The Queen and Prince Andrew – what The Crown gets wrong
The fourth series of The Crown focuses in detail on the breakdown of two historic relationships: the one between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher, and that of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Yet there is a third hiding in plain sight. And that is the bond between Her Majesty and her second son, the Duke of York – a relationship that casts its shadow well into the future.
The 22-year-old Andrew, played by a fresh-faced and raffish Tom Byrne, is the only one of the Queen’s children at ease in her presence, making her relax and laugh. It reminds viewers why he has long been reported to be her “favourite” child.
But not for long. Landing his helicopter on the front lawn for a tête-à-tête with his mother, the swashbuckling Andrew admits to Olivia Colman’s Queen that he has commandeered the chopper, claiming it a “matter of national importance.” During the scene, the Queen’s growing sense of alarm at Andrew is palpable. When he describes the plot of an R-rated film that his latest girlfriend starred in (a reference to Koo Stark’s role in The Awakening of Emily), she replies: “Yes, you’re right, it doesn’t sound blue at all… Are you sure it was even legal?”
“Who cares?” Andrew shoots back.
The Queen and Prince Philip were both intensely proud of Andrew
It leads the Queen to confide to the Duke of Edinburgh (Tobias Menzies), in a fictional 1982, that Andrew is her greatest disappointment and that she fears for his future “if he doesn’t change”.
Given the prince’s current woes – only last week royal sources were claiming that his days as a working royal are “finished” thanks to the fallout of his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein – it’s a storyline that would seem to ring true, and will no doubt convince younger viewers that the die had been cast long ago.
But not only is the script factually inaccurate, it couldn’t be more emotionally wide of the mark.
In 1982, both the Queen and Prince Philip were intensely proud of Andrew. Rather than a scandal-prone duke, he was one of Britain’s most popular figures and – for the period covered by The Crown’s fourth series, at any rate – a key figure in their blueprint for the perpetuation of the Elizabethan monarchy.
Unlike the nation’s interest in Charles as the heir, Andrew’s popularity was the result of decades of careful planning inside Buckingham Palace walls. His success was as much a validation of the Queen and Philip’s love for their son as of their parenting skills.
Everything about his life had been carefully stage-managed – and now he had exceeded their wildest expectations. It’s easy to forget that, in the early Eighties, Andrew often outshone Princess Diana’s popularity. Handsome, tall, sporty and self-confident, he was a glamorous foil to his not so photogenic older brother – the diffident, complicated and plain-looking Prince of Wales.
The Queen and Andrew at Balmoral in 1985
Credit: Camera Press
Switching on the famous Christmas lights on Regent Street in November 1982, he drew a greater crowd than even Princess Diana had. Teenage girls and housewives lined the streets shouting: “We want Andy”, fainting as if he was a popstar, and being lifted over the crowd for medical attention.
After he had given a short speech, the police were unable to disperse the crowd. The manager of the Jaeger store, where the prince was attending an after party, said: “It’s absolutely amazing; I’ve not seen anything like it since the days of Beatlemania.”
Not even the news a week earlier of his relationship with American actress Koo Stark had dented the prince’s growing popularity as a pin-up.
It was the culmination of ‘Andymania’, a phenomenon that had first struck when the prince visited Dar es Salaam, where a group of British expat women unfurled a banner reading: ‘Hi Andy, come and have coffee’.
When he then visited Blantyre, in Malawi, one man bet his wife £5 that she wouldn’t dare ask Andrew for a dance. “The next thing I knew I was in his arms, looking up into his eyes, such fabulous blue eyes”, she swooned about the royal heartthrob.
As for Koo, here The Crown also strains at the seams. In order to portray the Queen as even more exasperated with her son, it suggests that their relationship – the first true love of Andrew’s life – became public before the Falklands War began in April 1982.
The couple had met in February 1981. And during the Falklands War, Koo sent him a photograph of herself with a T-shirt emblazoned ‘Weird Fantasy’. But they kept their relationship a closely guarded secret, and she didn’t meet the Queen until her boyfriend’s return to Balmoral that autumn.
Prince Andrew and Koo Stark years later, at a charity reception in 1999 – they remained friends after their relationship ended
Credit: The Picture Library
In fact, the Queen and Philip were hardly at a loss at what to do with Andrew and Koo. The Queen liked Koo, and Princess Margaret supported the budding relationship by offering them her house on Mustique to holiday with friends. Philip did object but only to the choice of Mustique – he knew it would be discovered. As indeed it was. The couple were soon spotted and the press swiftly unearthed that Andrew’s lover had appeared naked in The Awakening of Emily.
Only then did the relationship cease to flourish. After speculation that Koo would be invited to Christmas at Sandringham, she instead went to Gstaad alone. Dutifully, Andrew broke off the relationship shortly after, though they remained friends.
The Queen and Philip had a steely determination to carve out a role for their son that, during her reign, would be substantially more than being Charles’s understudy. But it came with strings attached on both sides.
It is on this point that a scene about Andrew’s 1986 wedding to Sarah Ferguson in The Crown also misses the point. After Andrew bemoans a lack of publicity, Charles snaps: “You can hardly blame the newspapers for wanting to write about something other than the wedding of a fringe member of the family who’ll never be king.”
In fact, Charles and his younger brother were still very close, despite the 10-year age gap. When a Canadian newspaper called Andrew “six feet of sex appeal”, Charles had good-humouredly admitted that his sibling was the “one with the Robert Redford looks”.
And while his wedding to Fergie wasn’t a public holiday, many Brits took the day off work to celebrate with the couple.
Andrew was close to Diana, who it is said introduced him to Sarah Ferguson
Andrew was also extremely close to Diana. During the Falklands, he told fellow officers that there were only four women in his life: his grandmother, his mother, his sister and Diana. While he served, Diana wrote to him frequently, gossiping about what was going on at home. She is also thought to have played matchmaker between him and Fergie. The two popular couples and their amicable closeness at Buckingham Palace struck gold with the public.
To a large extent, Buckingham Palace has always been instrumental in Prince Andrew’s role, creating it and directing it. Given the public relations mess he is currently in, that is where the real pain will lie for the Queen.
Prince Andrew: Epstein, Maxwell and the Palace by Nigel Cawthorne can be ordered from books.telegraph.co.uk at £16.99 or call 0844 871 1514
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Read more: How accurate is season 4 of The Crown?