We were sitting face to face around a small table in Buckingham Palace — three of us from BBC Newsnight, plus Prince Andrew, his private secretary and Princess Beatrice, who was writing in a notebook.

It was the chance to interview everyone on the broadcasting world who would gladly give up their arms for that opportunity. Andrew would you agree to speak on television about Jeffrey Epstein’s friendship?

What followed was an intense two hours of questioning from the prince and his daughter — and with every minute, it became ever clearer that this wasn’t won yet.

This interview was something I had been looking for as a Newsnight producer and wanted to get.

After we had talked, I was compelled to speak bluntly to Prince Andrew.

‘Sir. I am a resident of this country for more than 40 years, and have only known two things about your family. It’s that you’re known as ‘Air Miles Andy’ and ‘Randy Andy’ — and I can absolutely tell you that the latter really doesn’t help you in your current predicament.’

Did I blow our chances of landing that interview? My colleagues — presenter Emily Maitlis and Newsnight deputy editor Stewart Maclean — looked genuinely shocked.

After a while, there was silence. Andrew then laughed. All in the room exhaled.

Prince Andrew sat down with Newsnight on November 14, 2019 for an interview that he thought would clear his name of his association with convicted paedophile and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who had died in jail four months earlier

Prince Andrew spoke with Newsnight on the 14th of November 2019 in an interview he believed would end his association with Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted paedophile who was also a sex dealer. Epstein had been sentenced to four months before his death.

The BBC's Emily Maitlis was tasked with interviewing the Queen's second son, who was thought to be her favourite

BBC journalist Emily Maitlis was assigned to interview the second child of Queen Elizabeth II. He was believed to be her favorite.

It had all started innocuously — an email from a PR to me in November 2018, suggesting a chat about Pitch@Palace, Prince Andrew’s initiative to support entrepreneurs around the world. Newsnight would like to speak with him.

It was simple: “no”. Interviewees are not allowed to make conditions and we never accept puff pieces. Therefore, I declined politely.

“Do not hesitate to contact me should the situation change!” I have signed off.

It was so unlikely, I decided to not even tell my boss.

The PR never contacted me again. But six months later, I did: Prince Andrew was now open to a broader chat — would I be interested in learning more? Absolutely.

She needed to speak to Andrew’s private secretary, Amanda Thirsk. The PR assured her that they would get back to each other. Amanda’s name was new to me, and I instantly Googled her.

She sounded suitably impressive — a woman who’d worked for the prince for seven years, but who’d previously been a banker in the City. Talking to two friends revealed a picture of someone formidable. She was smart, thorough, loyal, and fiercely loyal.

Soon after, Amanda invited me to Buckingham Palace.

I’m not going to lie — I was excited to go. At this point, I was not hopeful of landing an interview.

According to my knowledge, none of the Royal Family members had appeared on Newsnight. There were no connections between us and the Palace. Rarely did we even get to tell a story about a royal. We are curious to know why Prince Andrew would want to speak to us.

The only thing I could see were some armed police standing at the gate. It wasn’t hard to believe that anyone would walk into Buckingham Palace this way. I was identified and my identity were checked by the officers who then called someone to authorize my entry.

After the police, guns and crowd parted, I started the long trek to the palace doors. The hundreds upon hundreds of tourists who sat in front of the gates watched me as I trotted across the cobbles. A pair of Kurt Geiger gold-heeled boots, which was quite high, resisted my attempts to walk through the streets.

As the interview began, what followed was one astonishing answer after another, according to Sam McAlister. 'Each time it couldn't get any worse, it did'

Sam McAlister said that the interviews began with one amazing answer. “Each time it could’t get worse, it did.”

'The answers showed how totally removed the prince was from the reality of an average life'

“The answers demonstrated how completely removed the prince was the reality of an ordinary life.”

A small waiting area was set up with a tiny marble mantelpiece and large, gilt-framed mirror. There was also a ticking wood clock. A framed photo of Her Majesty in yellow with a hat and jacket was placed on a small table.

Daring to be bold, I bought the black frame. I was not surprised that it wasn’t very heavy. The black frame looked more like an Ikea Ikea-style wooden frame.

While I was sitting there, I heard staff talking about a royal visit to Sainsbury’s. I also watched as a soldier entered, took off his bearskin cap and spoke briefly about the day. Two PRs came and took us upstairs, passing huge statues of ex-kings and queens and along empty corridors. Amanda’s office had a small space, with photographs of Prince Andrew as well as his family.

