The Duke of York could not return to public life unless he clears his name, Buckingham Palace sources have insisted, after it was claimed he had begun informal discussions with the Royal Family about his future role.
The Duke, 60, stepped back from official royal duties last November, following a disastrous Newsnight interview about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted paedophile. Yet insiders have long made clear that he is desperate to rebuild his reputation, and had even pinned his hopes on a "complete exoneration.”
A source close to Prince Andrew has now acknowledged that while he knows he cannot “carry on as normal” he had some “clear thoughts” about his future service.
“He is thinking about how to best serve his country and will work with his family, advisers and stakeholders on what that will look like,” the source said.
"He's very sensitive to the public mood and acutely conscious that the public are the most important stakeholder. He feels he has support from the family, very much so, including all his siblings and his parents."
The Duke was said to be devising a "reframing" of his role that could see him return to some public duties next year, if he can resolve the legal issues surrounding his relationship with Epstein and the allegation that he slept with one of the financier’s 17-year-old victims when she was in London.
The Duke has always vigorously denied the allegations.
Buckingham Palace has made clear that while family members privately support him, a return to any form of public role could only be considered if it is no longer overshadowed by his link to Epstein. A senior royal aide commended the Duke for the “level of maturity” he had displayed in dealing with the fallout thus far, accepting, for example, that he could not feature in his daughter, Princess Beatrice’s official wedding photographs or attend the Cenotaph next month on Remembrance Sunday.
“The Duke is still a son, a sibling, a part of the family and he has not been cast out,” the source said. “But when he stepped back from his public role ‘for the foreseeable future’ last November, it was over controversies concerning his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and they have not been resolved at all.
“In an ideal world, the family would love to see something change but the harsh reality is that there are a lot of hurdles to overcome first.”
Attempts to rehabilitate the Duke’s image began when he hired a formidable legal team which has been working around the clock to clear his name. He was photographed earlier this year packing cupcakes at his home, Royal Lodge, in Windsor, and delivering care parcels to the Thames Hospice
. Yet the revelations about a potential return to public life could not have emerged at a worse time, coming just days after his friend Ghislaine Maxwell’s legal deposition was unsealed, casting fresh questions about his friendship with Epstein and the allegations that he slept with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, when she was 17. Maxwell claimed in the deposition that the Duke had branded Miss Roberts Giuffre a “liar”.