Did Prince Andrew nearly come to blows with Queen's aide? Duke of York 'squared up' to respected ex-admiral but Buckingham Palace repeatedly refuse to say if row got physical
- Speculation still swirls around Prince Andrew's altercation with a palace aide
- Buckingham palace has refused to comment any further on what transpired
- It is understood the argument has since been 'resolved' with no more conflict
For now, and possibly ever more, the fine points of Prince Andrew’s toe-to-toe altercation with the Queen’s Master of Household remain as closely guarded as any Royal secret.
While all parties concede the Duke of York had a ‘disagreement’ with ex-Naval Vice Admiral Tony Johnstone-Burt, there has been less clarity on its cause, or whether – as one senior Buckingham Palace figure told this newspaper – it became physical.
Was there a bit of shoving, perhaps? Or some poking? Or maybe something worse?
Despite several requests for clarification, Buckingham Palace refuses to be drawn.
Andrew’s friends insist it was a heated row and nothing more. And not for a nanosecond would Mr Johnstone-Burt, the embodiment of discretion and an officer and a gentleman, contemplate spilling the beans.
Speculation has swirled inside the Palace and beyond since The Mail on Sunday broke the story, and gossip was further stoked last week by the release of Mr Johnstone-Burt’s name along with a version of events strongly suggesting that he, and not the Duke, was out of line. One newspaper reported that the Duke ‘squared up’ to Mr Johnstone-Burt.
Not for a nanosecond would Mr Johnstone-Burt, the embodiment of discretion and an officer and a gentleman, contemplate spilling the beans.
Not surprisingly, this emanated from Andrew’s camp. In contrast, Mr Johnstone-Burt, 61 – who has been left ‘embarrassed’ by the affair – has rather commendably instructed his friends not to talk publicly of it, not even to defend him. Those who know him are not surprised. Loyalty and duty are his watchwords and, it must be stressed, he is no mere flunkey.
He joined the Palace six years ago and as Master of Household is in charge of ‘below stairs’ operations, responsible for 250 staff covering catering, housekeeping, entertainment, maintenance and administration.
Interestingly, he has known the Duke for nearly 40 years. They both saw action in the Falklands conflict as helicopter pilots, flying decoy missions against enemy missiles and transporting men and supplies around the Task Force. It is telling that someone who knows both men described Mr Johnstone-Burt as ‘an emollient type’, adding: ‘I have never seen him get into a blazing row with anyone.’
The same cannot be said of the Duke. Habitually described as boorish and arrogant, he is prone to tantrums. Six years ago, armed Royal protection officers mistook him for an intruder as he strolled in the grounds of Buckingham Palace. Others might have gracefully laughed off the misunderstanding, but Andrew allegedly raged at them.
To begin with at least, his Navy career followed a roughly similar arc to that of Mr Johnstone-Burt’s, but the latter, a married father of five, would rise much higher.
While the Duke’s dedication was never in question, he left the service as a commander when it became clear that unlike Mr Johnstone-Burt, he had neither the intellect nor leadership qualities to make admiral.
The Duke of York reportedly 'squared up' to the Queen’s Master of Household during teh altercation
‘Agreeable enough company in the wardroom but rather overbearing and a bit of bully,’ was one officer’s verdict at the time. It was after leaving the Navy that Andrew succeeded his cousin, the Duke of Kent, as a roving emissary for British Trade International, the Government’s main vehicle for promoting exports and inward investment.
Few thought him suitable for this delicate post and so it would prove.
He drew frequent criticism over his behaviour and it was claimed that his nickname among the British diplomatic community in the Gulf was HBH (His Buffoon Highness). One former diplomat claimed the moniker stemmed from Andrew’s ‘childish obsession’ with doing exactly the opposite of what had been agreed in pre-visit meetings. Eventually he was forced to relinquish the post in 2011 when his association with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein emerged.
Prior to the recent bust-up, Andrew’s view of Mr Johnstone-Burt – a man who once outranked him and is much admired by the Queen for his dynamism – is not known and vice-versa.
But could some residual rivalry have inflamed the row?
The Mail on Sunday reported last week that the Duke got upset because he was told that what he wanted wasn’t possible. That turned out to be a room at Buckingham Palace for his Pitch@Palace initiative, which helps connect entrepreneurs with potential patrons. He was told it was fully booked.
Speculation has swirled inside the Palace and beyond since The Mail on Sunday broke the story
There are differing accounts of what happened next.
Palace sources have tried to paint the incident as a ‘minor tiff’, with Andrew – under intense pressure over his links to Epstein – apparently ‘fine’ about being denied a room. Some might find this report difficult to swallow, however.
Why, say other sources, would Prince Charles have to ask his brother to apologise if it was just a little contretemps?
They are also sceptical of the claim that Andrew turned on Mr Johnstone-Burt only after he ‘started speaking his mind about Pitch@Palace’.
That Mr Johnstone-Burt, with a strong sense of duty and steeped in etiquette, should disparage a senior Royal’s pet project to his face is – according to those who know him – unthinkable. To be fair to Andrew, he has been praised for his venture which claims to have created nearly 6,000 jobs and generated £1.1 million in economic activity.
It works by linking innovative start-up companies with potential investors, supporters and key business contacts. At the same time, it has given the Duke the opportunity to travel the world in luxury, living up to his Air Miles Andy tag.
In May, he took a return trip on a private jet to Canada for a Pitch@Palace event – despite numerous commercial flights being available.
With an estimated costs of upwards of £120,000, the Palace claimed the expense had been met ‘privately’ – but it remains unclear who footed the bill. Andrew also timed the launch of an initiative in Bahrain with the Grand Prix.
The Duke, who had other official commitments in the sovereign state, invited his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson along with daughter Beatrice and her boyfriend, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi.
The Yorks stayed at the Ritz Carlton, where they were guests of the Crown Prince of Bahrain. Plans to launch Pitch@Palace in the US later this year have been put on ice in the wake of the Epstein case. The Duke is reportedly concerned about being drawn into civil proceedings brought by some of Epstein’s victims. He has insisted he never saw or suspected any criminal behaviour.
A source said: ‘Andrew has openly said he can’t see how he can go back to the US at the moment with everything that is going on. I know this is a source of enormous frustration as it is one of his favourite places in the world to go.’
It is also a country close to Mr Johnstone-Burt’s heart. He has many friends there, having once been the Chief of Staff to Nato’s Supreme Allied Command Transformation at Norfolk, Virginia.
Speaking on a television programme in 2016 about his role within the Royal household, Mr Johnstone-Burt loyally said of the Queen: ‘She is probably the best leader I have ever worked for. She is the most humble.’ He added: ‘The greatest leaders have the greatest humility and the greatest understanding and caring about people.’
Buckingham Palace said: ‘Some time ago there was a disagreement between the Duke of York and a member of staff.
‘The disagreement was resolved and there are no ongoing issues.’