(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?
I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” My guest today is Tina Brown. She’s a publishing magnate who became the editor of the British magazine “Tatler” when she was just 25 years old. She went on to be the first female editor-in-chief of “Vanity Fair” and “The New Yorker.” And she founded “The Daily Beast” and then headed to “Newsweek.”
Lately, though, Tina’s spent her time on one of the most riveting and juicy beats in the business: the British monarchy. She describes it as a, quote, “more than 1,000-year-old institution with a 96-year-old C.E.O. and a septuagenarian waiting in the wings.” She’s written two books on the topic, “The Diana Chronicles,” in 2007, and the much anticipated new release, “The Palace Papers.”
I’ve known Tina for a long time, and I’ve been looking forward to dishing the latest British stories with her, from William and Kate, to Meghan and Harry, and of course, the most disgraced royal of them all, Prince Andrew. So let’s dig in.
Tina, welcome to “Sway.” It’s great to see you.
So nice to see you.
You know, you’ve written a lot about the royals. You’ve been an expert. You’ve commented at various events and stuff like that. So tell me why this became your focus, besides you’re quite good at it.
I find this saga, this royal family saga, endlessly interesting because of the tension that you see between the 1,000-year-old institution that you just described at the beginning that is actually completely comprised of fallible people — a family. So, on the one hand, there is the monarchy and all of the kind of customs, traditions, rituals, you know, restrictions that define it.
And on the other hand, it’s all on the back of this family that has its miscreants, its ne’er-do-wells its successes, its failures, and of course, for the last 70 years, has really been held together by Queen Elizabeth II, who is kind of the last person who knows how to behave in the British Isles and will soon be with us no more.
So that’s really, to me, the interesting part of it, and the sense of — having written about Diana, as I did in 2007, endlessly interested in the long shadow of what that sort of tumult created, essentially, in that family and the 20 years since, as we get into the twilight of the queen’s reign.
So you talk about two things — the monarchy and the people. So talk a little bit about what the monarchy is right now. And what has it changed in the past 20 years?
Well, George V figured out that the monarchy had to be comprised of a family that essentially was like a sort of a sacral version of the royal family, where they represented the British people at their very best. So he’s the one who really institutionalized this tension that I described.
But they are trying to figure out, essentially, how to evolve into the modern world because, in some ways, because the queen has been so perfect, because the queen has never put a foot wrong, because she’s been there for 70 years, you could argue that sort of the evolution of the monarchy has been somewhat blocked, because she has been able to live that way, continue that way. She and Philip continued and continued and continued. And now it’s about to go away and simply has to be revised.
But what do people in Britain care about the royals? And of course, Americans, I think, just love it because of “The Crown” at this point.
Right, well, a lot of the young people, if you ask them, they’ll say it means absolutely nothing. But here’s the thing. I mean, people keep saying that about the monarchy again and again and again. Every time there is some big drama or some big celebration, the streets are utterly packed and thronged.
And 2002, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, it was the first Jubilee she’d had since Diana died. There was a real anxiety that people hadn’t forgiven her for all of that period, that no one was going to show up. Well, it was absolutely a blockbuster. I mean, it was just millions of people out. It was an absolutely massive success.
Same thing happened again in 2012 with the Diamond Jubilee. Every time there was a wedding. I mean, it always becomes a massive sort of festival of excitement about the royals. So I think there is this great undertow in the British people that actually does feel very connected to the monarchy and wants it to survive. There really isn’t much movement for it to go.
I think it is “The Crown.” What does that get right and get wrong? Because that’s how people think of it these days. And of course, now they’ve been in the Diana years.
They do. Well, that’s going to be quite dramatic, actually, I think. I mean, look, “The Crown,” I think, did a fantastic job sort of reviving the royal family in a strange way for a whole new millennial audience, actually. The first couple of seasons were absolutely magically great, I thought. But I did feel that there’s quite a lot wrong that they had.
I mean, Prince Philip was kind of portrayed as a sort of petulant fop who just was always having tantrums and so on. And that really was unfair. I mean, Philip definitely felt constrained, definitely had moments of eruption and so on with the queen. And of course, very likely, his eyes strayed as well. But he was never this kind of spineless, pathetic figure that —
He got better. He got better.