Andrew's private secretary, Amanda Thirsk, a woman who'd worked for the prince for seven years, but who'd previously been a banker in the City

Andrew’s private secretary, Amanda Thirsk, a woman who’d worked for the prince for seven years, but who’d previously been a banker in the City

She was exactly as I expected — impeccable manners, thorough and direct, not a hair out of place. The interview lasted two hours and we agreed to cover everything, from Brexit to future monarchy.

Amanda stated that Amanda was not allowed to discuss Andrew’s friendship and relationship with Epstein. It was a terrible feeling.

Jeffrey Epstein, back in those days, wasn’t something that many people knew. I understood that the interview had to be declined.

This happened in May 2019. Epstein was detained eight weeks later. Twelve weeks later, Epstein was killed. It was becoming clear that his crimes were extensive, and Virginia Roberts Giuffre (and other victims) had begun to talk.

Twenty weeks on, I managed to persuade Amanda that Prince Andrew’s position — of silence in the face of global scrutiny — was untenable.

We received the email 12 days later. The email arrived early Saturday morning on November 9, from Amanda. Could presenter Emily Maitlis and our deputy editor Stewart come to the palace within two days? Prince Andrew was keen to see us.

Monday November 11, 2019, 10:00 AM

‘Morning!’ As he entered Amanda’s bedroom, Prince Andrew was cheerful. He smiled. He appeared friendly. “I’m sorry, I’m not a bother. But I took someone along with me!” The two of us exchanged glances. It could have been a lawyer. A lawyer? A member of the Queen’s personal staff perhaps?

Jeffrey Epstein on March 28, 2017. Prince Andrew's BBC interview centred around his relationship with convicted paedophile and sex trafficker Epstein

Jeffrey Epstein on March 28, 2017. Prince Andrew interviewed BBC on March 28, 2017 about his relationship to Epstein (convicted paedophile, sex trader).

Then, Princess Beatrice appeared behind him. The worst thing about speaking with someone prospectively interviewed about sexual impropriety or sex with 17-year old girls is being forced to do it in front of his child.

While Princess Beatrice was courteous and engaged, it was clear that she was not as concerned with her father’s meeting.

She was close to Queen Elizabeth. My feeling was that the Prince’s youngest daughter, now the one who would make the difference in whether or not we get the interview, was her oldest child.

All of us sat down in that small room, just a few feet apart. The most amazing thing was the inability to ask questions or place conditions.

He revealed, however, that the prince had a ‘alibi’. He told us about Pizza Express. An event for children. His sweating (or lack thereof) was a topic he mentioned. He mentioned how recent he’d been to GhislaineMaxwell. [Epstein’s procurer of under-age girls]. He confessed that he made some mistakes of judgement. This was amazing stuff.

Princess Andrew

Princess Beatrice

While Princess Beatrice was polite, engaged and present for the interview, her father was clearly anxious. She was obviously there to defend his interests.

Then he spoke something that I will never forget.

He said that there was a lot of things to be discussed and suggested they go upstairs for a cup and a chat with Mum.

A split second later, I thought it was funny. Why would a man talk to his mother? It hit me. “Mum”, was actually the Queen.

He agreed to interview him less than 24 hours later.

It was hard to believe that it had happened until the cameras began rolling. However, I didn’t need to wait too long. It was Tuesday, November 12, 2019. Within two days, all of us would find ourselves in Buckingham Palace again. We were able to meet Prince Andrew and conduct what was a shocking interview than we could have ever imagined.

Thursday, November 14, 2019,

15 feet is how far I’m from Andrew’s back. The soles of his shoes are barely scuffed, the hair on his back (new cut), and the length of his pants (a perfect fit). I also hear his nervous tapping. His body seems to be a bit too big for the chair.

I am sitting in my own chair against the wall, which is larger than many London apartments. A very kind woman sits next to me and offers me a martini, knowing how anxious I feel.

Gin with a twist. The Queen is also a big fan. You can’t believe it’s happening. It was a conversation between Buckingham Palace staff about the monarch’s love of cocktails.

She is the prince’s equerry. She’s certain this interview will clear his name — that it’s all been a terrible misunderstanding. You can be sure that everything will get back to normal once this interview is over.

Emily Maitlis, who is anxious, keeps herself busy with her notes. It’s the end of two days worth of practice and brainstorming together with a small staff.

My panic is increasing. The Royal Family are about to interview one of their members about the connections he has with sex-traffickers. On camera we’re going to question him about his sex experiences with Virginia Roberts Giuffre and Epstein’s horrific acts. We also want to know if he participated in them.

