The Duke of York insisted he was "not doing Newsnight" weeks before agreeing to his senior aide's suggestion of a broadcast interview about his links to a convicted sex offender that was yesterday described as a "disaster".
Prince Andrew is said to have initially refused to take part in the interview, broadcast last night, before being persuaded by Amanda Thirsk, his private secretary. She is known to have said it would help restore his reputation, following years of scrutiny over his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein.
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It can now be revealed that in a meeting with royal aides last month, the Duke is understood to have expressed concern that he was on the "back foot" over reports about his links to Epstein, and allegations that he had sex with Virginia Roberts-Giuffre, a 17-year-old, in 2001. An insider said: "The Duke was concerned that he was on the back foot and Amanda said that she wanted him to do an interview with Newsnight. He said, 'I'm not doing Newsnight'."
It is understood Andrew was worried an interview would leave him "terribly exposed."
It has also now emerged that Andrew's final decision to take part in the interview overruled aides who warned it was a "bad idea".
It has emerged that during discussions about when and how the Duke might conduct a media interview about his connections with Epstein, Thirsk is understood to have expressed a preference for him to be interviewed by a female journalist, and someone not seen as "soft".
Another insider said there were fears the allegations would overshadow Princess Beatrice's wedding next year if not dealt with sooner. Other aides pushed for the Duke to conduct an interview with a newspaper, so his remarks were published "all in one chunk" rather than released "in pieces" in the run-up to the broadcast of the full interview, on the basis that the "explosive stuff" would appear in advance and out of full context.
The decision to press ahead with the Newsnight interview is now being regarded as a serious mistake by experienced royal insiders.
Penny Junor, Prince Charles's biographer and one of the best connected of royal commentators, described the decision to go ahead with the interview as an ill-conceived "disaster".
She told The Sunday Telegraph: "It was a really bad decision. It was a disaster. This is only giving oxygen to the story."
Junor said the interview came as huge "surprise" to many Palace insiders and said that to her knowledge senior members of the Buckingham Palace communications team were not involved in the decision to agree to it.
"I imagine [the Queen] was told about it, but that it was probably too late by then to do anything about it," she said. "It's a terrible story, it's shameful, it brings the Royal family into disrepute, but while he kept his head down after issuing a denial we had to believe him. But now he's front of centre again."
Giuffre's allegations were struck from US civil court records in 2015 after a judge said they were "immaterial".
Buckingham Palace has branded the allegations "false and without any foundation" and said "any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors" by the Duke was "categorically untrue".
Buckingham Palace refused to comment on reports that the Duke had initially refused the Newsnight interview.
The US lawyer acting for victims of Epstein has called for the Duke to answer questions under oath over the claims. Gloria Allred said it was right that someone accused of a crime – "whether a prince or a pauper" – should be examined in court.
Allred said: "Rather than just going on television, he, I think, would be well served to just say I'm willing to take the oath and appear at a deposition. It's fine for him to do a television interview, but he's not under oath when he does that."
Allred represents several of Epstein's victims in their battle for compensation for their trauma.