Entertainment / 3 February 2015, 4:00pm / RICHARD KAY AND GEOFFREY LEVY
Nothing has convinced Prince Charles more of the urgency of his plan to slim down the monarchy than the unsavoury scandal swirling around his younger brother, Andrew.
Charles is said to be ‘spitting” about the lurid claims by so-called “sex slave” Virginia Roberts that as a teenager she had sex three times with the Duke of York.
Buckingham Palace, and Prince Andrew himself in Davos last month, have vehemently denied her claims made in America in legal documents. Prince Charles’s concern is not only for his embattled brother.
The scandal has unnerved the heir to the throne by its seedy focus on royal privilege and entitlement. He fears it is doing much potential harm to the reputation — and future — of the monarchy.
At the same time, Andrew, fifth in line to the throne, has privately expressed his dismay that his big brother has shown “little sense of sympathy” for his predicament.
Nor is it the first time that this apparent lack of support for him from the Prince of Wales has come up within palace walls.
“I don’t know why Charles doesn’t defend Andrew more,” the Queen is understood to have told a senior politician on a previous occasion when the Duke of York was in hot water for keeping company with billionaire American paedophile Jeffrey Epstein — the man who allegedly paid Ms Roberts $10 000 to have sex with him.
No one can be surprised that friends of Andrew point out Charles himself is no stranger to accepting favours from the rich, some very unsavoury indeed.
One source he milked joyously for private jet flights on a luxuriously appointed Boeing 727 — and around £40 million for Charles’s favourite causes — was the odious American oil man Armand Hammer, who turned out to be not only a crook but a Soviet spy.
The fact is that these are trying times for certain members of the Royal Family as Charles seeks to move towards his vision of a leaner and more “relevant” monarchy even before he is King.
As far as Andrew is concerned, it is ironic that had he accepted Charles’s offer to be his elder brother’s aide after he left the Royal Navy in 2001, none of this might be happening.
Instead, he jumped at a suggestion from Peter Mandelson, at that time a minister in the Labour administration, for him to become an international trade emissary for the government. Andrew then plunged enthusiastically into a world of dodgy billionaires and ruthless autocrats, one that he still seems to enjoy.
H is timing couldn’t have been worse. For since the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, Charles has established an “understanding” with the Queen, 89 this April, and Prince Philip, 93 and now wearing a hearing aid, to assume an enhanced role almost as “co-monarch”.
This hasn’t improved Charles’s relationship with his siblings, but then the Prince of Wales understandably has his eye on one thing only — the future.
To the surprise of Andrew’s daughters, Princesses Beatrice, 26, and Eugenie, 24 — sixth and seventh in line to the throne — they have not been asked to stand in for the Duchess of Cambridge, when it comes to royal duties, during either of her pregnancies. This despite their father pointing out that they are the only two “blood princesses” of their generation.
“Andrew could have been the one member of the family that Charles relied on,” is the view of a long-standing aide. “But Charles won’t want Andrew to have a significant role when he is King. And if Andrew is shunted to the margins, then his daughters will be, too.”
No one can forget how angry Andrew was when he was excluded — together with Edward and Anne — from the Buckingham Palace balcony at the Jubilee’s RAF fly-past. It was the climax of the whole thing, but he wasn’t there.
Andrew himself saw it as an insult and described it as “a dagger to the heart”. “Everyone got their ear chewed over it,” says a palace employee.
All in all, is it any wonder that Andrew has received such scant support from his brother in the current crisis?
That episode on the balcony was only the beginning of Prince Charles’s grand plans for how things will be when he is King. It was the start of a process which is still on-going, the dismantling of the wider Royal Family, reducing it from one which is so “bloated” that criticism is almost inevitable, to one so slim that the future King Charles III can almost already hear the sound that he likes most of all — praise.
He envisages an active Royal Family based on the King and his immediate family only — Charles, Camilla, William and Kate and their children, and Harry.
He is certainly making allowances for his sister, Anne, the formidable Princess Royal.
“He would find it very hard to rein her in,” says a senior figure. “The pair have never got on particularly well, not since their childhood days, but he knows that the public respect her.”
As for Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest son, his greatest fear is not being granted the title he has coveted since his wedding day in 1999 — Duke of Edinburgh, always worn with much flourish by his father, Prince Philip.
It has been indicated to the Earl of Wessex by his parents that it will be his on the death of his father. But that decision will almost certainly need Charles’s approval.
So Edward, who shares Andrew’s concerns about their diminished role in a trimmed-down monarchy, is concentrating on meaningful areas such as his father’s Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme, which he assumes will remain an indispensable part of the institution.
Thus far he’s always had a trump card — his wife Sophie’s closeness to the Queen. The former PR girl, daughter of a tyre firm executive, rides with her, and they have tea together at Windsor most weekends.
