Prince Andrew had just begun a week’s vacation at his mother’s Balmoral castle in Scotland, and was possibly in the process of “rekindling” a romance with ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, when a new round of damaging revelations came about his friendship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, U.K. tabloids reported.
The revelations began before news broke Saturday morning that Epstein had died by an apparent suicide in the Manhattan jail where he was awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking.
On Friday, hundreds of pages of documents in a 2015 lawsuit, related to Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking operation, were released. The documents contained further explosive claims from Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Epstein’s “sex slaves,” about how the financier and his socialite friend Ghislaine Maxwell forced her to have sex with Andrew when she was 17.
The documents also revealed the testimony of a second accuser, Johanna Sjoberg, who said that Andrew groped her at a party at Epstein’s New York mansion in 2001, and made sexual advances on her and Giuffre with a puppet that looked like him.
The news of Epstein’s death Saturday morning made Andrew a No. 1 trending topic on Twitter. The Duke of York is one of a number of powerful men — including President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz — who were likely to face increased scrutiny over their friendships with Epstein as his case went to trial or as more revelations came to light in other litigation.
The FBI is investigating Epstein’s death, as the circumstances raised immediate questions among U.S. political leaders, Politico reported.
Meanwhile, as this tumultuous news cycle began for Andrew, he was tucked safely away at Balmoral, Queen Elizabeth’s residence in the Scottish highlands, according to reports from The Sun, The Daily Mail and the Express. He and Ferguson presumably got word of Epstein’s suicide while at Balmoral, the Daily Mail said.
It’s not likely that Andrew and Ferguson intended to spend their holiday dealing with — or avoiding — the fall-out from Epstein’s death. Instead, the ex-spouses, who have famously remained on friendly terms since their 1996 divorce, had romance on their minds, according to The Sun columnist Dan Wooten. They were spending the week at Balmoral to take “their rekindled relationship to another level,” Wooten said.
Andrew and Ferguson, both 59, were known to be at the queen’s Scottish residence Thursday, Wooten reported. The couple traveled to the highlands separately, with Andrew photographed arriving at the airport in Aberdeen on a private jet; Ferguson arrived by commercial plane Thursday.
Their daughters, Princesses Beatrice, 31, and Eugenie, 29, were expected to join their parents at Balmoral. According to Wooten, the family holiday at the queen’s summer residence was supposed to be a happy occasion, a sign that Ferguson has “firmly re-established herself in the royal fold.”
“Prince Andrew and Sarah are at Balmoral as guests of the Queen and are expected to be there for a number of days,” a royal insider told Wooten. “It’s not the first time they’ve been there as a couple in recent years, but it’s significant because of all the rumors about them getting back together.
“The Queen wanted them there as a family, and it’s very much her giving the private nod of approval,” the insider added.
Andrew and Ferguson have been the subject of reports that they are back together for several months. However, Ferguson has denied those reports, with her spokesperson issuing a statement to ITV News in April: “The Duke and Duchess remain good friends as they have been for many years, and nothing has changed.”
The Yorks holiday came at a convenient time, in that it provided Andrew with a somewhat remote, guarded place to stay out of the spotlight as news about Epstein dominated the news on both sides of the Atlantic on Friday and Saturday.
Through Buckingham Palace, Andrew has repeatedly and vehemently denied Giuffre’s allegations of a improper sexual relationship. Buckingham Palace has acknowledged a friendship, but it asserts that Andrew last saw Epstein in 2010. This would be after Epstein was investigated for alleged sex trafficking in the mid-2000s and served 13 months in jail after pleading guilty in 2007 to solicitation.
Andrew’s friendship with Epstein goes back to the 1990s, according to a 2015 Guardian report.
In 2011, Andrew was forced to step down from his prominent position as the special U.K. representative for trade after allegations about Giuffre surfaced.
In a March 2011 interview with the Daily Mail and in the 2015 lawsuit and other court filings, Giuffre said her “sexual” encounters with Andrew happened in the early 2000s in New York, London and on Epstein’s private island as part of “an orgy with numerous other under-aged girls.”
In a 2016 deposition and a 66-page brief released Friday, Sjoberg corroborated Giuffre’s account of how Maxwell recruited young women and girls to come work for Epstein, initially under the guise of legitimate work. Maxwell’s real purpose, Sjoberg said, was to bring them into Epstein’s household and groom them to have sex with him.
Sjoberg also described her encounter with Andrew in her deposition. She said she was 21 at the time and Giuffre was there.
“I just remember someone suggesting a photo, and they told us to get on the couch,” Sjoberg testified in a deposition. “And so Andrew and Virginia sat on the couch, and they put the puppet, the puppet on her lap. And so I sat on Andrew’s lap, and I believe on my own volition, and they took the puppet’s hands and put it on Virginia’s breast, and so Andrew put his on mine.”
Among other things, the allegations about Andrew enhanced his reputation for falling into what Vanity Fair once called a dissolute lifestyle and a habit of currying friendships and financial favors from unsavory international figures. Ferguson also was the recipient of those favors, she herself admitted in 2011.
Ferguson told the Daily Telegraph in a 2011 interview that Andrew had helped arrange for Epstein to pay more than $18,000 to one of the her former assistants to whom she owed nearly $100,000 in unpaid wages and other bills. Ferguson immediately sought to distance herself from Epstein in the interview.
“I personally, on behalf of myself, deeply regret that Jeffrey Epstein became involved in any way with me,” the Duchess of York told the Telegraph. “I abhor pedophilia and any sexual abuse of children and know that this was a gigantic error of judgment on my behalf.”