Prince Andrew has spoken publicly for the first time in a 'no holds barred' interview about his relationship with billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein - denying he ever had sex with the financier's "sex slave" Virginia Roberts.

The Duke of York faced questions on BBC Newsnight about his links to Epstein who was found dead aged 66 earlier this year in a prison cell while being held on sex trafficking charges, reports The Daily Mail.

Andrew, maintained he had never met Roberts, and that he spent time with her at Tramp Nightclub in London on March 10 in 2001.

A photograph apparently showing Andrew with his arm around then 17-year-old Roberts, now Giuffre, and with Epstein's friend Ghislaine Maxwell standing in the background, has been widely published. Supporters of Andrew, however, have disputed its authenticity.

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He said: "I was with the children and I'd taken Beatrice to a Pizza Express in Woking for a party at I suppose sort of 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

"And then because the Duchess was away, we have a simple rule in the family that when one is away the other one is there.

"I was on terminal leave at the time from the Royal Navy so therefore I was at home."

Roberts has previously described their alleged time together in London in vivid detail, including that Andrew had been 'sweating' during their time together in the London nightclub.

But Andrew said: "There's a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I don't sweat or I didn't sweat at the time."

Prince Andrew with his eldest daughter Princess Beatrice. He claims he was getting pizza with her on the night Virginia Roberts claimed they met at a nightclub. Photo / Getty
Prince Andrew with his eldest daughter Princess Beatrice. He claims he was getting pizza with her on the night Virginia Roberts claimed they met at a nightclub. Photo / Getty

He added: "I've no recollection of ever meeting her, I'm almost, in fact I'm convinced that I was never in Tramps with her.

"There are a number of things that are wrong with that story, one of which is that I don't know where the bar is in Tramps.

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"I don't drink, I don't think I've ever bought a drink in Tramps whenever I was there."

Questioned about the photograph of him and Roberts together, which friends of the Duke of York have said could have been faked, he said that public displays of affection are "not something he would do" but refused to reveal whether he thought the image was doctored.

He said: "Oh it's definitely me, I mean that's a picture of me. I don't believe it's a picture of me in London because when I go out in London I wear a suit and a tie.

"That's what I would describe as my travelling clothes if I'm going to go overseas. There's plenty of photographs of me dressed in that sort of kit but not there."

Prince Andrew with Virginia Roberts, who says she was forced to have sex with him. Photo / Supplied
Prince Andrew with Virginia Roberts, who says she was forced to have sex with him. Photo / Supplied

Andrew, 59, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and eighth in line to the throne, has been heavily criticised over his links to multimillionaire Epstein, who died in custody in the US in August.

Speaking during the interview, he defended spending four days with Epstein after his release from jail in 2010 for soliciting and procuring a minor for prostitution.

And said he did not regret his relationship with Epstein, saying: "Now, still not and the reason being is that the people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him or because of him were actually very useful.

"He himself not, as it were, as close as you might think, we weren't that close. So therefore I mean yes I would go and stay in his house but that was because of his girlfriend, not because of him."

Defending his decision to stay with Epstein after his release from jail, he said: "I went there with the sole purpose of saying to him that because he had been convicted, it was inappropriate for us to be seen together.

"And I had a number of people counsel me in both directions, either to go and see him or not to go and see him and I took the judgement call that because this was serious and I felt that doing it over the telephone was the chicken's way of doing it."

But asked why he decided to continue staying with a convicted sex offender, he said: "It was a convenient place to stay. I mean I've gone through this in my mind so many times.

"At the end of the day, with a benefit of all the hindsight that one can have, it was definitely the wrong thing to do.

"But at the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do and I admit fully that my judgement was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable but that's just the way it is."

Britain's Prince Andrew. Photo / AP
Britain's Prince Andrew. Photo / AP

During his stay, Andrew was photographed with Epstein in Central Park in New York in February 2011. He denied the photograph was set up by Epstein to help with his public image.

Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to procuring a girl under the age of 18 for prostitution and served 13 months in a US prison before being released on probation.

He was arrested in July on new federal charges that he trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex, but was found dead in New York's high-security Metropolitan Correctional Center on August 10 as he awaited trial.

Maitlis questioned how The Duke of York might not have noticed what was going on at Epstein's house, citing Virginia Roberts' legal team who have said: "You could not spend time around Epstein and not know what was going on."

But the Duke of York said: "I live in an institution at Buckingham Palace, which has members of staff walking around all the time and I don't wish to appear grand but there were a lot of people who were walking around Jeffrey Epstein's house.

"As far as I was aware, they were staff, they were people that were working for him, doing things."

Probed on whether he saw underage girls at Epstein's house, he said: "You would notice if there were hundreds of underage girls in Jeffrey's house, wasn't there, not when I was there.

"Now he may have changed his behaviour patterns in order for that not to be obvious to me. You're asking me to speculate on things that I just don't know about."

Asked why he first met Epstein, Andrew said the appeal of Epstein was that 'he had the most extraordinary ability to bring extraordinary people together'.

He said: "I mean I don't go into a friendship looking for the wrong thing, if you understand what I mean.

"I'm an engaging person, I want to be able to engage, I want to find out, I want to learn.

"You have to remember that I was transitioning out of the Navy at the time and in the transition I wanted to find out more about what was going on because in the Navy it's a pretty isolated business because you're out at sea the whole time and I was going to become the special representative for international trade and investment."

Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / AP
Jeffrey Epstein. Photo / AP

In extracts released before the interview aired this evening, the Duke of York said he recognises it was wrong and now regrets going to stay with Epstein in New York after the financier's release from prison on child sex offences.