He got better. There were a lot of protest about it, actually, and he did get better in the subsequent episodes. Yes, he did.
I can’t imagine the royals like “The Crown,” or maybe they do.
They started by liking it. And now they very much don’t like it.
Oh, really? Because?
Because it’s got nearer and nearer, and they’re very concerned about what’s going to happen in the next season, because the last thing that Prince Charles needs is for another generation to kind of get a big ladle of the fact that he was a cad to Diana, and he did treated her badly. And he was unfaithful, and Camilla and all of that. But he does not want to see this season come out.
Well, it’s coming, and we’re all excited. But —
— let’s get back to your book because that’s the real thing. So let’s talk about Queen Elizabeth, you were talking about, at the center of this. So how has she maintained her power for seven years? And what are her best and worst qualities?
Well, the queen has turned out to be a really skillful C.E.O. She always comes down in the end on the side of what’s best for the crown, what’s best for the monarchy. And because the monarchy is built on a family, that has often meant painful kind of family decisions. For years, she would not accept Camilla, even though she was the love of her son’s life.
I mean, she wouldn’t even let her come to his 50th birthday after she’d been his mistress for God knows how long. If you’re talking about brands, no one is more attuned to their brand than the queen. There is no need for anyone to tell her what is right for her to do or wrong for her to do. She is so sure of who she is, she is the definition of authentic. So no one can ever make her do something that’s, quote, “false” you know, for her brand. She’s just perfect at it.
But there are times, of course, when she does dither. In fact, her family refer to it as ostriching, putting her head in the sand. She doesn’t like, obviously — who would — making decisions that sometimes make her family unhappy, but which she knows, actually, she’s going to have to do. So she ostriches for a while, and she comes out and she makes some swift, lethal decision. Once she’s decided to make that decision, she makes it.
So where do you think this quality comes from, being ruthless in this particular way? From her mother? From her father?
The monarchy is a ruthless business. It’s about surviving. It’s about surviving for hundreds and hundreds of years. And it’s about keeping the sheen, you know, the potency, the mystique of the crown intact, and the traditions surrounding it, the constrictions surrounding it, the hierarchy surrounding it. It’s something in which the queen was really marinated. Don’t let’s forget, she got to the throne when she was 25 years of age. And her mother, the Queen Mother, the laughing, powdery Queen Mother who Cecil Beaton said was like a marshmallow forged in a welding machine, she was tough as old boots. And I think that the queen, her daughter, was sort of raised in that same mold.
So, what happens to the monarchy when she dies, then? If she’s been this most important thing been through, what, maybe a dozen prime ministers, what happens when she dies?
Well, there’s going to be the most huge national identity crisis, I think, in England. I mean, I think people won’t know how to be British anymore without the queen. I mean, it’s just like, don’t forget, 70 years, that’s like three generations.
So it’s on par with Queen Victoria, right? This is —
Yes, and even more because we’re now in a multimedia age, too. Queen Victoria, there was a tsunami of grief after she died. But then you know, again, her son, Edward VII, like Charles, he came to the throne late. He was in his 60s. He did a decent enough job. And he was a kind of shock absorber for the next reign. And I kind of think that’s what will happen in Charles. A lot of people are very pessimistic about Charles taking over. I actually am not one of those. I think it’s much better for Charles to follow the queen than William, actually.
So he’s a transitional figure.
Yeah, he’s a transitional figure, and he can do a lot of things that, for William, might be harder, you know, less experienced than his father. His father has met every head of state in the world. He’s very accomplished in his own way. And his own particular passions for environment and his long, long standing belief that climate change was a huge issue that nobody wanted to talk about and didn’t. You know, that was his issue, is his issue. And so he does have that authentic thing.
Right, but his popularity is so much lower than Elizabeth’s at 46 percent favor —
Yes, his popularity is pretty low.
Because we know too much about Charles. He has always been something of an Eeyore feeling. One of his favorite mottos is, oh, just my luck. You know?
I mean, it’s just my luck. I mean, everything goes wrong. However, I actually think he’ll surprise people. I think he will.
What about the rumors that he may abdicate in favor of William? No, you laugh.
