Pissed-off Toff reviews two TV documentaries about members of the Royal Family, and reports mixed feelings.
Both ITV and Channel 4 wanted maximum exposure for their documentaries about Harry & Megan and Prince Andrew respectively. Harry & Megan: An African Journey was broadcast on ITV for two evenings running, just as The Prince & The Paedophile was broadcast on Channel 4, more or less simultaneously and also on two consecutive evenings. Whereas the documentary about Harry and Megan was most informative about them (too much so for their own good, I’d say), the one about Prince Andrew and the deceased billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was altogether inconclusive, but all too revealing about ‘Cathy’ Newman, the ghastly presenter of the programme.
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Let’s take Harry and Megan – or perhaps I should say the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – first. This 45-minute documentary, given much advance publicity, sees them accompanied on their African tour by the ITV newsreader Tom Bradby, who has known Harry for ages. Almost straight away, it becomes clear that what is under scrutiny is not the tour itself, but the existential angst experienced by this most privileged royal couple, all of it blamed on media attention which they find intolerable. “Every time I hear a click,” says Harry right at the beginning, “every time I see a flash, it takes me straight back,” refering to his mother’s death in a car accident in Paris in 1997.
I’m afraid that I’m already struggling to sympathise. After more than twenty years, Harry ought surely to have come to terms with his mother’s death. Nor was it the fault of the media, as he so clearly believes; it was caused by the idiocy of a drunken driver employed by the father of a playboy lover.
We start off in the township of Neanga, outside Cape Town. Here, and throughout the scenes which follow, Harry and Megan hold hands a lot, which I suppose is nice. “I am your mother and your sister,” Megan tells a crowd of young black girls. She also refers to herself as “a woman of colour” and to herself and her husband as “a mixed-race couple.” Well, why not? She has incredibly long black hair. I wonder – trivially – whether it has been straightened. I note – again trivially – that Harry is going very bald on top and that he’s rather bow-legged. Occasionally he sounds like his father; but mainly he speaks with an Estuary accent … and I do wish he wouldn’t. Oh, and Tom Bradby has a gold ring on the little finger of his right hand. Shouldn’t it be on the fourth finger of his left hand? The public-school educated Bradby (Sherborne, since you ask) also affects an Estuary accent as well as the occasional annoying glottal stop, as in: “Is this the way you see i’?”
Next, we’re off to Botswana, the country that Harry most loves on this, his favourite continent. There is a suggestion that if he could live here, away from the prying lenses of the hated media, he would happily do so. I cannot help reflecting that Botswana is, almost without doubt, the place where the infamous Lord Lucan ended up in his own search for – um – privacy.
Now we have Harry on the mind-numbingly tedious topic of ‘climate change’. “It’s a race against time,” he tell us. “No-one can deny facts. No-one can deny science.” Here he loses more of my sympathy, because despite the endless loud claims to the contrary, ‘man-made climate change’ is not an undisputed fact, and it’s not settled science. Championed by the UN’s IPCC (itself more a lobby than a scientific body), it’s just a theory which numerous experts throughout the world reject. I do wish the royals would pipe down about it, especially since their own ‘carbon footprint’ is enormous … assuming, that is, that you accept the validity of this concept; which I emphatically do not.
Then we’re off to Angola, where the Halo Trust, founded in 1988 and championed by Harry’s mother, is doing such admirable work clearing the place of land-mines. The sight of children with limbs blown off is terrible. So it seems a misjudgement – to say the least – that both Tom Bradby and Prince Harry chose this moment to talk about their own emotional problems; which, compared to what these children have suffered, are entirely unimportant.
“Last year I had to take some time off work to deal with my own mental issues,” says Bradby. “I thought I was out of the woods,” echoes the Prince, refering to his mother’s death 22 years previously. “Then it all came back, and I realised I had to manage.” He also hints at a cooling in relations with his brother. “Inevitably stuff happens,” he informs us. “Oh yeah?” I wonder. “What stuff? Having your limbs blown off?”
