Prince Andrew: playboy prince to pariah

© Agence France-Presse

Prince Andrew has been hurled back into the spotlight by Ghislaine Maxwell's conviction for procuring minors

London (AFP) - As he battles sex assault claims, Britain's Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, has become a virtual recluse, holed up on royal estates with no public role.

The once popular royal has seen his reputation shredded by sex allegations relating to his friendship with the late US financier Jeffrey Epstein.

An autopsy concluded  the multimillionaire killed himself in prison in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Andrew -- once dubbed the Queen's favourite son and ninth in line to the throne -- risks a US jury examining a civil claim from Virginia Giuffre, an American  who alleges Epstein lent her out to his friends and forced her to have sex with the prince as a 17-year-old minor. 

The prince has denied any memory of meeting Giuffre and suggested a photograph apparently showing him with his arm around her bare midriff was doctored. He refused requests to meet US investigators.

The 61-year-old royal has remained ensconced with his 95-year-old mother since his attempts at public exoneration through a BBC interview in 2019 massively backfired.

The Queen swiftly removed him from official duties while not pushing him out of the family circle and reportedly covering his legal costs. 

He is occasionally photographed driving or riding a horse around royal estates. He did not appear in official photographs of his daughter Beatrice's 2020 wedding, even though he walked her down the aisle.

'Friend of sex trafficker'

Ghislaine Maxwell's US conviction last week for procuring minors for Epstein to abuse further damaged Andrew. Even though the charges did not relate to the prince or Giuffre, his accuser was frequently mentioned.

"He's now perceived as a one-time close friend with not only a convicted paedophile, but also a convicted sex trafficker," wrote Majesty magazine editor-in-chief Ingrid Seward in The Sun tabloid.

The former naval helicopter pilot is facing calls to relinquish his honorary military roles, while reports have suggested he could lose his Duke of York title.

Giuffre is suing the prince for unspecified damages in a civil suit, while he has not been criminally charged and British police have declined to investigate the claims.

PR disaster

But any attempts to portray him as unwittingly caught up in the scandal are unlikely to wash with a US jury or with a sceptical British public.

After his 2019 BBC interview widely seen as a PR disaster, Andrew was criticised for arrogance and a lack of compassion for Epstein's victims.

Businesses and charities quickly distanced themselves from his projects and he stepped back from frontline royal duties.

He has also faced constant ridicule after countering a claim that he had been "profusely sweating" during the alleged encounter with Giuffre, saying he could not sweat because of a medical condition.

Fallen hero

Born February 19, 1960, at Buckingham Palace, Andrew Albert Christian Edward Windsor was the third child and second son of the queen and her husband Prince Philip.

His elder brother Charles, Prince of Wales, is heir to the throne. 

As a young man, Andrew was seen as one of the world's most eligible bachelors and even dubbed "Randy Andy" by the tabloid press before settling down with Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

The couple -- who took the title the Duke and Duchess of York after their marriage -- had two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie. 

Maxwell and Epstein were reportedly guests at Beatrice's 18th birthday party held at Windsor Castle in 2006.

Andrew and flame-haired "Fergie" divorced in 1996 but remain on good terms and she has publicly defended him against Giuffre's claims.

Following their split, Andrew was snapped sunbathing with topless women in Thailand and at a so-called "hookers and pimps" party with Maxwell.

He flew helicopters during the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina and returned home to a hero's welcome.

He left the navy in 2001 and became a special government trade envoy, earning a new nickname -- "Airmiles Andy" -- as he jetted around the world at taxpayers' expense.

Questions were asked about his judgement after links to the families of various dictators, and he faced repeated claims of being brash, arrogant and rude.

But the Epstein scandal, which resurfaced in 2011, has dealt the most damaging blow to his reputation.