Why anybody thinks that — I mean, Charles is so desperate for this freaking job. I mean, you know, he’s waited 50 years for this. I mean, there’s just no way. And as for Camilla, you think she’s going to give up being Queen Camilla after all of this time?
So he will not be abdicating in favor. She wants to be queen.
He wants to be king.
No abdicating for Charles.
No abdicating. But he can’t help but be in the shadow — he was in the shadow of his mother, and he’s in the shadow of his son, too.
Yep, this constant tension about that. I mean, Charles has lived his life always in the shadow of somebody — his mother, and then the worse for him, Diana, which he can never shake. And then just when he thought he was emerging into the spotlight, guess what? William and Harry — I mean, William was the most charismatic heartthrob you could possibly imagine. I mean, he was so gorgeous. And of course, Harry has a lot of charisma. There’s no doubt about it. Everyone would rather read about them any time and their wives. So, once again, Charles is in the shadows, yes.
So Prince William is the modern face of the royal family. How will he switch things up when he’s in charge?
Yeah, I think that he will do quite a lot. William is not cutting edge, but he will be, I think, much more like his grandmother. You know, the queen was very conservative and cautious.
He seems like a young fogey to me. That’s what he seems like.
I think he’s better than that, actually, but I think he’s cautious, and I think he does want to modernize. I think he wants to say, I have got these passions, and I’m going to pursue them.
Mm-hmm, and he’s the good son, as opposed to Harry, the rogue, right? What’s their relationship like now? And how did that happen?
It’s very, very sad, actually. These two were really, really close. I mean, it doesn’t matter who you talk to. They really were bound together by having lost their mother so young. I mean, Harry was only 12, and William was this big brother that he just consoled him. I mean, it was very, very close a relationship.
Really, things began to get iffier when Harry came out of the army after 10 years. And that was really when it first hit Harry that he was the second son. I mean, it might sound ridiculous, but Diana had raised her boys to be the same. It was always like we must treat them the same, but they were never going to be the same.
And at a certain point, their destinies diverged. William had to go the direction of being groomed to be the future king. Harry was all right while he was in the army. He was actually an accomplished soldier, and he did very, very well in the army. He really found his vocation. But it’s hard to stay in the army if you’re not remotely booksmart. I mean, Harry’s virtually never cracked a book in his life and to stay in the army today, you have to be far more intellectually —
— digital. Yeah, you’d be a lot more proficient. So after 10 years, he comes out of the army and goes, right, what am I going to be doing? He went off and he started the Invictus Games. He brought together the disabled veterans in games like the Special Olympics, essentially, for veterans. Invictus was imaginative. I mean, it was connective. In fact, it really has been the most successful royal initiative that I think we’ve seen in the last sort of 30 or 40 years. So he did that, and that made him feel, you know, I have star power. I could be a global figure. And actually, I’m told that, I mean, for William, I think he watched that slightly askance. I mean, how did Harry get to have something that was so impactful? Then, with Kate in William’s life, the tight sort of brotherhood now has to deal with a new figure in it. And actually, Harry and Kate were always very close. He always saw her as a sort of big sister figure.
But inevitably, when your best bud has a girl in his life he’s going to marry, you gradually become more marginalized. And there was a lot of time for two or three years when he came out of the army when Harry just felt like Bridget Jones. He felt that he was like the adorable bougie couple of William and Kate, and where was his fun, fiery brother? You know, he’d gone. So Harry got very unhappy really, and his own relationships weren’t working because the girlfriends just couldn’t take the press. I mean, I do a big chapter in the book, actually, which is all about the press stalking the girlfriends. And it was pretty shocking, as I reported that out, actually, how bad it was. I mean, what Harry experienced — you know, he was stalked, he was eavesdropped on. It was horrible, horrible —
Well, they all were. They all hate the press.
They all were, but Harry had it worse because he was more interesting than the others, and he was more of a carouser. He became absolute catnip for the press, and they never left him alone. So he was very unhappy, and he really fell apart. It’s the truth.
I mean, he started to fall apart, as he has said, and also really became quite competitive with William. You know, he felt his interests were too similar to William’s, in a way. He was passionate about Africa. He was passionate about conservation. And yet, he felt that William got all the best gigs. But of course, he did. He was going to be different.
And then Meghan.