I’m afraid it gets worse, because soon we’re in the National Park of Malawi, where Harry agonises about “how we can make the difference we want to make.” At some stage there’s a press conference. “We will do everything we can to build a better world,” he assures us. “Lighten up, mate, would you,” I’m longing to say, not very deferentially. I also reflect that any member of the Royal Family who wants to ‘build a better world’ (yawn) would do well to get used the press interest which comes with such grand intent. Is there really no-one who can advise Prince Harry?
The last words go to a clearly emotional Megan, who has, as she says, “tried the stiff-upper-lip thing” and has failed. “It’s hard,” she tells us, re all this media attention. “I don’t think anybody can understand that.” And: “It’s been complicated.” She and her husband are “existing, not living.” And: “Not many people have asked if I’m OK.”
Hmmm … Not many people have asked me if I’m OK, come to that. Plus, who does the Duchess of Sussex remind me of? It’s been bothering me. Ah yes! Got it!! It’s Julia Roberts. It’s all those teeth that do it, and that ear-to-ear ‘smile’ which might quite soon become infuriating. And all that transatlantic psycho-babble, too.
Anyhow, in this strife-ridden continent where countless people live in poverty and danger, their lives ruined by war and their bodies often maimed by it, and where the risk of starvation and homelessness is never far off, one of the very most privileged and protected couples in the whole world sees fit to tell us how much they are suffering.
This documentary might be a coup for Bradby. But he has done his royal friends no favours. Indeed, I look forward with renewed interest to the court cases that they are separately bringing against the tabloid press. Awful though the latter can be, and staunch monarchist that I in principle am, I am no longer sure which side I support in the battle to come.
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We now turn to The Prince & The Paedophile, the Channel 4 documentary presented by Cathy Newman in which the 12-year friendship between Prince Andrew and the deceased billionaire Jeffrey Epstein is explored. As the title suggests, this is intended to be an exposé of sexual misconduct or worse … and in this area Cathy Newman, a disciple of the #MeToo movement, has form.
Last year she revealed that as a 16-year-old scholarship girl at Charterhouse, she was sexually abused and harassed on a number of occasions. Once, a boy grabbed her hand and placed it on his penis. Then she was hosed down by a group of boys seeking to expose what lay beneath her white shirt. Then there was the boys’ habit of giving the girls scores for their attractiveness as they walked into chapel; and we can presumably take it that the swotty little Cathy did not score well. Nor did her woes end there, because in one of her earlier jobs she encountered more ‘sexist abuse’, as The Sunday Times put it, when a senior colleague pinched her bum and chased her round the office.
Some might consider all this to be part of the rough-and-tumble of life, and might even think parts of it rather funny. But Newman thinks otherwise, and having recently made a documentary entitled Sexual Assault on Campus, she is very much a campaigner in the flourishing ‘sexual abuse’ industry. So now we see her investigating Prince Andrew and Epstein, and with her shrewish eyes and angry mouth, with her nails painted black, with her mad frizzy hair and what looks like a large wart on the left side of her chin … with these fearsome attributes, she is every inch the puritan inquisitor; or, perhaps, a modern witch.
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Eager to unearth guilt, Newman has done her legwork, and we soon see her standing outside a cottage in Belgravia which she describes as ‘Ghislaine Maxwell’s townhouse in London’. Here, she is over-egging the cake, because number 44 Kinnerton Street, London SW1 is little more than a pied-à-terre tucked away in a back street with a small pub opposite it. Not by any stretch of the imagination is it a grand ‘townhouse’ like the residences in Wilton Crescent nearby. But no matter. Ghislaine Maxwell is one of the villains of this documentary, and with its connotations of wealth, in this case ill-gotten, talk of a ‘townhouse’ suits Newman’s sour-faced narrative.
