LONDON (AFP) - Britain's Prince Andrew provoked a backlash Sunday (Nov 17) following an extraordinary TV interview branded "disastrous" by public relations experts in which he denied having sex with an alleged victim of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The royal was lambasted from all quarters for his lack of judgement and empathy with Epstein's victims, while his eyebrow-raising defence that he was at a high street pizza chain, never sweated and only stayed at the disgraced financier's home because he was "honourable" drew derision.
The unprecedented interview was the first time Queen Elizabeth II's second son has answered questions from the media about Virginia Robert's allegations.
Roberts, now Giuffre, claims she was forced to have sex with the prince on three occasions - in London in 2001 when she was 17, in New York and on Epstein's private Caribbean island.
Andrew has repeatedly denied the accusations. The interview with the BBC was a PR gamble intended to draw a line under the saga. Instead, it generated uniformly negative newspaper coverage.
Image consultant Mark Borkowski said the exchanges were "like watching a man in quicksand" and that he had "never seen anything so disastrous".
The royal family is used to having a difficult relationship with Britain's press and, according to some reports, they are already worried about the media fallout from the interview.
"There is concern in Buckingham Palace," a royal source told The Sunday Times, which said aides to the queen and Prince Charles had been divided over the wisdom of the interview.
The paper added that one of Andrew's press advisers had quit the role two weeks ago, having advised against it. Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC, said the ill-advised interview was "the latest indication of a malaise afflicting the Royal Household".
Charles, he said, should "have the courage to... tell Prince Andrew to retire from public life on the basis his judgement has been called into question one too many times".
'IT NEVER HAPPENED'
Andrew, 59, is eighth in line to the throne. He has been dogged for years by criticism of his links to Epstein, who was found dead in a New York jail in August.
A coroner ruled that he committed suicide by hanging while awaiting trial on federal charges that he had he trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex.
Giuffre alleges the financier abused her for years and farmed her out to his wealthy friends. She first made her allegations against Andrew in a 2015 US civil court deposition and has repeated them in more recent TV interviews.
"I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened," Andrew said, referring to her claim that they had had sex. He said that he had "no recollection" of having met her.
The prince said he had in fact been "at home with the children" on the March 2001 night in question, having earlier taking his daughter Princess Beatrice to a pizza restaurant. He denied they had shared a sweaty dance at a London nightclub, saying that at the time he could not sweat due to a condition related to having fought in the 1982 Falklands War.
And he described a picture showing him with his arm around Giuffre, with Epstein's friend Ghislaine Maxwell in the background, was "a photograph of a photograph of a photograph", hinting that it could have been doctored.
'CONVENIENT PLACE TO STAY'
Epstein, a US multi-millionaire, pleaded guilty in 2008 to procuring a girl under the age of 18 for prostitution and served 13 months in a US prison.
Nonetheless Andrew, who had hosted him at Windsor Castle and remained in contact after he was released, expressed little regret for the friendship, saying it had "seriously beneficial outcomes" unrelated to the controversies.
Lawyers for Giuffre and other alleged Epstein victims in the US have said the prince should be interviewed under oath by investigators there who continue to probe the scandal.
Andrew said he would "in the right circumstances" but added he was "bound by what my legal advice is".
The prince faced uncomfortable questions over staying with Epstein at his Manhattan townhouse shortly after his release from prison, when he was captured on video waving goodbye to a woman at the front door.
He repeatedly insisted he was "not close" to the disgraced financier and that his home was simply "a convenient place to stay".
Andrew also claimed he spent several days there to end their friendship face-to-face - in an "honourable" way - but ultimately conceded it was "the wrong thing to do".
"It was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down," he said.