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Why we're taking comfort in smirking in unison at Prince Andrew's 'excruciating' Newsnight interview

PUBLISHED: 17:50 19 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:53 20 November 2019

The Duke of York, who was interviewed by the BBC about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein last week

The Duke of York, who was interviewed by the BBC about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein last week

Press Association

Whether you believe him or not, James Marston says our collective reaction to the Prince Andrew interview probably says more about us than him

It doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to guess that Prince Andrew, born into a gilded cage of deference and money, might struggle to grow up without a sense of entitlement.

It doesn't take a huge amount of imagination to assume that a man whose jokes, however feeble, are always laughed at, whose presence, however fleeting, is always honoured, whose decisions, however daft, are rarely challenged, whose words, however put together, are always listened to, might actually think he himself was intrinsically interesting, clever or funny, or always right.

Being a prince must turn one's head - it stands to reason doesn't it?

I've watched with interest the scandal erupt around Prince Andrew these last few days. Not least the largely negative reaction of commentators and others. "Ill advised" "excruciating" "car crash" "lack of humility" "lacking in compassion" - the accusations have been flying around. It's been interesting, not least because what it might or might not tell us about Prince Andrew but perhaps, because it tells us some things about ourselves too.

There must have been a moment in the newsrooms of the BBC and elsewhere where they asked the question "How do we move this Duke of York story on?" "How can we react?". And it obvious any reaction would have to be negative - a story saying Prince Andrew has exonerated himself from sordid allegations isn't news is it? Furthermore Prince Andrew - who has no less faults I'm sure than any of the rest of his family, after all Prince William and Prince Harry have not a smidgen less of a sense of entitlement than him - is currently cast in the role of the wicked villain. It was always going to play out badly. I cannot imagine any advisor suggesting he do an interview like this - though I'm sure the Newsnight team suggested he "set the record straight", and finally "have his say", "draw a line" - it's the oldest and most effective trick in the journalist's box of tricks, and it works because it so often appeals to vanity and pride, and none of us are immune to that I'm afraid. None of this detract from the magnificent skill and aplomb of Emily Maitlis who is clearly at the top of her game and should win the most glittering of awards for this.

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If the prince is lying he'll be found out, if he's telling the truth - which I think he probably is - then it doesn't much matter. He's still the Duke of York, he's still going to be right, he's still going to be wealthy and live, in some ways, at our expense, he's still going to be called sir and people will still laugh at his jokes. Having said all that I can't help but have some sympathy for anyone who loses their way. Plenty of people make mistakes and plenty of us have chosen the wrong friends. Our reaction to this latest development in Prince Andrew's extraordinary life shows an utter lack and somewhat unpleasant lack of forgiveness on our part.

Admittedly the argument that we pay for him so he should behave is a strong one but he's still human. Who of us hasn't been humble when we should have been? Who hasn't lacked compassion? Who hasn't got things wrong in life? Who lives up to the standards we impose on our royal family? Quite.

I don't much like his sense of entitlement but who doesn't suffer from that? Who doesn't feel they should sell their houses for more than they paid for it? Who doesn't think their children should be educated by the state? Who doesn't think they should be listened to? Who doesn't feel they deserve the benefit of the doubt? And who hasn't, on occasion, felt they know best? I know I do. There may be degrees of it but we all feel entitled to something.

None of this means Prince Andrew was right in choosing a billionaire as a friend. Wealth like that of Mr Epstein at the very least points to the characteristic of greed. And let us not forget the rich are unencumbered by the middling morality we assume they live by. They have different rules I'm afraid. Whatever Mr Epstein did, the crime we are ignoring is probably his wealth itself, surely it is criminal to be that rich in a world of the starving? Or is the implications of this for so many of us in the western world too difficult to wrestle with?

Indeed if we accept he is telling the truth then his lack of compassion for a woman who is accusing him falsely is totally understandable isn't it? And why do we assume he isn't compassionate just because he doesn't seem to express it as explicitly as we feel he ought to? How many of us express sympathy publically, or even privately, for the victims of crime? Or injustice? Or how many of us even worry about these things until they affect us directly?

Prince Andrew might have exposed himself and scored an own goal but I can't help thinking the negative reaction and condemnation of it is because by doing so he has shown us an ugly side to ourselves - our own hypocrisy.

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