Ghislaine Maxwell, we are told, was the favourite daughter of the infamous Robert Maxwell, was at Balliol with Boris, later befriended Epstein and, according to one of Newman’s sources, acted as his pimp. It was allegedly in her mews house in Kinnerton Street that Prince Andrew met Virginia Roberts, a 17-year-old American girl, and had sex with her in 2001; the first of three times, alleges Roberts; the second being in Manhattan, and the third at an ‘orgy’ on Esptein’s private island in the Caribbean.
Newman now turns to a sworn deposition made by Roberts. “You did well. The Prince had fun,” Epstein apparently told her the day after her first royal encounter. “I felt like I was being graded,” wrote Roberts. “It was horrible.” She also claims that Epstein later paid her $15,000 “for what I had done and to keep my mouth shut about working [sic] with the Prince.”
According to her own account, Roberts was basically a sex slave. “Epstein forced me to have sex with other people,” she wrote. Also: “I was trapped in a world I didn’t understand” … although she presumably understood the $15,000 well enough. It’s all pretty lurid, with Roberts claiming that during one sex session overseen by Epstein “Ghislaine was touching me in my private areas as well.”
However, as becomes apparent early in the programme, Cathy Newman’s investigations face a crucial problem, in that she relies entirely on the claims and sworn deposition of one witness or so-called ‘victim’: Virginia Roberts. But as regards hard proof of criminal wrongdoing, there’s none to be had.
There can be no doubt that for all his good looks, charm and charisma, Epstein was a pretty sleazy character. “There was something not quite right about him,” says a US detective. But although he is referred to throughout the programme as a paedophile, no proof is advanced for that either. A certain ‘Conchita’ reports his interest in 14-year-old girls. However, Lady Victoria Hervey, It-Girl daughter of the 6th Marquess of Bristol and a former girlfriend of Prince Andrew, says she never saw underage girls with Epstein. And as Lady Victoria points out, where pretty, young and available girls are concerned, any place frequented by the super-rich – St Tropez, for example – is swarming with them.
As for Prince Andrew, even if he did have sex three times with Virginia Roberts when she was aged 17 and 18, so what? Nor is there the slightest indication that he ever had sex with any underage girl. Much though Cathy Newman clearly wishes it were otherwise, she can’t pin anything on him. So with hard proof lacking, or even entirely absent, she falls back on an accusatory and censorious tone, and the suggestion of guilt by association.
We’ve already heard how Ghislaine Maxwell’s cottage in a backstreet of Belgravia is described as her ‘London townhouse’: think Cruella de Vil with a chauffeur-driven Lagonda waiting outside. Then Newman reports how at a party hosted by Epstein in his Palm Beach house, Donald Trump – spawn of the Devil – and one other man were eyeing up a girl, and Trump said “She’s hot!” The implication is that this is an unspeakable outrage. Whereas at the very worst, it’s just rather vulgar; though something that Newman would no doubt criminalise if she could. Then she informs us, in similar condemnatory style, that Prince Andrew often stayed with Epstein “for days at a time.” Now I know that Cathy Newman is a poor scholarship girl, but even she must be aware that it is quite normal for well-off people with large houses to entertain their friends for days – or even weeks – at a time.
For all her inquisitorial zeal, then, not only does Newman come away empty-handed, but one is left wondering whether her star witness Virginia Roberts is a liar and a fantasist. Roberts insists that she had sex three times with ‘Andy’, as she refers to him. On the other hand, a statement issued by Buckingham Palace (but not reported in this documentary) contradicts her point blank, thus: “Is is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation.”
Only one of these statements can be true. But in the end, do we care?
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Let us conclude on a more philosophical note … which is that quite coincidentally, both of these documentaries illustrate the law of unintended consequences; because the presenter Tom Bradby wishes his subjects well; and yet he harms them; whilst the presenter ‘Cathy’ Newman wishes her subjects ill; and yet succeeds only in demonstrating, once again, that she is herself a vicious little shrew.