The infamous photograph of Prince Andrew with his arm around the waist of a then-17-year-old Virginia Giuffre, with Ghislaine Maxwell smiling in the background

The infamous photograph of Prince Andrew with his arm around the waist of a then-17-year-old Virginia Giuffre, with Ghislaine Maxwell smiling in the background

Amanda and her deputy are here, except for the equerry. That’s it. There are no lawyers or other royal staff. It would have been impossible for me to expect a large number of people to supervise it all.

Tall, thin white men enter the room and say hi. Donal McCabe is introduced to us as the ‘Communications Secretary of the Queen’. It is significant that he visited; the Queen probably knows of the interview.

After speaking to two people, he walks away. Afterwards, this seems a missed opportunity — if he’d stayed, he’d have known the contents of the interview first-hand. He might have realized how disastrous this would be for Andrew and the monarchy.

Maybe they had more time for a reply. Some kind of damage limitation. McCabe was not able to see the interview until 48 hours later.

The equerry tells us that after our interview, Palace ‘cinema night’ will take place in the same space. The Royal Household members will meet up to watch and maybe even eat popcorn as we go.

Prince Andrew suddenly appeared and made his way to meet me. He’s very friendly and chatty. The topic of ‘cinema nights’ is discussed and the man opens the door to the ceiling at the end of his room, revealing the projector. Turns out this evening they’re showing a Renée Zellweger film — Judy — have I seen it?

The weather and floods in Green Park are discussed briefly. He then moves to Judy Garland and the crew and makes suggestions regarding microphones and other technicalities.

We’re all set to leave twenty minutes later. Amanda settles down next to Andrew and holds her notebook. Emily nods. We are now rolling. We’re off.

The first question Emily asks — why he’s decided to talk now — is the one I get asked the most today. What’s the point of taking such a huge risk?

You can look back and see that it was a reckless decision. However, few people think about the consequences of their decisions.

Ghislaine Maxwell, pictured walking behind Andrew at the wedding of Aurelia Cecil and Rupert Stephenson was charged with eight counts relating to grooming under-age girls for Epstein and was recently sentenced to 20 years in jail

Ghislaine Maxiwell (pictured behind Andrew at Aurelia Cecil’s wedding to Rupert Stephenson) was arrested on eight counts related to Epstein grooming. She was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment

Also, you must remember Andrew’s entire life. It is said that the second son was always Queen Victoria’s favorite. Unimaginable access to opportunity. Don’t be surprised.

An average CEO wouldn’t have taken such a risk. There would have been 100 reasons to not take this chance. Andrew and his associates must have hoped that the moment of his life would alter the public’s perception of him.

While we do not know the truth, we believe he spent at least two days in rehearsals. As we do, we can assume that his team has analyzed and planned the answers, decided on the best way to respond to the more serious accusations, and considered tone of voice, body, etc. He contemplated whether or not he would apologize. Emily’s question was answered by his answer. His answer to Emily’s question? He just reminds us his people have been talking with Newsnight for six month and that it is ‘a very good chance’.

Emily followed with a masterclass of calm, methodical and analytical interviewing. As a shining example for what not to answer when dealing with controversy, the interview has been used worldwide by communications and PR professionals as well as crisis managers. Andrew was supposed to distance himself from Epstein. I thought Andrew would condemn him and dilute their common history. It sounded more like they were friends and the prince even liked him.

Then came one after another, and it was amazing. It got worse every time, even though I believed it could not get much worse. Answers revealed just how disconnected the prince was from everyday life.

Did he fly on Epstein’s private airplane? Yes. Yes. Yes. He had stayed in Palm Beach. Yes. Did he visit Ghislaine Maxwell’s London residence? Yes. Epstein attended Princess Beatrice’s 18th-birthday party at Windsor Castle. Yes.

Had the prince been on Epstein's private plane? Yes. Had he stayed on his private island? Yes. Had he stayed at his home in Palm Beach? Yes. Had he visited Ghislaine Maxwell's London home? Yes. Was Epstein at Princess Beatrice's 18th birthday party at Windsor Castle? Yes.

Did Epstein have the Prince on Epstein’s private plane? Yes. Yes. Yes. He had stayed in Palm Beach. Yes. Did he visit Ghislaine Maxwell’s London residence? Yes. Epstein attended Princess Beatrice’s 18th-birthday party at Windsor Castle. Yes.

Epstein was sentenced to prison in 2008 for procuring minors for prostitution. Andrew stated that they hadn’t had any contact in the time between them. Emily delivered the fatal blow. [of his release]You stayed with him in his New York home. Why? What made you stay with a convicted sexual offender?

