Prince Andrew has claimed he was in Pizza Express on a night he is accused of having sex with a 17-year-old girl – and suggested a photo of them together may have been doctored.
The Duke of York also said that he did not regret his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, saying: “The people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him or because of him were actually very useful.”
The royal’s friendship with the disgraced American billionaire, who died in prison earlier this year, has led Buckingham Palace to issue a number of unexpected statements in the past four years, culminating in Saturday’s unprecedented interview with BBC’s Newsnight which was approved by the Queen.
The friendship allegedly led to him being introduced in 2001 to Virginia Roberts-Giuffre, who says she was trafficked by Epstein as a teenager and forced to have sex with his friends.
Ms Roberts-Giuffre claims she and Prince Andrew dined and danced together at a nightclub in London before going on to have sex.
She said she remembered him sweating during their encounter.
But the duke, who denies ever meeting Ms Roberts-Giuffre, said in the interview that he had a “peculiar medical condition” which prevented him from sweating.
“I didn’t sweat at the time because I had suffered what I would describe as an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands War when I was shot at and I simply… it was almost impossible for me to sweat.”
Instead he said he had been at Pizza Express in Woking that evening before going home.
He said: “I was with the children and I’d taken [daughter Princess] Beatrice to a Pizza Express in Woking for a party at, I suppose, sort of 4pm or 5pm in the afternoon.”
When asked why he would remember a meal at Pizza Express 18 years later, he said: “Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do, a very unusual thing for me to do.”
Ms Roberts-Giuffre has claimed they went on to have sex on two other occasions – allegations the duke denies.
He was also asked about a photo of him and Ms Roberts-Giuffre, where he is pictured with his arm around her waist.
The photo was allegedly taken by Epstein at the house of the prince’s friend, Ghislaine Maxwell, in London in March 2001.
He said: “Nobody can prove whether or not that photograph has been doctored but I don’t recollect that photograph ever being taken.”
Regarding his hand being on the young woman’s waist, he said: “I am not one to, as it were, hug, and public displays of affection are not something that I do… I don’t believe that photograph was taken in the way that has been suggested.”
He added: “That’s me but whether that’s my hand or whether that’s the position I… but I don’t… I have simply no recollection of the photograph ever being taken.
“We can’t be certain that it’s my hand on her left side.”
When asked if he could have had sex with her or any young woman trafficked by Epstein, he said: “No, and without putting too fine a point on it, if you’re a man it is a positive act to have sex with somebody.
“You have to take some sort of positive action and so therefore if you try to forget, it’s very difficult to try and forget a positive action and I do not remember anything.”
As well as denying having sex with the 17-year-old, the duke has also denied knowing anything about Epstein’s crimes against underage girls prior to his conviction.
The duke had travelled to Epstein’s mansion in New York in 2010 after Epstein’s release from jail, saying he intended to break off their friendship.
But he has been criticised for staying at the mansion – and remaining there for what was reported to have been four days – following footage of him looking out of the door.
He said: “It was a convenient place to stay… at the end of the day, with a benefit of all the hindsight that one can have, it was definitely the wrong thing to do but at the time I felt it was the honourable and right thing to do.”
Asked if he now had a sense of “guilt, regret or shame” about his friendship with Epstein, the duke said he did regret that Epstein had “quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming”, to which Maitlis replied: “Unbecoming? He was a sex offender.”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I’m being polite, I mean in the sense that he was a sex offender,” he replied.
Lawyers for Ms Roberts-Giuffre have said the duke could not have been with Epstein without knowing about the man’s illegal activities.
But the duke said there were “a lot of people walking around Jeffrey Epstein’s house”, adding that because of his royal background he presumed “they were staff”.
The duke also said he was unaware that an arrest warrant had been issued for Epstein when the billionaire attended the 18th birthday party of Princess Beatrice in 2006 with his ex-partner Ghislaine Maxwell.
When asked if he would be willing to testify or give a statement under oath, he said he would have to take legal advice but if this was affirmative then he would be “duty bound to do so”.
He said the scandal had not been “damaging” to the Queen but that it had been to him, adding: “If I was in a position to be able to answer all these questions in a way that gave sensible answers other than the ones that I have given that gave closure then I’d love it but I’m afraid I can’t.”