Along comes Meghan, who tells him, you should have the best gigs, essentially. And he suddenly had a woman in Meghan who was worldly enough, experienced enough, to say, look, you’re a star in your own right. You don’t need all of this. You can do it on your own. And that’s really where the great division became between Harry and William.
Now do you think it’s her fault? Because you seem to favor Kate, and I feel she’s a bit of a — she looks like a young fogey, too, an anachronism to me.
I actually feel very empathetic to Meghan. I think in England, where they hate Meghan — they think that I’ve been way too empathetic to Meghan — I understand how she found it so darn difficult and how maddening she found it.
But I also came to admire Kate very much, too, because I mean, I started by thinking, well, she’s kind of a milk toast, but actually, she’s admirable. She really is. She took 10 years before William married her. Kate looked at the situation, and she said, I can do this. I will do it. I’m going to devote myself to it. Essentially, it’s kind of like the secular version or the royal version of taking the veil. It really is. It’s about saying, I will do this. And she has, actually.
Yeah, she doesn’t seem disgruntled by it.
No, well, I think she’s found it not as easy as people necessarily think. I think there have been many times when she’s felt the press are agony. I think she’s found it constricting. I think sometimes, she’s found it very painful, actually, living in that. But she has decided that’s what she’s going to do, and she’s doing it. And I think you have to admire that, actually, because you know, self discipline isn’t a very modern attribute, essentially. But she does have it. And I admire her for it.
So but then Meghan is not as disciplined, but she also has got a lot of star quality. And the comparisons between the two were really quite striking, as most people have pointed out.
Yes, they were. Well, I mean, Meghan, you could not find two more different women. I mean, here’s Kate, who’s so traditionally raised and conservative and cautious like her husband. And you know, Meghan, who has this sort of natural star power, very dynamic and very worldly, actually. There’s also the fact that in terms of the women of the palace, if you like, Meghan is the only woman of color. All the other women are these white Protestant women, who’ve all been to the same kind of schools, speak the same kind of language.
So she just felt very much alone, I think, in that whole ambience and also unwilling to accept, determined not to accept, that Harry was in a hierarchy, which put him, as she had — I mean, one of the things that amused me the most was when I learned that Meghan was always number six on the call sheet when she was filming her “Suits” show. So that means you’re sixth in order of importance.
And essentially, she married number six on the call sheet in Harry, because Harry was actually number six. I mean, he was by the time they were married, he was the second son of the heir to the throne. And William had had three children. So he’d actually descended to number six. I mean, he’s going to go on going down.
And that meant that although they were such huge celebrities on the world stage at that point, I mean, at that point, Meghan was one of the most, probably the most famous women in the world. But in terms of the palace and the monarchy and the hierarchy, she was number six on the call sheet. And she got therefore the budget that went with it, the opportunities that went with it, you know, the consideration that went with it.
So what am I doing here?
What am I doing here. I mean, in her world, star power is leverage, right? And if you don’t get what you want, it’s call my agent. Well, you can’t call your agent at Buckingham Palace. Ultimately, you’re just going to have to take it.
How do you assess her claims of treatment of her because of her race?
I’m sure that it was very difficult for the reasons that I’ve said. She was so much alone there. The diversity at the palace is, I think it’s 8 percent. She would have really had very little contact with anyone who looked remotely like to her while she was married to Harry, is the truth. And I think she found that very difficult after a time. We’ll never actually know what happened inside the family, you know, her allegations about what was said. And so we won’t know. Maybe we’ll know when Harry writes his book.
But they announced stepping back as senior members of the royal family in 2020, and then they went on a “let’s talk about it tour,” which was quite astonishing, I thought. I want to play some tape from Meghan and Harry’s interview with Oprah in 2020 when Meghan told Oprah, she went into a royal life quite naively.
- archived recording (oprah winfrey)
But you were certainly aware of the royals.
- archived recording (meghan markle)
- archived recording (oprah winfrey)
And if you’re going to marry a royal, then you would do research about what that would mean.
- archived recording (meghan markle)
Well, I didn’t do any research about what that would mean.
- archived recording (oprah winfrey)
You didn’t do any research.
- archived recording (meghan markle)
No. I’d never looked up my husband online. I just didn’t feel a need to because everything that I needed to know, he was sharing with me, right? Everything that we thought I needed to know, he was telling me.
