People could not tell me and Billie Piper apart on Scoop set, Sam McAlister says

The producer who secured a Newsnight interview with the Duke of York, Sam McAlister, has said that people could not tell her apart from Billie Piper on the set of Netflix drama Scoop.

The film, based on McAlister’s memoir, documents the “high-stakes negotiations with Buckingham Palace” through to the BBC’s headline-making interview with Andrew about his relationship with paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein.

Doctor Who and Secret Diary Of A Call Girl star Piper, 41, plays McAlister in the film and stars opposite Rufus Sewell as Andrew and Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis – the journalist who grilled him.

Speaking on the red carpet of the film’s premiere, McAlister told the PA news agency: “When I tell you on set people couldn’t tell us apart – my own boyfriend couldn’t tell us apart and many of the newspapers couldn’t tell us apart.”

Speaking further on Piper’s portrayal, she said: “The humanity that Billie brings to the role is what really made me proud because I feel she does justice to my journalism, of course, and the journalism of the team.

“But to me as a human being she worked so hard to make sure that I was happy, and I could not be happier.”

McAlister also reflected on what it was like to watch the famous interview scene in which Maitlis grilled Andrew over allegations that Epstein’s victim Virginia Giuffre was trafficked to have sex with the royal when she was 17 – still a minor under US law – during the Newsnight exclusive.

World premiere of Scoop – London
Sam McAlister and Billie Piper attend the world premiere of Scoop (Ian West/PA)

The duke denied he had sex with Ms Giuffre, adding he had no recollection of ever meeting her and that he had spent the day of the alleged meeting at a Pizza Express restaurant in Woking, Surrey, at a party with one of his daughters.

McAlister said: “Watching the interview on set was incredible because, with my eyes closed, Gillian and Rufus are so brilliant that you feel like you’re there.

“And then watching the process of the interview happening, particularly given that Billie is playing me, somebody that most people have never heard of.

“A backroom producer, single parent, part-time, just working, working, working away.

“That’s what most journalism is – that hard work that nobody ever hears about.

World premiere of Scoop – London
Gillian Anderson plays Emily Maitlis in the Netflix film (Ian West/PA)

“So to see the incredible effect that this journalism has had, and to be able to give a voice, if you like, to the 95% of journalists that no-one ever knew existed is a profound privilege too.”

McAlister also said that the impact the interview had is a reminder of the importance and power of journalism.

She said: “I think it was hugely impactful, obviously, personally, for Prince Andrew, and for the royal family, and also profoundly impactful to remind people that when journalism works, it is one of the most important mechanisms for holding powerful people to account.

“Of course, he still refutes all the allegations against him.”

Following the Newsnight broadcast in November 2019 and the furore over Andrew’s friendship with Epstein, the duke stepped down from public life.

The interview was dubbed a “car crash”, with commentators questioning his responses and condemning his unsympathetic tone and lack of remorse over his friendship with the sex offender Epstein.

– Scoop will launch on Netflix on April 5.