Like many people, I watched Prince Andrew’s Newsnight meltdown with mounting disbelief. Why had he agreed to do it? It wasn’t as if the general public was clamouring for an answer about what he was doing on the night he’d been accused of having sex with a 17-year-old victim of Jeffrey Epstein. And if he was going to give a television interview, why choose Emily Maitlis? That’s like booking yourself into Sweeney Todd’s for a short back and sides. Emily asked me to do an interview last year when I was forced to resign from the Office for Students over some embarrassing old tweets and, after humming and hawing for a bit, I declined. Clearly, one of my more sensible decisions.
But my feeling of smugness at having sidestepped that landmine was short-lived. The day after Prince Andrew’s interview was broadcast I got a call from Good Morning Britain. Did I fancy coming on to defend Prince Andrew in a debate? Instead of saying no, I started to discuss what I might say. If he believes himself to be innocent and has a good alibi, as he appears to have, it’s kind of understandable that he would want to clear his name. Yes, it was unrehearsed and he admitted to things he probably shouldn’t have, such as the fact that he stayed in Epstein’s house in New York because it was ‘convenient’. But didn’t that just make his denial more credible? He’d been criticised for not speaking out about the allegation, and now he was being criticised for doing exactly that.
At this point, I’d pretty much talked myself into it, but before saying yes I glanced up at my wife who was sitting opposite me. Caroline was shaking her head furiously and running her finger back and forth across her throat. ‘Can I call you back in a minute?’ I said.
When I hung up, I got the force nine gale.
‘Are you fucking insane? He’s the most reviled man in Britain.’
‘But I feel a bit sorry for him. He’s being subjected to the Two Minutes Hate and I know what that’s like. Literally no one is defending him apart from Fergie.’
‘Yeah, and there’s a good reason for that. Honestly, you amaze me sometimes. It’s as if alienating 99 per cent of the country isn’t enough for you. You have to hunt down that last 1 per cent and make sure you piss them off, too.’
I called the booker back and politely declined. But this exchange left me feeling even more sympathetic towards Andrew. If only he’d married someone level-headed and sensible like I did.
This wasn’t the first time Caroline had saved my bacon. When she learned that my career had been derailed because of sophomoric things I’d said on social media, she literally snatched the phone out of my hands and deleted the Twitter app. Admittedly, she did let me reinstall it about a week later, but only after I’d promised never to tweet after I’d had a glass of wine. And if I worry that an article I’ve written is too provocative, I run it past her first. It’s like being married to a focus group. Come to think of it, it was Caroline who advised me not to go on Newsnight last year. She did a great impression of Emily Maitlis reading out some of my old tweets and then scowling at me in disapproval.
Thinking that you’ll come across well on telly, even when it’s bleedin’ obvious to everyone else you’ll look like an idiot, is one of the drawbacks of having a large male ego. I remember asking Louis Theroux how he managed to persuade people like Chris Eubank to let him follow them around with a camera crew, given the risk that he’ll edit the footage to cast them in the worst possible light, and he said he always promises to show them the film before it’s broadcast. ‘But don’t they end up asking you to take out all the embarrassing bits?’ ‘No,’ he said. Apparently, they sit there watching themselves being exposed as complete fools and just nod and smile contentedly. At the end, when any normal person would be chasing Theroux round the room with a flame thrower trying to incinerate any last vestige of footage, they turn to him and say, ‘Yeah, I’m happy with that.’
Incidentally, I’ve been asked to appear on numerous reality shows, including I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! But for some reason, Caroline always threatens to divorce me if I say yes.
Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.