Hmm, I don’t believe her on that one. Everybody Googles people.
I Google people I don’t even care about.
Exactly, no, that was very disingenuous, that clip that you played. And —
I think she was making a bigger point, is that she didn’t know what she was getting into, which I think —
She didn’t, but here’s the thing. And, uh — this is where I completely don’t understand Meghan at all. I mean, when I talked to all the people she worked with at “Suits,” one thing that she was really known for was getting notes about her role. She wanted to know everything about what she had to do with that part. She was studying up. She really put a lot of thought and work into her role. Why would she take on the biggest role of her life, which had such incredible constitutional implications and such a kind of lifetime of, you know, very clear choices ahead of her, and not, as she said, spend any time researching what the role was?
So that was disingenuous, from your perspective.
That was disingenuous. It would seem to me if that’s true, reprehensible, quite honestly. Because it’s a serious thing to marry into that family. And if it is true, I find it puzzling.
I find her very canny. So that was surprising to me. She knows exactly what’s happening. She’s one of those people, here, in Hollywood, they see everything at a party. Do you know what I mean?
Absolutely. I know one of her ex-colleagues told me that Meghan used to play three-dimensional chess, as he put it. She always knew the subtext of everything that was going on. So I don’t get that. I mean, I also think, of course, you fall madly in love, and you decide not to see it. You can say, it’s going to work out.
Mm-hmm. You noted in an interview that they were addicted to drama, the pair of them, that this pair and this “us against the world” attitude was a disaster. Do you think they’ve made some bad choices here?
I think that they’ve made very bad choices, I believe. I mean, I think that they could not easily, but with some skill, they could have exited the royal situation, leaving less scorched earth and opportunities behind them.
What surprised me, one of the things that I found very surprising in my reporting, was when one of the very close royal advisors really stunned me by saying, you know, we always thought that Harry would leave. We always thought it because he was so fragile, he was so combustible, he was so unhappy, frankly, in the constraints of the royal family. But what I think everyone was shocked about was the way they did it. I mean, I said it was like the exit from Afghanistan. Probably necessary —
Oh, god. Tina.
I know, but it was a bit like maximum mayhem on the way out, you know?
Well, because they’re very hotheaded. I always feel like William became a Windsor, and Harry became a Spencer. And the Spencers, if you go to Althorp House, their stately home, and look at the pictures on the wall, they’re all of these kind of, like, red-bearded, like you know, swashbuckling, rampaging men in that family, who just were very impetuous. And he’s a very impetuous man.
Yeah, make bad decisions.
Make bad decisions. And again, I was surprised that Meghan had actually handled her own career very savvily. She doesn’t seem to have been able to advise him correctly in this instance.
So the disaster was for them. Do you think it was a disaster for the royal family?
I do. I think it was a disaster all around. I actually think there is a Harry-shaped hole in the royal family now. And Harry was beloved, actually, by the British people. And Meghan was absolutely — people adored Meghan when she came into the mix.
So it was actually very, very sad for everybody that it went so wrong because they actually need Harry and Meghan now. You should see, the queen is failing, and she’s very frail. They kind of need Harry and Meghan to bring that star power and to be on the balcony at the Jubilee. We have to have a royal family up there. We can’t have Andrew up there.
Yeah, exactly. We’ll get to him in one second. But Meghan and Harry recently met with the queen for the first time since they broke away. Is that the sign of the relationship on the mend?
It’s a sign of a cautious rapprochement, and I actually think that when the queen dies, I would not be at all surprised if some kind of new charter, as it were, with Harry is drawn up, because I think they’re going to feel they do need Harry in some way. And he might get a bit more of what he wanted. I mean, he could be a kind of commuter royal, I guess. The problem is the money piece. You know, they wanted to make money. And the big tension there was conflict of interest. I mean, how do you work that?
Yeah. Are there shades of Diana in what happened to Meghan and Harry, or was it very different?
Well, I mean, the shades are that the Queen’s great mantra after Diana died was: never again. Well, of course, you can’t say that now because we did have it again. And what you actually had was a member of the royal family, really, Meghan, I guess, whose celebrity was greater than, or who felt that her celebrity was sort of greater than, the brand of the firm, if you like.
