It's time Prince Andrew came clean about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein: Former BBC Royal Correspondent MICHAEL COLE urges Duke of York to answer the questions hanging over him

I have always liked Prince Andrew. I interviewed him and Sarah Ferguson for BBC TV News shortly before their wedding in 1986 and it was one of the most spontaneous, happy and candid royal interviews ever given up to that date.

The marriage was a true love match and the whole nation rejoiced. The couple teased the crowd who were demanding a kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony.

But the newly-weds needed no encouragement at all to comply. It was a smacker.

I fear for the Prince because – whatever else he does in life – that photograph will always haunt him. Prince Andrew is pictured above with Virginia Roberts, then aged 17 in 2001

I fear for the Prince because – whatever else he does in life – that photograph will always haunt him. Prince Andrew is pictured above with Virginia Roberts, then aged 17 in 2001

With the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales under real strain at the time and Camilla Parker Bowles back on the scene, at least one of the Queen’s children seemed to have married for the right reasons.

And her favourite child too, a genuine war hero who had returned from the Falklands War with a rose clenched between his ample set of teeth. But then it all went wrong, ending in divorce ten years later.

Fergie’s many and lurid indiscretions and Andrew’s long absences in the Royal Navy were blamed for putting a strain on the marriage. To my mind, it would have been far better had he stayed in the service.

The marriage was a true love match and the whole nation rejoiced. The couple teased the crowd who were demanding a kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony. But the newly-weds needed no encouragement at all to comply. It was a smacker

The marriage was a true love match and the whole nation rejoiced. The couple teased the crowd who were demanding a kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony. But the newly-weds needed no encouragement at all to comply. It was a smacker

It would have kept him away from people like Ghislaine Maxwell and the billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein.

How he was unable to see that he was being used by them for his royal connections and to boost their egos is simply beyond my understanding.

It is a fine thing to be born a prince. But the man appears to have no judgment. 

If he has anyone telling him how badly some aspects of his lifestyle are likely to be perceived in the real world, he is clearly not listening.

He was out of his depth as a trade representative for this country, unfailingly mixing with precisely the wrong sort of foreign despots and oligarchs.

The new pictures from a video taken in 2010, in which Prince Andrew is seen inside Epstein’s Manhattan mansion, furtively poking his head round the oak front door and waving to a young girl as she leaves, are truly shocking

The new pictures from a video taken in 2010, in which Prince Andrew is seen inside Epstein’s Manhattan mansion, furtively poking his head round the oak front door and waving to a young girl as she leaves, are truly shocking

And then being surprised whenever anyone questioned his conduct. He forged close links with Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev whose regime is said to have rigged elections and thrown political opponents in jail and tortured them. 

He met the ruler of Turkmenistan even though the country was ranked by an anti-corruption group as the world’s sixth most corrupt out of 178 surveyed.

As I say, I have always regarded Prince Andrew as the most pleasant and down-to-earth of the Queen’s children. Which is why it is so sad he has made such a hash of things.

Prince Andrew must come clean about his relationship with Epstein (pictured above in 2004), and admit he made a huge mistake in continuing their friendship

Prince Andrew must come clean about his relationship with Epstein (pictured above in 2004), and admit he made a huge mistake in continuing their friendship

Consorting with a sexual pervert like Epstein, even after he had been convicted of serious crimes against girls as young as the Prince’s own daughters at the time, is not the conduct of any decent person, let alone a Prince of the Royal Blood.

Yet Andrew is reported to have taken Epstein to three of the Queen’s homes: Windsor Castle, Sandringham and Balmoral.

The new pictures from a video taken in 2010, in which Prince Andrew is seen inside Epstein’s Manhattan mansion, furtively poking his head round the oak front door and waving to a young girl as she leaves, are truly shocking.

How can he not have known what had been going on in that house? Why did he not cut off contact immediately when Epstein had been convicted and sent to prison?

Did he simply ignore the fact that his billionaire chum was at the time on a sex offenders’ register? Did Epstein have something on him? Or was it a matter of misjudged loyalty?

Then there is the now infamous photograph of the Prince with his arm around the bare midriff of the 17-year-old American Virginia Roberts, who had been brought to London in 2001 by Epstein.

It was taken in the mews house of Ghislaine Maxwell. I had a house in that mews at that time. 

I never saw Prince Andrew in the mews but Maxwell would come and go. I fear for the Prince because – whatever else he does in life – that photograph will always haunt him.

Outraged denial is not enough and will only fuel more suspicions of wrongdoing.

It is not the job of Buckingham Palace’s press office to try to rebuff the many questions that legitimately arise. 

And I say this as someone who moved into public relations after I left the BBC.

He forged close links with Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev (who is pictured above at an EU partnership meeting in May) whose regime is said to have rigged elections and thrown political opponents in jail and tortured them

He forged close links with Azerbaijan’s president Ilham Aliyev (who is pictured above at an EU partnership meeting in May) whose regime is said to have rigged elections and thrown political opponents in jail and tortured them

Prince Andrew must come clean about his relationship with Epstein, and admit he made a huge mistake in continuing their friendship.

That is the PR advice I would give him. Nothing else will lay this matter to rest. Quite apart from the paramount rights of the women who may have been victims of Epstein, only the truth will do.

The Queen does not need or deserve another royal scandal at the age of 93. But with every new revelation, and deafening silence from Andrew, the royals are being dragged further into the mire.

MICHAEL COLE: It's time Prince Andrew came clean about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein

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