But Sophie does not have much of a relationship with the Duchess of Cornwall. “Camilla’s view is that Sophie wasn’t very welcoming when she joined the Royal Family,” says a friend of the duchess. “They don’t have much to say to each other.”
For his part, Edward’s hope, says a close friend, “is that Sophie will become a royal duchess before Charles becomes King, and be able to look both Camilla and Kate in the eye as an equal”.
“Many of us think it would be extraordinary for the Earl and Countess of Wessex to be somewhat phased out by Charles and perhaps excluded on State occasions,” says a cleric. “But then, who would have thought all the Queen’s children wouldn’t be on the balcony with her for the Jubilee fly-past?”
Few doubt any longer that the former Mrs Parker Bowles, who became Duchess of Cornwall on her marriage to Charles almost ten years ago, will be Queen alongside Charles. Her influence will be considerable — the power behind the throne, it is already being murmured.
As for the ageing royal cousins, such as the Duke of Kent and his sister, Princess Alexandra, the Duke of Gloucester and Prince and Princess Michael, it may be unkind to say so after their years of diligent ribbon-cutting and support for the Queen, but as far as King Charles’s court is concerned, they and their offspring would be surplus to requirements.
The one figure who is entitled to wonder in what direction the monarchy is heading is Prince William. At 32, he is more like his grandmother than his father in not allowing the world to know precisely what he’s thinking.
On the one occasion he did speak out last year — on the ostensibly safe subject of animal conservation — he was accused of hypocrisy when it emerged he had recently been shooting wild boar on the Duke of Westminster’s vast estate in Spain.
Nothing will please Charles more than the arrival of a second grandchild this spring, and yet he knows that, just like 18-month-old Prince George, the new baby will be drawn into the warm embrace of the Middleton family.
What worries the Prince of Wales is what those around him refer to as the “Middleton-isation” of William, something he feels there is little he can do to change.
Kate and William have always spent much of their spare time and holidays with her parents, Carole and Michael — even before George was born — and little time with Charles at Highgrove.
They have been away with the Middletons this week in Mustique, together with the inevitable Pippa and James, celebrating Carole’s 60th birthday. There is no great bond between Camilla and Kate.
When it comes to the Middletons, one has to ask: just what is Charles worrying about?
Most people feel that this tribe of middle-class entrepreneurs, a family who have pulled themselves up by their own endeavours, is just what the monarchy needs.
What is noticeable is that William is clearly attracted to the easy-going, non-royal way the Middletons live, so different from the stiffly royal outlook of his father and so much more in line with an approach to life to which his mother, Diana, was introducing him and brother Harry.
With the Middletons, William loves the family atmosphere he never knew and gets on well with his father-in-law, whom he calls Mike. He particularly enjoys the total absence of status.
At Christmas, instead of staying overnight as usual at Sandringham, William and Kate drove to church on Christmas morning and stayed for the Queen’s Christmas lunch, but then went home to Anmer Hall — where the Middletons were already staying with them. How ironic that William’s father, the man who wants to modernise the monarchy, finds his more traditional instincts aroused by the fear that, through the Middletons, William could be loosening the moorings of his royal roots.
Charles is even puzzled that William and Kate do not surround themselves with the usual array of staff that he himself finds essential to carry out his royal duties.
And again, it is Andrew’s friends who sarcastically suggest that if Charles is serious about slimming down the monarchy he could make a start by cutting back on his own 127 staff, including butlers, valets and chauffeurs.
Even the royals look askance at the strange contrast between the Prince’s extravagant lifestyle on the one hand and the way he wears a favourite suit that has patches where it has been repaired. Some of his shoes have also seen better days.
Fortunately, William seems to have inherited none of his father’s eccentricities, such as taking his own loo seat when he stays overnight with friends.
“William has always been a bit difficult with his father,” says one of Charles’s former aides. “There are aspects of the way he runs his life that William doesn’t like.”
It’s the reason why William has gone out of his way to set up his own private office away from his father’s. At one time they were all together, but now William, who is about to start working as an ambulance helicopter pilot in Norfolk, has his own staff at Kensington Palace.
Ironically, the past 18 months have been some of the most rancorous between the rival royal households since the days of Charles and Diana.
The reason was a plan by the Queen’s private secretary to merge the communications teams of all the major royals under the roof of Buckingham Palace.
Walls were knocked down for a new and large open-plan office on the ground floor, where the teams could all work together.
Ostensibly, the integration was intended to recognise Charles’s enhanced role as the Queen and Prince Philip wind down. But within weeks, Charles had had enough and ordered his staff to return to Clarence House.
What he realised was that the palace arrangement was not meant to elevate his position but, as one of his friends says, “put him on a tighter leash”.
That, surely, is a phrase we shall hear with increasing frequency the closer the ever-vocal Prince of Wales gets to the throne.
Additional reporting: REBECCA ENGLISH and CHRISTOPHER WILSON