In the week in which it was confirmed that Prince Andrew can be taken to court to answer sexual assault charges, it’s time to ask some pretty fundamental questions about the Duke’s main alibi.
Probably this is one piece in The Reprobate that needs no introduction. The claim that the Queen’s number two son sexually abused Virginia Giuffre when she was 17 is second only to Covid as a headline grabber. But just for the record, this is why Prince Andrew is now one of the most notorious men in the world: despite the Royal Family’s unofficial motto, “Never complain, never explain”, HRH was in 2019 advised by somebody (who probably sought a jobseeker’s allowance shortly afterwards) that he should refute the claims made against him on the BBC TV show Newsnight. His interview, which aired 16th November 2019, was not with some toady but tough-talking Emily Maitlis. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons. Within days the Duke of York had withdrawn from public duties.
Noticeably uncomfortable, the Duke stated that he could not possibly have been with Virginia Giuffre, a woman he says he has no recollection of meeting let alone ravishing, because on the date in question he was at the Woking branch of Pizza Express. In a masterpiece of understatement the restaurant now claims that on most nights of the week it is “usually a little busy.”
Let’s get straight down to brass tacks. The Duke is quite precise about his presence at 65-67 Goldsworth Road, Woking, Surrey. He claims that not only was this royal visit on 10th March 2001, it was also probably between “4 to 5pm.” Was the restaurant empty apart from himself at that time on that day? Far from it. He says he was attending his daughter, Princess Beatrice’s, birthday party. There would also have been a staff of around ten and, let’s say, a dozen other diners at the very least. Photos suggest anything between 50 and 100 ‘covers’.
Are we expected to believe that none of these people remembers the day they visited Pizza Express in Woking when a member of the Royal Family popped in? It isn’t as if this was a regular occurrence. As the Duke confirmed to Maitlis, “it was a very unusual thing for me to do.” So why has nobody come forward? To be absolutely clear: up until today, there’s been no independent confirmation of the Duke’s story.
Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. The alleged visit was now more than 20 years ago. Writing as one who is only slightly younger than the Queen herself, I can barely remember what I did yesterday, let alone around the turn of the century. But wait a minute. I can remember as clear as crystal the night 30 years ago that I went to the theatre. After about 15 minutes the leading lady (Glynis Johns actually) collapsed and the curtain came down. The play began again with her understudy. I remember the incident because it was unexpected and out of the ordinary. We all remember incidents like this.
If I’d been eating in Pizza Express in Woking and the Duke of York came and sat at the next table I’d remember it. If I had been working in the kitchen I could probably remember what topping he requested. And – we’re still talking about me, remember – even though I don’t like the Duke of York, I would come forward and say, “He’s telling the truth.”
Let’s play devil’s advocate once again. Maybe the Duke didn’t actually come into the restaurant. Although he implied he was there for a considerable length of time, enjoying a Quattro Formaggi or whatever, he may only have collected Beatrice in his car and taken her home. Alas, such an explanation isn’t in the Duke’s interests. Such a quick stop-off would imply that he could then have met Virginia Giuffre at Ghislaine Maxwell’s London pad, taken her to Tramp, one of the Duke’s favourite clubs, and then done the dirty later in the evening. This is what Giuffre claims and the Duke denies.
At least two tabloids – the Sun and the Mail – claim to have trashed the Duke’s alibi but their stories can be taken with a ton of salt. We all know the way the tabloids work. They can write whatever they like as long as they don’t name names. And they don’t. We’re told that the Duke’s personal protection officer on the night in question (unnamed) has died. A housekeeper and a butler (both unnamed) can’t remember anything about 10th March 2001. Nor can the guests at the birthday party (all unnamed) and, allegedly, nor can Princess Beatrice, in her case because she went to “any number” of meals at Pizza Express in Woking. All Tramp members must sign the visitors’ book, but a spokesman is quoted as saying that the ledger for 2001 has gone missing. In truth, it’s highly unlikely any of these people would tell the tabloid press anything. If they exist, don’t expect any of them to give evidence.
As I was writing this I was disappointed to discover that I’m not the first person to ask the obvious about Pizza Express. On 28th October last year, ITV’s popular chat show host Lorraine Kelly asked the same thing of Royal Editor Russell Myers. He replied, “You would have expected more people to potentially come out and say, ‘I did see Prince Andrew in Pizza Express.’” Three months down the line this programme also appears not to have jogged anyone’s memory.
What a load of nonsense this is to be sure. The bottom line is that, even if there were only two or three people willing to swear on oath that they saw the Duke of York celebrating daughter Beatrice’s birthday at Pizza Express, Virginia Giuffre’s case would collapse. If no corroboration can be found, the chances are very high indeed that HRH is not telling the truth. Earlier this month The Guardian reported that, according to court documents, the Duke of York’s lawyers “have as yet put nothing forward.”
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