That the whole point of being a working member of the royal family is that what you do supports the monarch. What you are doing is for the country, for the people of England. It is not to make money. It’s not to be a star and be a celebrity. That’s the difference between being royal and being a celebrity. So it’s a completely different thing. And that was, of course, something Meghan really didn’t grasp or didn’t want to grasp. And I don’t know how you resolve that. That is the problem.
What would Diana think of them? Would she be proud of them?
Well it’s funny, a lot of people think, oh, Diana would have been so pleased to see this. I don’t think that Diana would have been that pleased to see this. I mean, Diana stayed in the royal family for 16 years, you know and —
And then she left.
She did, but not out of her own desire. She would never have left if Charles — if her husband had been in love with her. So she didn’t actually leave the royal family. She was divorced. She had to leave the royal family. But even then, she continued to live at Kensington Palace. And she really saw you could make more change inside the family than leaving it.
I mean, when Diana shook hands with the AIDS patients without gloves, when she went to Middlesex Hospital and had that extraordinarily powerful meeting with the AIDS patients, she was doing that as Her Royal Highness Princess of Wales. She knew that it was that stature, that diadem on her head, that position, that gave her gesture such meaning —
She also had star power, too, though. There was something special —
She had huge star power, but her star power became more potent because it was allied to monarchy. And so I don’t know whether she would have been thrilled to see them off in Montecito, sort of, Harry stripped of his military honors.
What do you imagine is going to happen to them?
I think that Harry is going to want to come back when the Queen dies to serve his country. And I think they will find a way to reel him in. And it’s possible that Meghan — maybe they will have a commuter arrangement. I don’t know. I don’t see Meghan ever wanting to go back. She disliked England.
The tabloids were terrible. They were racist.
They were terrible to her. She hated it. I think she just felt bastard to England. I mean, she just thought, I’m not going back. I don’t like it.
Yeah, she’s an American.
She’s an American, but she’s an American who doesn’t like England.
We’ll be back in a minute.
If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Anna Wintour, and you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Tina Brown after the break.
So let’s talk about the most scandalous disgraced royal of them all — Andrew. You’ve got a lot of attention for your “Daily Telegraph” excerpt on Prince Andrew’s relationship with sex criminal, Jeffrey Epstein. He called Andrew a useful idiot. Talk about the scandal around Andrew. And I’ll note he’s been accused of sexually assaulting Virginia Giuffre when she was 17. He repeatedly denied the allegations, have settled out of court with her for apparently $12 million this past February. So talk a little bit about that scandal and what it’s done, because this is disturbing.
The Andrew scandal is a great tragedy, frankly. Certainly a tragedy for the Queen. Andrew’s been sleazy and seedy for many, many, many years. And this was almost like an inevitable end to it, essentially, because he married Sarah Ferguson, who was a tremendous spendthrift. She’s also actually a very kind of warm, likable woman, who’s actually got a lot of friends. The queen, in fact, is very fond of her.
But it was a disastrous match, really, because they never felt they had enough money. Prince Andrew has a second son, had about 250,000 pounds to live as a working royal and do all of his duties and patronages and so on, plus a small pension from the Navy. And that really was it. Of course, he did also have an apartment in Buckingham Palace. He lives in the Queen Mother’s beautiful home in the park at Windsor.
But he was living in a world where everybody was so much richer than him, the kind of world that he wanted to be in, the world of business people and tycoons and celebrities, and all the rest of it.
And he would pop up in Silicon Valley all the time.
I mean, everything was desperate. So gradually, he basically — because he has no judgment. He is incredibly dim intellectually. And he has zero judgment and terrible taste in people, which is a very bad combination when you also happen to be a member of the royal family. So he was just constantly fraternizing with insalubrious characters. I mean, just the worst kind of unattractive kind of crowd. And it got worse and worse. And there were always scandals around him.
So I mean, at the same time, you know, he had the kind of sex drive of a sort of horny 14-year-old, which never changed, it seems. I mean, he just simply loved big breasted cocktail waitresses. And he literally was like a 14-year-old boy. And all of this kind of came to a kind of peak, essentially, when Ghislaine Maxwell, his friend, who he’d known for many years, in a sense, he was a great catch for Ghislaine to bring into the orbit of Jeffrey Epstein.
