THE Queen has been hurt by all the criticism of the beleaguered Duke of York “far more deeply than anyone realises”, says a senior source within the Royal Household.
The reason for the monarch’s sensitivity to the sorry saga of her second son’s tawdry involvement with billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein lies with the fact that quite simply, Prince Andrew has always been her favourite son.
Prince Andrew is the Queen’s ‘favourite son’ according to royal experts
The Duke has been given the cold shoulder by his siblings since the Epstein saga unfolded
“And now, when Andrew desperately needs the approbation and support of his mother, she is not afraid to show it, not least by making herself available to listen to him whenever he calls or visits her at Windsor Castle.
“This ghastly nightmare – and that’s the phrase she has used – occupies her thoughts constantly and Andrew is, once again, her number one priority, never mind if it puts the noses of her other children out of joint.”
The Duke of York cannot rely on the support of his siblings, having effectively been given the cold shoulder by Princes Charles and Edward, and, to a lesser extent, by his sister Princess Anne.
Andrew has few close friends, let alone ones who will talk willingly on his behalf, but a former naval officer who has kept in touch since he served with him in the Falklands observes succinctly: “I think he would be in a very dark and lonely state without the love and unquestioning support of his mother. Not least because his brothers have hardly spoken to him.”
The only member of his blood family to show unswerving loyalty is the Queen.
Andrew now makes the short drive to Windsor Castle from Royal Lodge nearly every day.
“He has conference calls with his legal team most mornings and then he will go to the castle for lunch with the Queen,” says a senior member of the royal household.
“It’s usually just the two of them – no staff, no guests, so they can talk openly and safely.”
The power of this familial bond is almost a regression to Andrew’s childhood, when the Queen spent more time with him than any of her other three children.
By the time she gave birth to Andrew in 1960 she was able to step back from her royal duties and devote more time to being a mother.
One retired courtier says her family and her staff noticed that she had become much more relaxed, which wasn’t always the case when she was bringing up Charles and Anne, who spent more time with their nannies than they did with their mother.
Says royal author Penny Junor: “Andrew effectively represented a second family for the Queen, who was thrilled by him. She’s always had a bit of a blind spot when it came to him.”
Her opinion is echoed by former royal butler Paul Burrell, who has described the prince as the Queen’s favourite son, “who has never done anything wrong in her eyes”.
“The baby is adorable,” the Queen wrote to a cousin shortly after his birth. “All in all, he’s going to be terribly spoilt by all of us, I’m sure.”
And indeed Andrew was spoilt, enjoying more freedom than the strictness endured by his elder siblings.
The young prince was allowed to race his bike along the corridors of Buckingham Palace while his mother worked her way through her official red boxes.
With Charles and Anne already away at school, every Saturday Andrew would sit down with his parents at Windsor Castle to watch the TV sports programme Grandstand.
After Andrew had completed his education at Heatherdown prep school, followed by a bracing five years at Gordonstoun (which his brother Charles had hated) the Queen was intensely proud of how he conducted himself in the Navy, and his time spent at the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth – a special place for the then Princess Elizabeth, as that’s where she first fell in love with Prince Philip.
Later, when he was serving on HMS Invincible, Andrew effectively became the Royal Family’s very own war hero because of his bravery in the Falklands.
His mother felt a huge surge of maternal pride about how he conducted himself as a helicopter pilot, putting his life on the line for his country.
She had no hesitation in giving Andrew Royal Lodge – the Queen Mother’s former home in Windsor Great Park and one of the family’s smaller but truly delightful stately homes – when he asked her for it.
After the euphoria of Andrew’s wedding, when the Queen bestowed on him the title of Duke of York, she was pained by his break-up with Sarah Ferguson.
Although she had always felt very warmly towards her, she was furious at some of Sarah’s antics – especially her behaviour with other men, because of Andrew’s obvious hurt and humiliation.
Not that Andrew was a saint when it came to physical relations with women; he was 17 and spending two terms at a Canadian school when he acquired a nickname that stuck for life: Randy Andy.
“He’s about as subtle as a hand grenade,” one girl at Lakefield College in Ontario said. “His favourite trick is to rub your knee under the table.”
His reputation for having a roving eye and an energetic libido was, of course, to return to haunt him in 2019, when Virginia Giuffre accused him of being complicit in her being pimped for the gratification of friends of the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who took his own life in 2018 while awaiting trial for trafficking young girls.
It was then – and continues to be – a particularly worrying matter for the Queen who, according to one courtier, initially “put her head in the sand” and declined to discuss the issue of Andrew’s association with Epstein with anyone but her husband Prince Philip.
Adds the courtier: “No mother wants to hear stories about a son’s sexual relationships with very young women.
“But she does not question the veracity of what Andrew has told her, time and again, that he is innocent of the charges he is facing.”
The only step she might regret is granting her son permission to use Buckingham Palace as the setting for an interview by the BBC’s Emily Maitlis in 2019.
Andrew had told her that the Newsnight programme would “clear the air”, yet if anything his on-screen excuses only made his position worse in the eyes of the public.
However others may judge Andrew, to the Queen he is simply a son who needs her love and support.
And that is what she continues to give him, whatever the future ramifications for the prince and the rest of the Royal Family.
Andrew drives to Windsor Castle from Royal Lodge to see his mother nearly every day