Andrew said, “I was there to say to him that he has been convicted and it would be inappropriate to have us see together.” . . It felt like the chicken was doing it via the phone.

It was a strange thought. Did he really believe that it was right for me to spend four nights at the home of an convicted sex-offender? You thought it was honorable.

Emily persevered. Emily persisted.

Andrew ought to have grabbed her arm for the opportunity to answer, simply put, “Yes.” Instead, Andrew said that he was still not sure. He explained, “The reason is because I learned so much from the people I met, as well as the experiences I got through them, were extremely useful.”

It was a struggle to keep my eyes open when I first started rolling my eyes.

Virginia Roberts Guiffre had never been mentioned to him. He also recalled his hand being wrapped around Virginia Roberts Guiffre’s waist during the famous photograph of the night he allegedly had sex. He said that he would not have been physically near someone like this as a prince.

Out came his now notorious alibis — that he was at Pizza Express in Woking that day, that Virginia’s recollection of him sweating on the dance floor at Tramp nightclub couldn’t be true because he’d lost the ability to sweat.

A former criminal barrister I was well aware that the answers would be a nightmare for future defense lawyers. Andrew could not have given us legal advice prior to our meeting. This was something I realized for the first.

This situation is getting worse.

Virginia could not have been sexy with him. Sex for a man is a positive, long-lasting action that can be difficult to forget. Is this an euphemism royal for penetration?

Emily said to him, “I wonder now if you feel any guilt? Regret or shame regarding any of your actions and your friendship with Epstein?

He was presented with it on a platter. He was sure to clarify it as a bad mistake.

He was putting his hands on the ground, and I looked up to see him getting ready for the answer.

“As far Mr Epstein is concerned it was a bad decision to visit him in 2010. My association with him had positive outcomes that were not related to what. . . We’re talking today. It was extraordinary that he didn’t realize how horrible that sounded. Emily asked the final question.

“Is there something you’d like to add now that has gone unmentioned?”

Perhaps a message of condolence for the horrible acts his “friend” had committed. Andrew was denied his opportunity.

“No, that’s not what I think.” You’ve likely dragged most of the required information out. . .’

It was that simple. It was a shocking interview that no one could have foreseen.

It was impossible for me to look at any one. It was hard to believe that his interviewers hadn’t stopped. I would, regardless of the possible consequences.

“How do you feel it went?” The equerry agreed.

She was beaming. She smirked. “Wasn’t he wonderful!” she exclaimed.

It was my expectation that Amanda Thirsk would be upset, and the prince look worried or shaken, but instead she smiled, and he appeared ebullient.

It hit me then: it was actually a good thing.

We were all in such good spirits that he gave us all a tour through the palace. Unfortunately, I was unable to go. He wouldn’t be able to talk to me in good faith. Emily didn’t refuse. How did she keep her calm?

All agreed after the broadcast that Prince Andrew’s interview had been a complete disaster. Amanda Thirsk was ridiculed in newspapers by his newspaper colleagues for agreeing to the interview.

This was deeply troubling to me. What she had done was believe in her boss — his own answers had landed him in hot water.

She made me feel strangely protective of her. Our jobs were well done. Her professional life now was in disarray.

Prince Andrew, who was born November 20, announced that he would be retiring from public service for the near future. He also showed sympathy for Epstein’s victims, although it was late.

Amanda Thirsk quit her job and left.

I messaged her. If she wanted to, I was open to meeting.

Ghislaine Maxill was also charged with grooming girls under the age of 18 for Epstein. Andrew was urged to “co-operate” with the FBI as his voice grew stronger

Earl Spencer made public accusations against the BBC and Martin Bashir just before the 25th Anniversary of Martin Bashir’s Panorama interview.

He said that Martin Bashir had obtained the interview after telling a series of lies to Diana, and showing her fake bank statements. It was something she wouldn’t have done otherwise.

The more information I gained about these allegations, the more horrified I felt.

Graphic designer, who had blown the whistle about bank statements, was fired. There was clearly some type of cover-up.

Only anger and betrayal were all that I could sense. It was for this reason, and other, that I chose to quit the BBC.

Amanda Thirsk finally met me just before I was due to leave. Amanda Thirsk was so kind and gracious, she wished me all the best. They are in contact from time to another. 

Extracted from Scoops: Behind The Scenes Of The BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews by Sam McAlister, to be published by Oneworld on July 14 at £16.99. © 2022 Sam McAlister. To order a copy for £15.29, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. This offer is valid through July 16, 2022. UK delivery is free on orders over £20.