And Jeffrey Epstein understood immediately what he could get out of Andrew, which was connections, some credibility. I mean, we may all laugh and scorn Prince Andrew, but many a consul has told me in different places that, actually, when Andrew would come to town, he was still the Queen’s son. I mean, let’s face it, he was the Queen’s son. You could get people to come.
No, he’s a good prop.
He’s a good prop, and Jeffrey Epstein saw that because he was always about who he could know and who he could influence and so on. So it was a disastrous meeting of forces in that sense. It was inevitable, essentially, that Epstein would bring him into the net with the young girls because he knew that’s what Andrew — his vulnerability in that sense to women. So I mean, it was absolutely inevitable, I think.
And he was used as a front for Epstein’s business dealings. And then —
He was used as a front. And he used to — Andrew would go off from one of his trips. And Epstein would come along, and he would pick up the cream on the cake, as it were, for the people that Andrew met.
So this settlement, how do you look upon that? Why did he do that, finally?
Well, you know, Virginia Giuffre was 17 years old. And what she alleges is a horrible thing to allege. And there was nothing for it, but to pay the settlement because once the photograph had appeared with him with Virginia Giuffre, his alleging that he didn’t know her was so clearly something that nobody believed anyway.
Right, although celebrities do spend a lot of time taking pictures with people they don’t know. Why didn’t the royal family distance themselves from him and cut off his titles much earlier? Was it all Queen Elizabeth?
Well, there is a very good, frankly, not attractive point that you have raised, that it took the Emily Maitlis interview of Andrew, where he utterly self-immolated — I mean, he strapped on a suicide vest and sat in that chair with Emily Maitlis. And it really blows my mind, actually, the way the royals keep doing this. I mean, when Prince Charles talked to David Dimbleby, when Diana talked to Bashir, when Andrew did this, it’s like, when are they going to understand that to get it — just don’t sit in a chair with a really good journalist with a kind of ask me anything brief, you know? I mean, he just sat there and self-immolated.
- archived recording (emily maitlis)
She was very specific about that night. She described dancing with you and you profusely sweating, and that she went on to have a bath probably —
- archived recording (prince andrew)
There’s a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition, which is that I don’t sweat, or I didn’t sweat at the time. And that was — oh, actually, yes, I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at. And I simply — it was almost impossible for me to sweat. And it’s only —
And it was after that that he was summoned to go and see Prince Philip, who was on his last legs at Sandringham. But nonetheless, he kind of made it clear this was one meeting he was going to have with his son. And he basically said, told him that he was done. They were canceling him. But it took that interview to do it. And the fact is, is that before that, when all of these allegations about Giuffre were out there, the Queen really supported Andrew in trying to bury them.
Yes, they were silent. They were silent about it.
So, in fact, she even gave him one of her highest royal orders, pinning a medal on him at the very time —
— when —
Just blind loyalty to him?
Well, it was about trying to say to people, don’t come after Andrew.
Did she learn nothing from how she treated Diana?
I think that if it’s your son, if it’s your children, I mean, how many of us have blind spots about our children, you know? I mean, Andrew was always sort of her favorite. He lived nearest to her. He’s very close to her. And I’m sure that there was a large part of her that just could not believe he could be doing some of the things that — I think that people get it wrong about their children.
Yeah. The monarchy has felt so scandalous for so long, it’s become kind of like a T.V. show that never ends, not “The Crown,” but a real one. Is it just going to keep chugging along indefinitely?
I believe it will trundle on, unless — for the immediate future, for instance, the only thing that could really make the monarchy collapse is if anything went wrong with the Cambridges, William and Kate. I don’t believe that the monarchy could survive a lurid divorce of the monarch. I think that that would not — I really don’t think it could survive. But you know, on the other hand, I mean, it’s survived an awful lot. It survived Henry VIII beheading —
Yes, he did that.
— two of his Queens. So I mean, it’s survived a lot.
Do you have a favorite royal?
I just came to love the Queen at the end of this. I just find her sense of humor so tart, so funny. She’s so sort of canny. She’s so grown up. And there was something very moving as well about her commitment to duty. I mean, she has done what she said she would do. All the days of my life, as she vowed, has served the British people. But she’s done it without any sort of self-righteous, you know, look at me. She just did it. And so, yeah, she is my favorite, I have to say.
