Daniela Elser: New calls for Prince Andrew to be stripped off Duke of York title as ultimate punishment

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Andy Warhol famously quipped that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, and this week it was the City of York’s councillors’ turn to bask in the heat of the spotlight.

On Wednesday, the councillors converged on York Racecourse for an extraordinary council meeting that featured the national press pack and videos of proceedings racked up tens of thousands of views on social media.

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The agenda had nothing to do with pothole schemes or roundabout beautification programmes, but the serious business of severing official ties between the historic city and Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Rewind to 1987, when Andrew was not only a newlywed but also newly fashioned as the Duke of York, receiving the title as a gift from his mother the Queen on his wedding day.

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The City of York, suitably proud of their new ducal namesake, decided what the man really needed was another extraneous accolade and thus they bestowed on him the Freedom of the City of York honour. (This was the only one thing he has ever had in common with Sir Winston Churchill and the Duke of Wellington.)

Back then, everything was coming up Andy!

However, we are a long, long way from the days of him getting even a lukewarm reception from anyone save for his charging-by-the-hour lawyers.

For perfectly understandable reasons, the City of York had decided they wanted nothing to do with the Duke and so the councillors were there to formally strip the Queen’s son of his Freedom of the City of York recognition. The vote was unanimous.

But the good burghers of York did not stop there, also calling on him to give up his Duke of York title.

While the councillors have about as much official sway here as the Queen has interest in joining Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s book group, the prospect that Andrew could be forced into handing over his York sobriquet is only growing.

For the 62-year-old, whose ego is so inflated it would give a blimp a serious run for its puffed-up money, this diminution in status would be the ultimate punishment.

We all know the backstory about how the one-time trade ambassador ended up at what was hitherto an unthinkable precipice.

The councillors of York have severed their ties with disgraced Prince Andrew. Photo / Getty Images

In November, 2019, days after his ruinous Panorama interview, Andrew was essentially forced out as a working member of the royal family. Ignominy and endless days mooching about his vast, basically free, historic estate followed.

In January this year, following confirmation the civil sex abuse case filed against him by Virginia Giuffre was set to go ahead, the Queen stepped in, finally officially downgrading him to Private Citizen.

Gone were his honorary military titles, remaining official patronages and his ability to use his styling as His Royal Highness. (Andrew has always vehemently denied Giuffre’s claims that she was forced to have sex with him on three occasions when she was a teenager.)

Then, the following month, he found himself forking out millions to prevent the case going to court. (Quite where the unemployed private citizen, who has no discernible source of income aside from an allowance from Mumsy and a small naval pension, found that remains a bit of a puzzler.)

There, the Andrew story should have really ended with him disgraced and demoted.

All we should have expected to see of him would be the briefest of brief appearances in the background during family moments, such as on the Buckingham Palace balcony for Trooping the Colour, a portly blur shunted behind Princess Michael of Kent.

Swiftly excised from public view, he would be a prince-in-the-tower re-run for the 21st century.

But, this is Andrew we are talking about, a man who is a “coroneted sleaze machine”, according to royal biographer par excellence Tina Brown.

Despite the scandal surrounding him, Prince Andrew took centre stage at his father Prince Philip's funeral. Photo / Getty Images

Because instead of a dignified retreat to obscurity and pathological boredom, Andrew has been attempting the least subtle comeback since Napoleon started asking about the ferry timetable from Elba.

Last year, days after the death of Prince Philip, Andrew left members of the royal household “furious” after getting moving “straight out the blocks” to get “in front of the cameras” after a private family service, according to The Mirror.

“A fair few [royal family members] hold the view that he is manipulating his position for his own gains,” a source told The Mirror. “He’s made no secret that he’s not ready to fade away into the background, as much as everyone may want him to.”

A year on and he was still up to the same shenanigans.

