Although the interview will be remembered for the weirdness of its details—the pizza and the sweat—its true value lies elsewhere. It provided, through an apparently unaware narrator, a portrait of the whole toxic brew that fed the Epstein scandal and others like it. When historians try to understand the interplay of celebrity and sexual predation in the early 21st century, it will be as revealing a document as the recent books on Harvey Weinstein. Every abuser requires enablers. Every abuser requires silenced victims. Every abuser requires blind eyes.
These 45 minutes of television laid out the whole sorry dynamic. Take an aristocrat and offer him access to an exciting whirl of glittering people. Remember that he is used to, from birth, the constant presence of “staff,” so that he invisibly divides the world into his peers and those shadowy beings who fulfill his every whim. (“I don’t wish to appear grand, but there were a lot of people who were walking around Jeffrey Epstein’s house,” he told Maitlis. “I interacted with them, if you will, to say, ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good afternoon,’ but I didn’t [ask], ‘What are you doing here?’ ‘Why are you here?’ ‘What's going on?’”) Then offer him the use of a house, a plane, an island, an implicit transaction of money for royal stardust. He is a trophy, rarer even than a stuffed lion, to show off to friends.
This is a world where houses are busy, as Andrew put it, like “a railway station”—run by staff, of course—and are much more convenient than staying in a hotel. A whole class of humans, just so much moving scenery, keeps the world turning. A stratified approach to humanity was evident throughout the interview. Repeatedly, Andrew missed opportunities to express sympathy for Epstein’s victims. (His PR adviser quit two weeks before the interview, after advising against it.) They didn’t seem to exist as vividly as he and his friends.
If the prince had not come across so unsympathetically, there might have been another lesson to be drawn from his words: the deforming effect of Britain’s obsession with its royal family on the members of that family. They are treated with extreme deference and extreme resentment, a divide that threatens to shear their psyches in two. Kate Middleton is praised and reviled for the flat dullness of her public image. For every cruel column accusing Meghan and Harry of narcissism, there are huge numbers of supporters who adore them uncritically. For Prince Andrew, there is a sharp disconnect between the fawning millionaires with whom he surrounds himself and the relentless hostility of a press that sees him as a spendthrift playboy.
Buried in Andrew’s words were plenty of reasons to pity him. He grew up, he said, in an “institution”—using the same word for the royal family that you might for a children’s home or youth prison. He was careful of having photographs taken, constantly on his guard. He could not tell if anything strange was happening around Epstein, because “if you are somebody like me, then people behave in a subtly different way.” (It reminded me of the old joke that the queen thinks everywhere smells of fresh paint.) His description of his inability to sweat after serving in the navy sounded like a hint that he found the experience traumatic. Despite his apparent lack of remorse, I did feel there was something tragic about his story: a man born into a role he didn’t ask for, given money and attention he didn’t earn, living a gilded, hyper-visible, fundamentally abnormal life.