So we talked a lot about figureheads. Let’s talk about the actual government, Boris Johnson. Your take in 2016 was that his joking concealed a, quote, “deeply opportunistic nature.” I think that’s a nice way of saying he’s a grifter. What’s your take now?
Well, it’s sort of unchanged. I think it’s sort of lamentable in a sense that at this very serious moment in the world, Britain has still got this sort of joker at the lead. I mean, the whole sort of scandal known as Partygate where he was breaking all his own Covid rules.
Right, it was just fine for attending a party.
Yeah, I mean, okay, it’s petty stuff. But it’s also not petty stuff because unfortunately, what it really shows is exactly what I saw in him when I first met him, you know, in, at Oxford in 1986, or whenever it was, that he has no principles, actually.
What was he like then? Same as —
Exactly the same. I mean, he’s wildly entertaining and incredibly amusing and very smart. He’s the greatest dinner partner you could possibly imagine. But he has absolutely no belief in any kind of rules, and he has no principles. That’s a kind of a lamentable set of characteristics, if you’re going to be the prime minister.
So he just was in Ukraine. Is he getting better, or is there someone else in the wings?
I think that over in Ukraine, he’s shown himself to be better than he has been. But it was also, quite honestly — and Boris would have seen it immediately — a great opportunity for Boris. Because you know, this was such a big, horrific thing that’s happened in Europe, that it certainly eclipsed Partygate for a long time. Made that seem ridiculous and futile. So for Boris, it behooves him to be very, very good about Ukraine.
Is his power waning?
I actually think he’ll survive for quite some time. I always thought he would survive the Partygate thing because he’s just lucky. He’s slippery and lucky. And he is charismatic, and people like star power, as we well know. And so he keeps pulling it out of the hat. So I think he’ll be there for a while. I don’t think he’s going anywhere.
And he’s popular in Britain or just —
His popularity has decreased greatly in Britain —
— than what it was, but it’s still about who else?
Speaking of waning, the publishing industry, magazines like Entertainment Weekly and InStyle are folding their print publications. You have had a lot of to do with magazines over the years. It’s shifted.
It’s all completely blown up. It’s amazing, really. It feels like it’s just sort of the end of days when it comes to magazines. But I’m very excited as well by all the things that can be done. I mean, you have to think — look, everything has changed, but you can still do great things in a very different way.
What’s the future of the industry from your perspective? I mean, I thought you might be the last editor standing, but it looks like it’s Anna Wintour of the old editors. How does she hold — she’s a royal, right? Basically.
Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. She is. I’ll never bet against Anna. I actually think the magazine industry is really just in its last days, which I’m sad about because there was a real craft and an art form to great magazines. And I certainly loved putting them out. I really did. But I don’t really read them now, except for The New Yorker, which I still adore. And there’s very good work being done in many of them. But I don’t buy magazines at the train station. And I was a magazine junkie, so for me —
So what do you do? You moved from medium to medium. I’ve always watched you. You’re an unusual person, having been this sort of top level editor.
Well, I think you sort of have to be a sort of news impresario and figure out other ways to tell stories. I mean, you’re doing it constantly. And that’s the way — what you have to do. I miss assigning great stories from great writers. And the thing I most regret is that writers just are so kind of marginalized and minimized. And you know, there are so many great, great talents who are literally scraping around, being consultants and teachers. And they don’t have a way to make a living at what they’re best at. That, to me, is one of the great sadnesses.
All right, last question: what’s your next project? What is the thing that really interests you a lot?
Well, I’m sort of dying for another adventure, actually. Kara, I was hoping you might come up with something.
There could be a 24/7 palace news channel.
Well, I have thought about it, actually, but then I thought, do I really want to spend the last two decades of my media life telling the royal story?
“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Daphne Chen, Caitlin O’Keefe, and Wyatt Orme, with original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Sonia Herrero and Carole Sabouraud, and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair, Michelle Harris and Mary Marge Locker. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski. The senior editor of “Sway” is Nayeema Raza, and the executive producer of New York Times Opinion audio is Irene Noguchi.
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