, until now, I only knew two things about you. It’s that you’re known as ‘Air Miles Andy’ and ‘Randy Andy.’ And I can absolutely tell you that the latter really doesn’t help you in your current predicament.”
Everybody within the room held their breath; that isn’t how Britons communicate to royalty. “Then, suddenly, he laughs,” recollects McAlister in a central London restaurant. “There was no way that he could misunderstand that he was dealing with someone who could speak truth to power and who wasn’t messing him about.”
Three days later, after mentioning in entrance of McAlister that he would seek the advice of “Mum,” Andrew did the interview. It could be described as “a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion.” So damning had been his solutions that simply 4 days after broadcast got here the announcement he could be suspending his public duties. The 50-minute encounter had introduced down a prince.
In her new e-book, “Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews” (Oneworld Publications, Sept. 13), McAlister reveals the tense discussions that secured her unique. Regardless of a perceived coziness between the nationwide broadcaster and the monarchy, to her data, her program had by no means spoken to a royal. When first provided entry in 2018 — to do what she calls a “puff piece” on his charity work — she turned it down, telling his PR folks firmly: No preconditions, or no interview. Because the Epstein questions grew louder, McAlister persevered.
“One of the reasons this interview happened is I didn’t have any connections in this world,” she says. “And, in the nicest way, I didn’t give a toot. I don’t think it’s helpful, frankly, to be deferential to institutions if you want to get the truth.”
She saved in thoughts the “sweet spots” which may encourage the prince to go forward: a want for vindication in time to have a good time his sixtieth birthday in fashion and to stroll his daughter Beatrice down the aisle.
She additionally shared her view with him instantly: His silence meant “the public was drawing conclusions on his guilt.” Lastly, she informed him, it was a “no-brainer” that any interview about sexual impropriety with girls must be carried out by a girl. “And, lucky me, I had one of the best female presenters in the country” within the type of Emily Maitlis. (This system was additionally edited by a girl, Esme Wren.)
McAlister even ventured to make a number of jokes along with her royal interlocutor, although she demurs on the main points: “Probably the most banterous parts wouldn’t be right for me to reveal. But you heard some of the things that he was willing to say on camera, so you can probably imagine how frank some of those exchanges were.”
What he stated on the report left audiences aghast and, says McAlister, “changed the lexicon of the country.” Andrew denied his accuser’s declare he was perspiring once they first met as a result of he had “a peculiar medical condition, which is that I don’t sweat.” His alibi was a youngsters’s party on the chain restaurant Pizza Categorical within the provincial English city of Woking.
He stated that after Epstein’s 2008 conviction, he had insisted on spending a number of days within the financier’s New York dwelling to interrupt off the friendship as a result of his judgment “was probably colored by my tendency to be too honorable, but that’s just the way it is.” And his description of Epstein having “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming” managed to interrupt even the quietly forensic demeanor of Maitlis. “Unbecoming?” she interjected, her face contorted in disbelief. “He was a sex offender.” All of the whereas, the prince failed to specific any concern for the victims and, requested if he regretted the entire Epstein friendship, replied: “No, still not.”
But none of these was probably the most jaw-dropping second for McAlister. Moderately, it was “a very excruciating answer, where he’s trying to say that he couldn’t have had sexual relations with Virginia Roberts because, as a man, sexual relations require ‘a positive act.’ He was obviously talking about the royal member. We don’t want to make light of what obviously was an extremely serious series of allegations against him and Epstein, but to be in Buckingham Palace listening to him talking about that was really quite unforgettable.”
It was all so arresting that the journalist spent a lot of the time staring on the ornately embellished ballroom carpet to hide her eye rolling, whereas making an attempt to inhibit her pure response to emphasize whereby, she writes, “My throat, charmingly, starts to make a kind of burpy noise.” She has a remaining giveaway: “I sweat — irony of ironies!”
As a former legal protection barrister, McAlister knew full effectively the authorized ramifications of Andrew’s solutions, describing them as “a prosecutor’s dream.” She provides: “I was surprised that he gave those explanations, which if you were dealing with litigation would have been relatively easy to disprove if they were lies.”
Giuffre’s lawyer later revealed she and her workforce had examined the interview for inconsistencies. “Frankly, it was very helpful for us,” she stated.
The revelations might clarify why Andrew was so eager to settle his U.S. civil sexual assault case with Giuffre in February this 12 months, paying a reported $16 million to a girl he informed Maitlis he had “no recollection of ever meeting.”
McAlister, who has since left the BBC after being denied a bonus, pay increase or promotion, has already struck a deal to show her e-book about what she calls “our version of Frost/Nixon” right into a function movie, whereas Maitlis is having her story tailored for a TV drama. The producer says she believes Britain has a “blind spot, journalistically” in the case of holding the royal household accountable in the identical means as others who spend public cash. However she nonetheless thinks the U.S. may be taught one thing about exacting interviews from throughout the pond — and cites the 2021 Oprah Winfrey unique with Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry for instance.
“It was an incredibly interesting conversation that they had. But by no stretch of the imagination was that an accountability interview.
“I think that our tradition of rigorous conversations really does allow for accountability and that’s hugely important, particularly in this generation of fake news and diminution of trust in the media.
“As I’ve always said, if you can run a multimillion-dollar company and you can run a country, then 10 minutes with a presenter isn’t any problem, is it?” She checks herself. “Well, for some people it is, clearly.”