Last month, with storm clouds gathering over Windsor as the Duke of York pinned his hopes on a US judge dismissing the sexual assault civil lawsuit against him, his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, was appearing on Italian TV.
Promoting her Mills & Boon novel Her Heart for a Compass, Fergie – as she is known after her birth name, Sarah Ferguson – was effusive in her praise for Prince Andrew. “I completely stand by Andrew 100%,” she told the talk show Porta a Porta.
The happiest day of her life, she continued, was her wedding day back in 1986, “when I married the best man in the world”.
As character witnesses go, this was gleaming testimony, especially coming from a woman who has been divorced from her husband for 25 years.
Today, permanently stripped of his military affiliations and royal patronages, banished from the official royal court, and facing an unforgiving legal battle to clear his name – which he has pledged to continue – there appear to be few Andrew can turn to for unconditional support.
But one who has remained steadfast throughout is his ex-wife.
Once described, by the duchess herself, as “the happiest divorced couple in the world”, the relationship between the duke and duchess is undoubtedly unconventional.
“Who knows what the relationship really is. It seems utterly bizarre,” said the royal author Penny Junor.
They still live together – when she is in the UK – at Royal Lodge, the grace-and-favour former home of the Queen Mother in Windsor, on which Andrew has a 75-year lease. After all, with its reported 30 rooms and 21 secluded acres, there is plenty of space. Though to call it her home, Ferguson told the Sunday Times last year, “would be presumptuous”.
They happily holidayed together with their daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, leading to constant speculation of reconciliation and remarriage – rumours that grew after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, said to be no fan of the duchess.
Related: Prince Andrew loses military roles and use of HRH title
Asked directly in August on the ITV show Loose Women if a rekindling of romance was on the cards, she brushed it aside. “Oh, goodness me,” she responded, “you’re all fairytale, you’ve all got your wands out. Andrew and I remain steadfast, in the past we’ve been co-parenting and now we’re co-grandparenting.”
Junor said: “She has not just stood silently by his side. She actually speaks out in favour of him.”
The duke now seemed an isolated figure, added Junor. “He used to be a great partygoer. Those days do seem to be gone. He cuts a sad and lonely figure these days, I think. We see him out riding but always on his own. It’s the daughters I feel most sorry for, being caught up in all this. It must be really difficult for them.”
It is not the first storm the couple have ridden out together. They separated in 1992, months before photographs of the duchess having her toes sucked by her financial adviser John Bryan appeared on the front pages while she was at Balmoral with the Queen – an “excruciatingly embarrassing” moment, she has since said.
Then in 2010, the financially challenged duchess was caught in a sting by the now defunct News of the World, allegedly trying to sell an undercover journalist access to Andrew for £500,000, for which she was forced to issue an apology for her “serious lapse of judgment”.
(January 1, 1999)
In the early 90s, Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of British media tycoon Robert Maxwell, met investment banker and financier Jeffrey Epstein. Their relationship was initially romantic, but it evolved into something more akin to Maxwell being a confidante and personal assistant.
Prince Andrew was reportedly introduced to Epstein through Maxwell in 1999, and Epstein reportedly visited the Queen’s private retreat in Aberdeenshire.
Some have suggested the introduction was made earlier. A 2011 letter to the Times of London from the prince’s then private secretary, Alastair Watson, suggests Andrew and Epstein knew each other from the early 90s.
(January 1, 2000)
Andrew, Maxwell and Epstein are seen together at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. Later that year, Epstein and Maxwell attend a joint birthday party at Windsor Castle hosted by the Queen.
(January 1, 2001)
Andrew and Epstein holiday together and are pictured on a yacht in Phuket, Thailand, surrounded by topless women. The Times of London reported the prince’s holiday was paid for by Epstein.
In the same year, Virginia Giuffre, then 17, claims to have had sex with Andrew in Maxwell’s home in Belgravia, London. Giuffre, whose surname was Roberts at the time of the alleged incidents, says she slept with Andrew twice more, at Epstein’s New York home and at an “orgy” on his private island in the Caribbean.
(January 1, 2008)
Epstein is jailed for 18 months by a Florida state court after pleading guilty to prostituting minors.
