There is a growing threat behind Buckingham Palace gates – one which could risk everything Her Majesty has worked so hard for.
The Queen is on a roll. Not only did she hit her Ella Platinum Jubilee Ella this year – 70 years on the throne, pip pip! – but on Tuesday this week she officially became the world’s second-longest serving monarch in history.
Better yet, there is a strong case to be made that she is in fact the real record holder, given that the number one spot is held by Louis XIV who accessed the throne at just four years old but only took charge when he reached the age of majority nine years later.
No matter whether Her Majesty is first or second, it’s indisputable that when it comes to the defining qualities of her tenure in the top job, along with her sense of duty and indomitable work ethic will be her longevity.
When it comes to keep on, keeping on, she’s top-notch – and therein lies a serious threat for Buckingham Palace.
Now, my hope is that Her Majesty equals if not surpasses her own mother’s impressive innings of 101. But without getting too macabre, even queens with her remarkable degree of endurance don’t live forever.
However, one thing has become clear this week. In the years between now and when the inevitable happens, one of the biggest dangers to the future of the crown is the woman who wears it.
The reason why is, of course, entirely to do with Prince Andrew, he of no shame and unlimited hubris.
Garter Day was held at Windsor Castle this week for the first time since 2019, an annual get-together of the 673-year-old chivalric Order of the Garter whose membership necessitates a person willing to clomp about in a big velvet robe and feather- adorned hat while trying to maintain some semblance of dignity.
All of the Queen’s children are members of the Order, and Andrew had been slated to take part in the day, including in the public procession from Windsor Castle to nearby St George’s Chapel and then making the return journey via carriage. The programs had been printed and the press reliably informed.
That is, until, according to the Evening Standard, Prince William put his foot down and essentially gave Her Majesty something of an ultimatum: If Andrew was going to be there, he would not attend. Faced with a future king willing to bow out and spend his day catching up on emails over being seen in public with his disgraced uncle, the Queen stepped in and Andrew’s participation in Garter Day was greatly reduced to appearing behind closed doors.
So, Garter Day went ahead, William’s wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge turned up and looked suitably queenly and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall got to enjoy her first outing as an actual Lady Companion of the Order. Preposterous velvet hats all around!
For approximately the 87th time, the royal family has had to contend with Andrew trying to make a comeback, an effort aided and abetted by the compliance of Her Majesty.
And this time, it was a very close call.
Andrew very clearly wants back into the royal tent, having been essentially sacked from frontline royal life over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and the civil sex abuse case he faced over accusations that he sexually assaulted Virginia Giuffre when she was a teenager. The Duke of York has always strenuously denied her claims of her.
This week the Telegraph ran a report so eye-poppingly outrageous that you could be forgiven for thinking it was a late April Fool’s joke: It reported Andrew wants his Mumsy to give him back the titles she took away from him in January, including his prestigious role as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards.
“Most importantly for him is his status as an HRH and ‘Prince of the Blood’ and he feels that should be reinstated and his position recognized and respected,” a source told the Telegraph.
I’d be tempted to point out here that people in hell want ice water, which is presumably where his old friend Epsetin is right now, except for the wildcard factor in this month, which is the Queen herself.
Time and again she has risked the standing of the monarchy to prop up her son’s tattered image.
In 2011, when Andrew’s ties to Epstein exploded into the headlines, she promptly awarded him the highest possible honor she could, making him a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, to signal her continued support and to try to protect him from the fallout .
In August, 2019 after Epstein committed suicide in a New York jail cell, she promptly piled Andrew into her Bentley and took him to church in full view of the waiting press in an attempt to use her regal aegis as protective measure. No matter all that horrid news, the Duke of York still has Mummy’s full backing!
Fast forward to November 2019, and his Newsnight interview. The morning after it aired, while the world reeled from her egotistical and nauseating performance, the mother-son duo was back at church where he reportedly told her how well it had all gone. Even when the global wave of horror and outrage finally crashed over the palace and Andrew was forced to step down as a working member of the royal family, Her Majesty allowed him to keep a few perks including his Colonelcy from him.
By contrast, when Prince Harry similarly left working royal life, he was forced to promptly hand back his role as the Captain-General of the Royal Marines.
When Ms Giuffre filed her civil case against Andrew last year, it was the Queen who reportedly put up the millions of pounds Andrew did not have to help him pay his horde of defense lawyers.
Sure, in January, when it looked like the court case was going to come to pass, Her Majesty finally stripped him of his Grenadier Guards role and took away his right to use his HRH, but still she went out of her way to appease her are. In February, the Mirror reported that the Queen had agreed to let him retain his title as Vice Admiral “to cheer him up”.
Then in February, it was the Queen who reportedly helped fund his $22 million payout to Ms Giuffre settle the case.
Nevermind the untold, lasting damage that Andrew’s behavior and actions have done to the monarchy. There is no debating that he had decamped to New York for a holiday with a man who was on the sex offender’s register. There is no debating that when he gave an hour-long interview about the situation, he did not once utter a single word of empathy for the women whose lives were destroyed by his friend. There is no debating that his lawyers wanted the judge in the US to allow them to include documentation that painted Ms Giuffre as a “money hungry sex kitten”.
Every time one of these developments has taken over the news cycle, the royal family has taken another reputational wallop.
Still Andrew has kept at his squirrely rehabilitation project, and in March scored a dramatic win when he staged a last-minute coup and persuaded the Queen to allow him to escort her to her seat, in full view of live TV cameras, during Prince Philip’s memorial service.
Palace sources came out in full force to tell the world how upset Charles and William were by Andrew’s manoeuvring at the service, but here was definitive proof that Andrew was only going to doggedly keep trying to resuscitate his image and revive his career and that the Queen is only going to keep letting him.
We have seen, on irritating repeat, Her Majesty’s maternal affection trump her good sense, willing to put her feckless son’s interests ahead of those of the institution she has sworn to protect.
There is a case to be made that we are only going to see this sort of manoeuvring by Andrew become more urgent and possibly more desperate as we get closer and closer to the inevitable end of the Queen’s reign.
The second that King Charles III takes over, Andrew can basically expect to be exiled to some forgotten royal estate in Outer Hebrides with no Wi-Fi. And while Andrew might be many things, he is not a total dummy. He knows that he only has a very limited window to claw back as many of his former perks and honors that he can before his most powerful ally shuffles off the mortal coil.
What is so disspiriting is that Her Majesty seems perpetually unable to say ‘no’ to the Duke of York – and therein lies the danger.
Of all the crises and scandals which have hit the royal family over the last few years, it is the Andrew situation which poses the most serious threat, both because of the gravity of what he has been accused of and because the UK population is united in their disgust of him.
Yet at a time when only 6 per cent of Brits have a favorable view of the Duke, both mother and son still seem to entertain the notion that there is nothing wrong with him returning to their royal midst for moments such as Garter Day.
Right now the House of Windsor is still basking in the afterglow of the regal love-in that was the Jubilee celebrations, but how long until Andrew comes tripping along and fouls that up with his latest attempt at making it back into public life?
Her Majesty’s refusal to consign him to Royal Lodge once and for all, in many ways, poses far more of a risk to the monarchy than any number of sulky tell-all interviews from across the Pond.
We are watching, in real time, Her Majesty’s internal battle between her roles as both mother and monarch. May the better Queen win.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.