The BBC nearly decided not to broadcast the Duke of York’s derided Pizza Express alibi over allegations he had sex with Virginia Giuffre to save him from “ridicule”.
The broadcaster went ahead after the hapless Andrew pleaded with ex-BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis to insert it in a second interview after failing to mention it the first time around, because he was “convinced” it would get him off the hook.
Ms Maitlis has revealed how after initially considering rejecting the request, the BBC restarted the interview in Buckingham Palace in which Prince Andrew denied claims he had sex with Ms Giuffre. She was 17 at the time and had been trafficked by his tycoon friend, paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
The former Newsnight host said she eventually agreed to Prince Andrew’s request partly to avoid a repeat of the “Diana interview fiasco”, where the corporation’s Martin Bashir was accused of manipulating the then-Princess of Wales.
Speaking on the Desperately Seeking Wisdom mental health podcast to Sir Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former No 10 spin doctor, Ms Maitlis revealed new details of the car crash interview in 2019.
In it, he said he could not have had sex with Ms Giuffre in London on 10 March 2001 as alleged, because he had taken his daughter to a birthday party at the Pizza Express in Woking, Surrey.
Ms Giuffre also claimed they attended Tramp nightclub together and recalled Prince Andrew being “sweaty” as they danced. But he said it could not have been him as he was unable to sweat at the time as a result of trauma caused by serving in the Falklands War.
Ms Maitlis disclosed how the Pizza Express alibi, which prompted worldwide mockery, was delivered in effect as an afterthought when the duke asked her to start the cameras rolling again.
She said: “He wanted to insert that afterwards. I said to him, ‘Is there anything you haven’t had a chance to say?’ He said ‘Oh actually, I didn’t give you my alibi.’ And he told us about the Pizza Express thing.
“We said, ‘But you’ve answered all the questions and explained that you’d never met Virginia Giuffre.’
“He said, ‘Yes, but the reason I couldn’t have been there was because I was in my car taking my daughter to Pizza Express in Woking.’
“We let him record that again but it was complicated. I thought if we don’t include it we haven’t included something really important for the interviewee to make known. And if we do include it it sounds ridiculous.”
Ms Maitlis explained her dilemma: “He had asked for it to be included – but does he get the final say? Because it was clearly going to make him look ridiculous.”
The BBC faced a “moral battle”, she said.
“In the end, we decided if we had told the palace it would be part of the interview we had to include it.
“Particularly in the light of the Diana interview fiasco [involving Bashir] we thought we had got to be transparent. If we have said ‘is there anything you want included?’ and they have said that (that they did want it included) we had to… [put it] in.”
She described her incredulity at the prince’s conduct in the interview: “I’m not sure he heard it the same way those of us in the room heard it.
“He thought his alibis were self-explanatory, that he had convinced us he couldn’t sweat or hadn’t been at the club or had been at Pizza Express.”
Prince Andrew, whose reputation has never recovered from the interview, still vehemently denies all allegations made against him by Ms Giuffre.
In the part “inserted” at his request, he said: “I was with the children and I’d taken Beatrice to a Pizza Express in Woking for a party at 4pm or 5pm.”
Asked why he would remember a meal at Pizza Express 18 years later, he replied: “Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is a very unusual thing for me to do ... I’ve only been to Woking a couple of times and I remember it weirdly distinctly.”
You can listen to the ‘Desperately Seeking Wisdom’ interview with Emily Maitlis from Monday 5 February