Elizabeth Day: The strange day I met Prince Andrew’s teddy bear

Ten years ago, as a feature writer on a Sunday newspaper, I was approached by a member of Prince Andrew’s staff. I was told that the Duke of York wanted to do a couple of carefully selected media interviews as an exercise in rebranding and would I be interested? I was. Andrew had recently come under fire for his nebulous role as UK ‘trade envoy’, which seemed to require a lot of helicopter trips and hotel bills funded by the taxpayer and earned him the nickname ‘Air Miles Andy’ (which is considerably better than his more recent nickname: ‘Friend of the Late Sex Offender Jeffrey Epstein’).

Elizabeth day Prince Andrew
Jenny Brough

On the allotted day, I went to Buckingham Palace where Prince Andrew had an apartment which he used as an office. I was told to wait in a corridor where my only other companion was an oversized teddy bear squashed into a seat. When I was ushered in to meet Prince Andrew, I asked him about it. He sniggered and told me it had been a wedding gift from his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson. Apparently he had found the bear waiting for him when he got into the horse-drawn carriage that was to take them from Westminster Abbey to their reception. I remember that he found this extremely funny, even several years after the event.

It seemed rather strange to me that a grown man should be so amused by the presence of a stuffed toy, but I suppose the English upper classes have a long history with teddy bears used as transitional objects to express emotions they might feel uncomfortable with. I wondered if this was someone who had never really grown up because he had never had to. Here he was, taking up space in his mother’s house, carrying out a made-up job to keep him entertained and still having a teddy bear his ex-wife had given him. It was weird.

During the interview, Andrew was defensive and somewhat sulky. From the off, he seemed to feel I was getting at him. And so he patronised me, in that way certain public schoolboys do: as if I were a rather silly flibbertigibbet who didn’t understand what he was saying. It was uncomfortable. I tried to find some kind of common ground. What, I said desperately, could he imagine his life being like if he hadn’t been born into the royal family?

He looked at me as though I’d asked something utterly absurd. The interview was never published (I was scooped by another journalist who also mentioned the teddy bear) so these quotes are my own recollection, but he said something like, ‘How on earth would I know?’ spitting out the words.

‘Well,’ I ventured, ‘I suppose you could imagine…’

‘But I’m a royal. I wasn’t born into a different life.’

He seemed angry that I had asked and the interview concluded shortly afterwards.

Lately, I’ve thought about that encounter a lot. It strikes me now that he was completely unable to take an imaginative leap of empathy and to understand – even just a little bit – what life might be like for someone else; for someone less privileged, less fortunate, more vulnerable. So I’m not particularly surprised – horrified, yes, but not surprised – to see stories emerge about Prince Andrew’s shameful lack of judgment when it came to his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who killed himself while facing charges of sex trafficking minors.

Andrew, of course, denies all allegations of sexual impropriety. But I can imagine him taking whatever he wanted from those seedy parties, without ever putting himself in the place of, say, a 17-year-old woman pictured standing next to him, his hand around her bare midriff. I can imagine him, this man with his teddy bear and his arrested development, being as self-centred as a child and not giving any thought as to the impact his behaviour might have on anyone else. I can imagine him, too, being baffled and semi-outraged that he is now being asked to account for his actions.

I can imagine – but I’m not sure that he’s ever been able to.

This week I’m…

Wearing

St Agni leather Jun sandals. Expensive but worth it for their unbelievable level of comfort – plus they go with everything.

Watching

Look Mom I Can Fly, the Netflix documentary on rapper Travis Scott. It’s bafflingly shot, but I enjoy the glimpses into his life with Kylie Jenner.

Enjoying

Brittany Runs A Marathon: a funny, feel-good, moving film. Also the closest I’ll ever come to running one. Available on Amazon Prime.