One of the most stunning revelations in A&E’s “Secrets of Prince Andrew,” which aired on Aug. 21 and is now available on the A&E app and AETV.com, comes just minutes into the four-hour documentary.
Sam McAlister, the “Newsnight” producer who was largely responsible for setting up the 2019 car-crash interview between Andrew and BBC anchor Emily Maitlis, casually divulges that it was a publicist working on Andrew’s behalf that first reached out to her about setting up the on-screen chat that would eventually see the British royal banished from public life.
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How Andrew came to be the architect of his own downfall – in more ways than one – is the central theme of the doc, which was co-produced by Candle True Stories and Bitachon365. “Really what we’re exploring in the documentary is how Andrew’s upbringing and the privilege and the hubris that comes with that all leads to this place where he decides to give this disastrous interview,” explains Candle’s James Goldston, who executive produced the doc alongside Sheldon Lazarus of Bitachon365 (a Fulwell73 company).
The documentary interweaves two narratives: a biography of Queen Elizabeth II’s reportedly spoiled second son who – until he was bumped down the line of succession – was the “spare” to older brother King Charles’s “heir,” and the story behind that now infamous “Newsnight” interview.
Initially, McAlister turned down the publicist’s query after realizing the prince wanted a puff piece about his philanthropic work – something hard-hitting current affairs show “Newsnight” never does. But, wisely, she kept in touch with Andrew’s team. So when his long-running friendship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein became the subject of renewed interest following Epstein’s re-arrest and eventual death in the summer of 2019, conversations about a possible interview resumed.
The result, which aired in November of that year, was an almost hour-long discussion between Andrew and Maitlis. Recorded at his mother’s residence, Buckingham Palace, it immediately turned the prince into a pariah. Not only did Andrew fail to apologize for his friendship with Epstein – which continued after the financier served time for sexual offences relating to underage girls – or express any concern for Epstein’s many victims, but in response to Maitlis’s questions about an alleged sexual encounter between Andrew and a 17-year-old girl who said she was trafficked by Epstein, the royal gave a myriad of improbable answers. (Among them was that he couldn’t have been perspiring “profusely” in a nightclub, as the girl had claimed, because he had a medical condition that prevented him from sweating. He eventually settled with his alleged victim out of court.)
The documentary includes first-hand testimony from McAlister, Maitlis, friends of Andrew and even his lawyer, Paul Tweed. The booking team also reached out to Andrew himself but – perhaps sensibly, given the fall-out from his last interview – he declined.
From Lazarus’ perspective, “Secrets of Prince Andrew” works better without the prince. “What would we gain by getting Andrew in the chair again for him to talk about the interview that he did?” says the producer. “Because there’s nothing better than what he [already] did, in terms of what he said, how he answered the questions. The backstory to the actual interview [is what is fascinating.]”
Even though Lazarus has long finished the documentary when he speaks to Variety, he still marvels over the fact Andrew’s team initially thought the “Newsnight” interview had gone well. “The fact that at the end of the interview Andew’s team were giving high fives around the room,” he says. “They asked Emily and the ‘Newsnight’ team to stay behind for [the palace’s weekly] movie night. They were going to get gin and teas out.”
By contrast, Maitlis and her colleagues were eager to get away as quickly as possible, acutely aware that the tape in their hands was “globally very significant and extraordinary,” Lazarus says.
As we now know, the fall-out from the interview was catastrophic. It was undoubtedly a factor in Queen Elizabeth stripping her beloved second son of his many royal patronages and privileges. “He’s used to having this big, expansive royal life, and the walls have certainly closed in,” says Goldston of the ongoing impact on the prince. “He can’t wear his uniform, he can’t be a working royal, he’s been subjected to all kinds of antipathy from the public wherever he goes.”
“Secrets of Prince Andrew,” which aired as a one-off special event, has been through many twists and turns, not least the death of the Queen herself last September, which, Lazarus says, made things “a little bit easier” for some of the doc’s contributors. “Nobody’s ever done a deep dive into the biographical life of Andrew, who was the Queen’s favourite son,” says Lazarus. “And you can see that in some of the features that we found. We found some extraordinary footage.”
The footage, which follows Andrew from overindulged princeling to playboy prince, gives viewers some insight into the man who would eventually engineer his own undoing. “That’s the one thing that really sort of brought me onto the project,” says Lazarus. “The fact that he actually agreed to do an interview against the advice of everybody, including his nearest and dearest. His legal representatives said, ‘You must not do this.’ And that is an amazing jump-off point. Like, why would you think this was a good idea?”
For Goldston, that question lies at the heart of the documentary. “I think we got as close to an answer as I think you can get in terms of explaining just that kind of collision of all these events that led him to this disastrous decision,” he says.
As for what the future holds for Andrew — especially now his older brother, Charles, has become king — is anyone’s guess. “His lawyer thinks there’s a comeback to be had,” says Goldston. “Who knows?”
Lazarus says it’s not so much a question of Andrew’s future — but whether the royal family as an institution can survive.
“It’s a very strange life,” he says of the once-pampered prince. “And he’s got a very strange life now.”
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