(January 1, 2010)
Soon after his release, Epstein is visited by Andrew in New York. The pair are photographed together in Central Park. Footage emerges years later, reportedly shot on 6 December, that appears to show Andrew inside Epstein’s Manhattan mansion waving goodbye to a woman from behind a door.
(January 1, 2011)
Andrew quits his role as UK trade envoy following a furore over the Central Park photos.
(January 1, 2015)
Allegations that Andrew had sex with Giuffre emerge in court documents in Florida related to Epstein. The papers say she was forced to have sex with Andrew when she was 17, which is below the age of consent under Florida law. Buckingham Palace denies the allegations. The claims against Andrew are later struck from US civil court records following a federal judge’s ruling.
(January 1, 2019)
Andrew is accused of sexual impropriety by a second alleged Epstein victim, Johanna Sjoberg. She claims he touched her breast at the billionaire’s Manhattan apartment in 2001. Buckingham Palace says the allegations are “categorically untrue”.
(August 10, 2019)
Epstein is found dead in his jail cell after being re-arrested and charged with sex trafficking. A medical examiner says the death was a suicide. A pilot on Epstein’s private jet later that month claims Andrew was a passenger on past flights with the financier and Giuffre.
(November 20, 2019)
Andrew takes part in a disastrous BBC TV interview during which he claims he could not have had sex with Giuffre because he was at home after a visit to Pizza Express in Woking, and that her description of his dancing with her beforehand could not be true because he was unable to sweat, and that he had “no recollection of ever meeting this lady”. After several days of negative reaction, Andrew announces he is to step back from public duties “for the foreseeable future”.
(January 27, 2020)
US prosecutor Geoffrey Berman gives a public statement suggesting there has been “zero cooperation” with the investigation from Andrew.
(June 8, 2020)
After Berman again claims Andrew has “completely shut the door” on cooperating with the US investigation in March, lawyers for the prince insist he has repeatedly offered to cooperate and accuse US prosecutors of misleading the public and breaching confidentiality.
(July 2, 2020)
Maxwell, who has seldom been seen in public in recent years, is arrested by the FBI on charges related to Epstein. Unsealed testimony from a 2015 civil case reveal a series of claims about her role in Epstein's sex-trafficking ring, including allegations that she trained underage girls as sex slaves.
(September 24, 2021)
US officials confirm that Prince Andrew has received court papers relating to a sexual assault civil lawsuit from Giuffre, seeking damages. Her lawyers had earlier said the duke had officially been served with the papers, but his legal team had disputed the claim. Two weeks later, a court in New York granted his lawyers permission to see the confidential settlement agreement between Giuffre and Epstein.
(October 11, 2021)
The Metropolitan police in London say they are taking no further action after a review of the allegations that Prince Andrew assaulted Giuffre. In August, the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, had said “no one is above the law” and that she had asked her team to look at the material again.
(December 30, 2021)
Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial ends with a guilty verdict on five of the six counts she faced.
(January 12, 2022)
A judge in New York rejects Prince Andrew’s attempt to throw out the sexual abuse civil lawsuit brought against him by Giuffre. The prince's lawyers had attempted to argue that Giuffre’s 2009 settlement with Epstein shielded the duke from her taking legal action against him.
(January 13, 2022)
Queen Elizabeth II strips her son of a range of military affiliations and royal patronages after more than 150 military veterans write to describe their “upset and anger”.
In 2012, another grovelling apology for a “gigantic error of judgment on my behalf” followed revelations she had allowed the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein to provide £15,000 to help pay off her debts.
To the Evening Standard, she spoke of her contrition and how her actions had “inadvertently impacted on the man I admire most in the world, the duke”. She would “throw myself under a bus for him”, she continued, and she was “not going to stand back and let him take any more abuse from any suggestion or implications of impropriety”.
Now Andrew is fighting for what is left of his reputation, already tarnished by his friendships with Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, who was recently convicted of charges relating to the recruitment and grooming of teenage girls for Epstein.
As he decides his next move to defend himself over claims – which he denies – by Virginia Giuffre that she was forced into having sex with him when she was 17 and had been trafficked by Epstein, one person he can count on, it seems, is his ex-wife.
Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html