COMMENT:

Prince Andrew's BBC interview about his ties to Jeffrey Epstein was excruciating to watch - especially, no doubt, for the victims of the deceased financier. So bad was it that he may unwittingly have provided the next generation of Britain's monarchy the justification it needs to streamline.

The Duke of York's effort to explain his friendship with the convicted paedophile came across as insensitive, ignorant, pig-headed and out of touch. He revealed a litany of shortcomings longer than his official title, neglecting to express a shred of sympathy for Epstein's targets. The prince's strong denial of claims that he'd had sex with one of the hedge fund manager's alleged teenage trafficking victims was accompanied by strange details about his inability to sweat and his visit to a Pizza Express restaurant.

Prince Andrew appears on BBC Newsnight with Emily Maitlis with regard to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. Photo / BBC
Prince Andrew appears on BBC Newsnight with Emily Maitlis with regard to the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. Photo / BBC

His troubles will probably accelerate a process that his elder brother Charles has been pushing for years: the drive for a leaner Royal Family. By focusing on a core group of royals in the direct line of succession, this thinking goes, the monarchy would be better able to sidestep concerns about lavish use of public funds at a time when so many ordinary British families are being squeezed beyond endurance. It might also prevent errant royals from publicly pursuing their own course at a time when an aging Queen Elizabeth II may be less able to keep her clan in check.

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Andrew's situation potentially has echoes in the business world, where an executive's missteps can accelerate an ouster already in the works. Carlos Ghosn was pushed out of Nissan and Renault over allegations of improper use of funds, just as Japanese powerbrokers feared he was going to engineer a merger of the two firms. Martin Sorrell stepped down as chief executive of WPP last year amid investigations into personal misconduct, just as concerns were mounting about his management of the firm. Both deny the allegations.

Evidence of Charles's efforts to forge a "slimmed-down monarchy," as the Daily Mail newspaper called it, first surfaced at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. The main participants in the festivities were the Queen herself, Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince William and his spouse the Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry. Just those five royals stood alongside the Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to take in the climactic fly-past by the Royal Air Force. A decade previously, at the Golden Jubilee, some two dozen filled the balcony.

Unlike his sister Princess Anne, who sought no titles or royal roles for her own progeny, Prince Andrew's two daughters were made princesses, and he's reportedly been eager for them to have royal roles and residences.

Evidence of Charles's efforts to forge a
Evidence of Charles's efforts to forge a "slimmed-down monarchy," as the Daily Mail newspaper called it, first surfaced at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. Photo / AP

Andrew's association with Epstein, which he said had provided opportunities "to learn," appears to have accelerated his marginalisation even without the direct intervention of his elder brother or mother. KPMG has already dropped sponsorship of the Duke of York's entrepreneurship initiative, while students at England's University of Huddersfield passed a motion on Monday lobbying him to resign the institution's chancellorship. A charity of which he is patron, the Outward Bound Trust, plans to discuss "the issues raised" by the interview.

Unlike a business executive, the prince can't exactly step down, nor is it likely that his titles would be taken from him should he be caught up in the ongoing legal fallout from the Epstein case. But if he takes on fewer public roles, he'll be eligible for less financial support from the Sovereign Grant: a pot of public money that helps fund the work the royals do on behalf of the nation.

The monarchy doesn't execute its family members these days, but Andrew has offered his critics plenty of rope.