In late March, he managed to finagle a starring role in the service of thanksgiving for his father Philip at Westminster Abbey, escorting his increasingly frail mother to her seat. It was about as subtle a move as Diana, Princess of Wales’s famous Revenge Dress.

The rest of the royal family were not amused. Again. A family source said that senior royals – including Prince Charles and the Duke of Cambridge – were “dismayed” by events and that Andrew’s decision to put himself “front and centre” of the service had caused “consternation”.

Hot on the heels of Andrew’s Philip service manoeuvre came reports that insiders feared he had set his sights on the Queen’s upcoming Platinum Jubilee celebrations to continue this one-man image rehabilitation kick.

Meanwhile, a recent bizarre story appeared in The Times which quoted unnamed sources who argued he should be given a second chance because “he can do a lot of good”. (Interesting though, how none of these friends and supporters ever actually want to put their name to things, isn’t it?)

Prince Andrew has always been his mother the Queen's favourite child. Photo / Getty Images

“He’s clearly in an awful place,” a source who knows the Duke told the paper. “There are rightfully some questions of him but there is rarely a balanced judgment of him in the media. He has a lot to give to people who will let him give.”

The moral of the story here is, he is never going to go quietly into the night and you just can’t keep a self-important Duke down.

And it is this steadfast refusal to give up on trying, desperately to rehabilitate his image that could ultimately force official hands to step in.

Now, Andrew was born a Prince and he will die a Prince and nothing can change that immutable fact. However, his Duke of York title? Well, that is another story entirely.

While technically it would take an act of Parliament to remove the York honorific (something that last happened in 1917 when all those unfortunate German and Austrian relations were struck from the peerage) there are still a couple of routes that could see him genuinely face the threat of losing his ducal title.

The first and simplest means would be if the pressure on Buckingham Palace over Andrew’s ongoing attempts at staging a return to public life became such that the palace in turn had no choice but to lean sufficiently hard on him to relinquish it.

This is not as out-there an idea as it might first seem. Public feeling towards the former naval officer is nothing short of poisonous. If we continue to see him popping up at events like a royal whack-a-mole, that deep enmity is only going to grow and that is something the royal family simply could not afford to ignore.

Keep in mind here that concurrently, the royal family is fighting multiple fires, including having to contend with the mutinous Sussexes and the stark reality of a growing number of Commonwealth realms signalling their plans to junk the Queen as their head of state. In short, they simply don’t have the bandwidth to wage a PR battle on another front.

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson remain close and have lived together since their divorce. Photo / Getty Images

If the palace suddenly faced a wave of placard-wielding Brits and a rising tide of national anger over Andrew’s continued possession of this gifted York title, then the Queen would have no choice but to force him to give it up.

This avenue has already been publicly mooted. At that racecourse meeting was councillor Darryl Smalley who argued that if Andrew “fails” to willingly forgo his title, then his family must “step in to remove his title to finally end Prince Andrew’s connection to York”.

Then, there is the political route. There have been rumblings in Whitehall that MPs might intervene. The Guardian reported in February that Rachael Maskell, the Labour member for York Central, had met with officials from the House of Commons “to explore ways of forcing Prince Andrew to give up his Duke of York title”.

Again, it is entirely conceivable the day might come (post-Jubilee obviously) that MPs decide it’s time for Andrew to be taken down an official peg. Heaven knows it would be a highly popular move, especially for a government, say, facing a rolling tide of scandals over rule-breaking boozy parties.

At the end of the day, the only people who are probably supportive of Andrew remaining the Duke of York are his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, their family and whoever would have the inevitable job of changing the personalised “DOY” number plate on his Bentley. (Really.)

But don’t worry, no matter what happens, the York title does not have to go to waste because councillor Dave Taylor revealed an intriguing idea: Give it to Beatrice and make her the Duchess of York.

“In contrast to her father, she is personable, intelligent and does her homework,” he said.

Better book the York racecourse again, there might be another extraordinary council meeting on the books.

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