Problem Andrew’s Aussie trip exposes
No matter what you think of Prince Andrew, Duke of York, there is one thing I think we can all agree on: His Instagram account might be one of the most boring in existence.
Shot after shot of the 59-year-old royal posing with assorted semicircles of dignitaries, of him inspecting a digger in an out-of-focus video, the odd spot of ribbon-cutting and the royal astride a baleful-looking pony are banal to the extreme.
However, from the account you would have very little idea that the Prince is currently in Australia.
On Monday night, Andrew slipped into the country, landing in Perth. There was no fanfare. No lead-up press coverage. It was an extraordinarily subdued and unusual arrival that looked a lot like he was trying to steal into the country without attracting media attention.
This in itself is unusual. The royal family's movements are generally widely trumpeted to drum up maximum media exposure. Some royal reporters claim that the Duke's press team used to post advance details about his upcoming events on his Facebook page, however that has been denied by his office.
The royal Court Circular, which daily updates the public on the Windsors' official engagements, has not detailed a single event the Prince has attended, instead having only revealed: "The Duke of York this afternoon departed from Heathrow Airport, London, for Australia."
Instead, we have been left with a curiously under-the-radar official royal visit. Andrew is an avid social media user yet has only posted one shot of himself meeting local entrepreneurs on Wednesday night to his Instagram account, with the same image uploaded to his official Facebook page also.
Andrew is here as part of his Pitch@Palace initiative, which he has been running for five years and aims to help young entrepreneurs. However, already his presence in Australia has attracted public ire, with commenters taking to his Facebook page to complain about his presence, given his well-publicised friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
While Andrew was never the royal family's biggest drawcard, the fact only one member of the public showed up to his Wednesday night event at Perth's Murdoch University is a new, deeply embarrassing low point.
The stealthy nature of his trip is perhaps understandable: In the last few months his friendship with Epstein has dominated the headlines with footage emerging of the Prince staying at Epstein's massive mansion after Epstein's conviction. Andrew has also faced renewed claims by Virginia Giuffre Roberts that she had sex with the Duke when she was 17 years old. Andrew has strenuously denied her claims and the Palace said in a statement, "It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation."
Despite initially going to ground at a Spanish golf resort when news broke of Epstein's arrest and then death, Andrew made a quiet, if rocky, return to public life. In August, the UK children's charity the NSPCC distanced itself from the Duke despite him having been listed as a "patron" on their website. In a statement they said: "Prince Andrew is no longer our patron, he supported our Full Stop campaign which ended in 2009."
In September it was reported that Andrew's planned opening of a railway station had been cancelled amid concerns it would "change the narrative".
Essentially, having Andrew and his tarnished reputation (however unfair this may be as there is no proof he has been involved in any wrongdoing) now fronting up to cut a ribbon or unveil a plaque represents a potential PR liability. Complicating this situation further is of the 200 charities that the Duke is a patron of, 33 involve young people and education.
It would appear that Andrew's team is trying to walk a very fine line between business-as-usual visits while not stirring up too much attention. The vast, existential question here is: If the point of being a full-time working member of the royal family is to draw attention to good causes, what happens when you can't do that? What happens if vast swathes of the public turn their back on you? Just what is his future career as a working royal going to look like? And can his image can be rehabilitated?
One thing we do know is that Andrew's road to potential PR recovery is going to be tough.
Earlier this week it was reported by the Times that the FBI was now probing the Duke's connection to Epstein. Sources from the US Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, said: "The US investigation is focusing on several potential victims (of Epstein) in the hope that they can provide more details about Prince Andrew and his connection to the Epstein case. They are not going to dismiss it (claims relating to Andrew) because he is a royal."
Buckingham Palace strongly rejects any suggestion of any wrongdoing on Andrew's behalf.
"The Duke of York has been appalled by the recent reports of Jeffrey Epstein's alleged crimes. His Royal Highness deplores the exploitation of any human being and the suggestion he would condone, participate in or encourage any such behaviour is abhorrent."
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and freelance writer with 15 years' experience working with many of Australia's biggest media brands.