RICHARD KAY on distressing questions for the queen and the palace

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There is never a good time for the proverb “bad penny” to appear, so imagine how the Queen was informed of Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest and his appearance in court on charges of sex trafficking.

Maxwell was once a welcome visitor to royal houses, an overnight guest at Sandringham and was invited to one of the most starry parties ever held at Windsor Castle, the so-called dance of decades in the summer 2000.

It wasn’t his only invitation to royal glamor in Windsor, either. In 2006, she was invited to the sumptuous costume ball of Princess Beatrice to mark her 18th birthday.

On another occasion, the living socialite was photographed alongside Prince Andrew in the royal precinct of Ascot, where admission is at the discretion of “His Majesty”.

Yesterday, while the Queen was still in police custody with Prince Philip in Windsor, there must have been the most frightening feelings at the news that the daughter of the disgraced media tycoon Robert Maxwell had been arrested.

Queen Elizabeth II attends military ceremony in Windsor Castle Quadrilateral to mark her birthday June 13, 2020 in Windsor

As a mother, Her Majesty will, of course, be concerned about what the arrest of Maxwell and his knowledge of the alleged activities of pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein mean for his son.

And as a monarch, there will be anger at the prospect that the good name of the royal family is dragged back into the mud again.

No family matter preoccupied her more than the shadow that hung over Andrew. For her, it is infinitely more serious than the selfish trivialities of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex in exile.

For more than seven months, the crisis has been going on, each sordid revelation getting a little closer to Buckingham Palace.

Since that Newsnight interview in which Andrew has dramatically offered no sympathy to the victims of Epstein and has shown no remorse for his friendship with the billionaire sex offender, fears about the implications for the prince have increased.

Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts, 17, at the house of Ghislaine Maxwell in London, Great Britain, March 13, 2001

Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts, 17, at the house of Ghislaine Maxwell in London, Great Britain, March 13, 2001

Maxwell’s arrest changes everything. She, remember, is in the famous picture of Andrew with his arm around the naked belly of the teenage Virginia Roberts – a picture of which the Duke of York has no memory – which was taken by Epstein in the Maxwell’s house in Belgravia.

Does she really believe Andrew’s insinuations that the photo was tampered with or manipulated?

Then there is Roberts’ most damaging claim of all, which says that at 17, she and Andrew had sex three times. The prince denies it.

If anyone knows the truth, it must be Maxwell, with whom Andrew befriended during his visits to New York after his divorce from the Duchess of York.

It was through Maxwell that Andrew was introduced to Epstein, who was found dead in his New York prison cell a year ago. And on all those social occasions – including Beatrice’s party – where Ghislaine was Andrew’s guest, Epstein too.

As the royal family and their advisers agonized over how best to protect the integrity of the monarchy from the fallout from the Epstein affair, there may be little consolation.

Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell at Ascot. With them, Edward (far left) and Caroline Stanley (far right)

Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell at Ascot. With them, Edward (far left) and Caroline Stanley (far right)

The FBI charges against Maxwell relate to a period in the mid-1990s – before Prince Andrew never met the ladle Epstein.

Perhaps most importantly, the decision to deprive Andrew of all of his royal office and force him to withdraw from official service seems even wiser.

With hindsight, rapid action – brokered by Prince Charles and Prince William – was the only time the royal family was on the front line. Andrew’s stubborn inability to sever contact with Epstein after being first charged with sex offenses involving minors was the main factor in his own downfall.

He later broke ties with him – but only after being photographed walking with the financier in Central Park, New York.

However, he continued to maintain his friendship with Ghislaine, the woman who brought them together and who was described as “Jeffrey’s pimp”.

Although the relationship between the two is considered platonic, their lives were so closely linked that Fergie would have feared that Maxwell would have an unhealthy influence on him. Despite this, the two remained friends.

In the Newsnight interview, Andrew admitted that he saw Maxwell last year. The meeting, he said, took place before Epstein’s arrest on charges of sex trafficking last July and did not discuss the billionaire. He said, “There was nothing to discuss because it was not in the news. “

Epstein and Maxwell met in New York, where she settled after the death of her father, who fell from his yacht and drowned in 1991.

She was a pivotal figure on the New York social scene. “Very fun, always has been, always is,” said a friend. “I’m not at all surprised that Prince Andrew likes him. She is full of energy, full of projects.

“She would call and say, ‘Ten of us go to the restaurant and then to the club. Come, it will be fun. She was convincing too, and Andrew loved it. “

In 2000, Maxwell and Andrew, who were introduced by the Duchess when she was a regular on the party circuit in New York, were very close.

But they weren’t a couple. She would even introduce him to future girlfriends, like Emma Gibbs. They were often seen together in public.

The pair caused minor commotion when they made an appearance during a Ralph Lauren launch in the city. A source observed: “They certainly seemed to be having a good time together.” Andrew was also a regular guest at dinners she would be hosting at Epstein, who was then her ex-boyfriend, on the Upper East Side.

The importance of Maxwell’s role in Andrew’s life was such that he was even said to have once asked the Queen for permission to take him on an official business trip. It was refused.

Andrew was widely criticized after appearing with Maxwell at a “pimps and prostitutes” themed party hosted by model Heidi Klum.

For his ex-wife, such behavior began to damage his reputation. She was also concerned about the effect it would have on their daughters.

In 2001, when Andrew was about to take office as a British commercial envoy, a friend of the Duchess told the Mail on Sunday: “Fergie and many others who love Andrew think his friendship with Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein has become really dangerous. They just use it for his name and access and he’s so innocent that he doesn’t realize it. “

How these words were to become prophetic. Courtiers are very concerned about what Maxwell’s arrest means to the Duke of York. They believe that this is his intimate knowledge of Epstein, she could damn Andrew or empty him.

For Andrew, his reputation is gone – but for the 94-year-old queen, this latest twist on one of the most unpleasant episodes of her reign can only be troubling.

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