Britain’s royal family is facing its biggest crisis since the 1990s, a decade that was marked by divorce and the death of Princess Diana, according to many royal observers.
Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth and eighth in line to the throne, announced last week that he is stepping back from public duties, following a sharp backlash against his remarks in a recent BBC television interview.
The prince was asked about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, a U.S. financier and convicted sex offender who killed himself in jail in August. Andrew was questioned on why he had stayed at Epstein’s house after his conviction.
“I felt that doing it over the telephone was the chicken’s way of doing it, I had to go and see him and talk to him,” Prince Andrew said in the interview.
One of Epstein’s alleged trafficking victims claims she was forced to have sex with the prince, once when she was 17. Andrew has repeatedly denied the accusations and said he is willing to give evidence to U.S. investigators.
The prince’s lack of compassion for Epstein’s victims was shocking, says royal analyst Richard Fitzwilliams.
“What it showed was someone completely out of touch with his audience, and in my opinion with reality,” Fitzwilliams said. “He had to step back from his royal duties. He had basically become toxic.”
Andrew has caused royal embarrassment in the past.
“His marriage to Sarah Ferguson — she proved a disaster as a member of the royal family and has been responsible for numerous embarrassments,” Fitzwilliams said.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
From a prince seen as abusing royal privilege, to another struggling with the scrutiny it brings. Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, have spoken of their dismay at press intrusion and are taking legal action against several newspapers for alleged phone hacking.
In a statement issued last month, Harry said my wife has become “one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences — a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year, throughout her pregnancy and while raising our newborn son.”
Analyst Fitzwilliams says Harry is particularly hurt given that his mother, Princess Diana, died in a car crash as she was being pursued by photographers.
“They simply have to accept that there is going to be a certain amount of cooperation with the press and global interest in everything they do because of who they are,” he said.
There was more unwelcome scrutiny when the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband, was involved in a car accident in January.
And the royals were drawn into the Brexit crisis in September when the Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had misled the Queen when he asked her to suspend parliament.
Royal historian Hugo Vickers says all the controversy is putting a strain on the monarch.
“I do feel sorry for the queen because she’s nearly 94-years-old, her husband is nearly 99, and it’s rather awful that she’s having to face all these things at this particular time,” Vickers said.
Analyst Fitzwilliams says the royal household urgently needs new advisers.
“This has been a dreadful year for the monarchy, the worst since the 1990s. But there’s absolutely no reason to believe that that will go on into next year, if the royals get a grip with their advisers and their press officers, and also, if Harry and Meghan can be persuaded that there is a course that will make them happy as members of the royal family,” Fitzwilliams said.
The Queen will try to draw a line under a difficult year when she gives her televised Christmas Day speech in a month’s time, an event closely watched by many in Britain.
In the same speech in 1992, she famously said that it had been an “annus horribilis” a Latin phrase meaning a “horrible year.” That year, Prince Andrew separated from his wife Sarah Ferguson, Princess Anne divorced her husband Mark Phillips, and a fire destroyed part of Windsor Castle.
It’s likely that 2019 will be remembered as an equally tough year.