Referring to the Queen and the Royal Family, he admitted he "let the side down".

The Duke also said he does not remember meeting Virginia Roberts, the woman who claimed she had sex with him when she was 17.

He told the BBC's Emily Maitlis: "It was a convenient place to stay. I mean I've gone through this in my mind so many times. At the end of the day, with a benefit of all the hindsight that one can have, it was definitely the wrong thing to do.

"But at the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do and I admit fully that my judgement was probably coloured by my tendency to be too honourable but that's just the way it is."

The claim came in a further extract from the interview which will be aired in full on BBC 2 tonight.

Andrew also said: "The problem was the fact that once he had been convicted I stayed with him.

"That's the bit I kick myself for on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the Royal Family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that."

During the exchange, Andrew again rejects the claim by one of Epstein's victims, Virginia Roberts, that he had sex with her when she was 17.

Virginia Roberts, holding a photo of herself at age 16, says she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew on three occasions. Photo / Getty
Virginia Roberts, holding a photo of herself at age 16, says she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew on three occasions. Photo / Getty

The prince says he does not even remember meeting Miss Roberts, despite the existence of a photograph showing him with his arm around the teenager's bare waist alongside Epstein's alleged 'madam' Ghislaine Maxwell.

"She says she met you in 2001, she says she dined with you, danced with you at Tramp nightclub in London.

"She went on to have sex with you in a house in Belgravia belonging to Ghislaine Maxwell, your friend. Your response?" asks Miss Maitlis.

"I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever," Andrew replies.

"You don't remember meeting her?" the interviewer asks.

"No," Andrew firmly states.

The full interview, which was conducted at Buckingham Palace, was shown on BBC 2 in a special titled: Prince Andrew & The Epstein Scandal.

A friend of Prince Andrew told the Daily Mail's Richard Kay: "In a way, he is saying 'judge me'.

"Everything else had failed, he had no alternative."

Insiders have also said that the Duke felt he had no choice but to speak out after being left "paralysed" by his inability to defend his reputation.

One close aide told the Daily Telegraph that the scandal "turns over every day in his head".

The aide added: "It was certainly the hardest thing he has ever done. For any of us to talk about this stuff no matter who you are, it would be difficult. It takes a huge amount of courage."

Filmed on Thursday, the Mail understands that, over 45 minutes, the Queen's son was "machine-gunned" with questions about everything from his family to his sex life in excruciating detail.

Prince Andrew next to his mother Queen Elizabeth II during Trooping The Colour on June 8, 2019. Andrew is said to be her favourite son. Photo / AP
Prince Andrew next to his mother Queen Elizabeth II during Trooping The Colour on June 8, 2019. Andrew is said to be her favourite son. Photo / AP

The palace did not ask for any questions to be submitted in advance, and no assurances were given. One of those present claimed the Queen's normally rather pompous and garrulous son was surprisingly 'humble and candid'.

It is highly unusual for a member of the Royal Family to speak about something so personal and controversial in a one-on-one interview. Only the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and Prince Charles, both speaking about their failed marriage, have done so. Both programmes were considered disastrous for the monarchy.

Andrew – long believed to be the Queen's favourite son – informed his mother about the interview in advance and was, apparently, given her blessing.

A source close to the prince said: "He wouldn't do anything without discussing it with her majesty first."

A Buckingham Palace spokesman added: "The Queen is aware of the interview."

It is the first time the prince has been publicly grilled about his friendship with the American sex abuser who was found dead in his New York prison cell in August while awaiting trial for sex-trafficking.

He has been dogged by the scandal since 2010, when he was photographed visiting the disgraced Wall Street money man in New York following Epstein's release from jail following a conviction for prostituting minors.

He lost his job as a roving UK trade ambassador as a result of the outcry.

Since then the prince has been forced to deny claims by Epstein's teenage "sex slave" Miss Roberts that she was flown to London on the billionaire's jet, the "Lolita Express", for sex with the prince.

Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at a 2005 event in New York. Maxwell has always denied being involved in a sex-trafficking network run by Epstein. Photo / Getty
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at a 2005 event in New York. Maxwell has always denied being involved in a sex-trafficking network run by Epstein. Photo / Getty

She claims Maxwell told her: "I want you to do for him what you do for Epstein."

Roberts, now a 35-year-old mother, alleges that it was one of three occasions she was forced to have sex with the prince, which also included an "orgy" at Epstein's home in the US Virgin Islands. In the face of the prince's denials she has said 'he knows the truth and I know the truth' and recently said he deserves to be sent to prison.

Buckingham Palace has always called the allegations "false and without any foundation", saying "any suggestion of impropriety with under-age minors was categorically untrue".

Maxwell has always denied being involved in a sex-trafficking network run by Epstein. This week's bombshell interview took place in the grand south drawing room of the palace.

"It's quite raw and it's emotional," a source said, "But he doesn't shy away from answering anything – and I mean anything – and hopes this honesty will enable him to draw a line under things once and for all."

Privately, palace officials admit that Andrew's decision to allow himself to be questioned on television is a huge gamble and "may all go horribly wrong".

But one insisted: "There's two narratives about the duke. The first that he is some sort of horrible, seedy person, the second – from those who actually know him – that he is decent, honourable, kind and is continually being crucified for mistakes he has already held his hands up to. He has honestly, straightforwardly addressed some difficult questions and hopefully that authenticity will allow people to see the real narrative."

A member of Roberts' legal team, Jack Scarola, said he would like the prince to submit to an interview under oath instead of giving statements to the media that carry "little weight". He said there was an FBI investigation into those involved in facilitating Epstein's abuse and Andrew "would be a key witness".