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Byline: Richard Kay, The Daily Mail, 24 February 2001

Boorish jokes, topless beauties and the question: Is this man really the right person to represent British business?

There has always been more to Prince Andrew than meets the eye. Of the Queen's three sons, he is the one - his mother's favourite, of course - who has most closely embodied the traditions of royal service: 22 years in the Navy and a willingness to step in whenever 'the firm' is in difficulty, as he did the other day when Princess Margaret was unwell.

His problem - and it is a substantial one - is that for a long time few were prepared to take him seriously and he's as prone to gaffes as his father Prince Philip, whom, as he grows older, he increasingly physically resembles.

Time and again, and at the least appropriate or unexpected moment, he would stumble over some obstacle of his own making and his image - and the Royal Family's - would take another knock.

His insensitive remarks on a visit to Lockerbie in the aftermath of that tragedy in 1988 - when he said that it was only a matter of time before a plane fell out of the sky - raised questions about his suitability for a frontline royal role.

And his extraordinary claim on a visit to Malta 18 months ago that royal staff had routinely lied when he compared the Buckingham Palace machine to an old-style Communist regime -'it was like Russia,' he said - was an embarrassing intervention, even if his words were uttered with the best of intentions.

Add to that mix a private life as complicated as any in the Queen's family.

First a marriage that he allowed to slip through his fingers amid bewildering public humiliation.

Then this was followed by what some saw as a midlife crisis as he lurched from the company of one pretty girl to the next. Meanwhile there were some highly questionable new friends, such as Ghislaine, daughter of the late fraudster Robert Maxwell.

His recent, most photographed excursion to Thailand when we were treated to the sight of a playboy prince lounging on a yacht surrounded by topless, nubile young women, provoked such consternation at the Palace that the Queen, who notoriously shies away from family confrontation, asked what on earth he had been up to.

It probably didn't help matters that when he is asked about that trip Andrew falls back on flippancy. 'I was just reading my book and I wasn't really aware of what everyone else was doing,' he says.

Not that his notorious sense of humour has ever been anything but puerile with its frequent dependence on remarks about women's anatomy. Is Prince Andrew the last man in Britain still telling jokes about multiple murderer Fred West and, yes, Robert Maxwell?

All in all, scarcely the credentials, you might think, for the delicate post of emissary for British manufacturing. But the fact is that in April he takes early retirement from the Navy and in July will start in his new post succeeding his cousin, the Duke of Kent, as a roving ambassador for British Trade International, the Government's main vehicle for promoting exports and inward investment.

It is no wonder that there is unease among several high-ranking Palace officials at the appointment of the Duke of York . No one, they argue, could be more miscast. They fear he could become a 'good life' ambassador.

'He thinks it's all going to be high-profile, that he's going to be doing really big things,' says one senior figure. 'But it's not all about endless photocalls with glamorous people. Far from it. It is about hosting boring middle-ranking officials of British multinationals and meeting trade people in government offices overseas.' Indeed, Andrew himself, whose confidence is never anything but sky high, seems convinced that high-profile will be the order of the day; certainly that was what he was telling anyone who cared to ask about his future when he was a guest at a party in London the other day.

'I am thoroughly looking forward to it,' he said, 'because it will be a complete contrast to my role in the Navy where I am necessarily working behind closed doors. Now I will have to deal with the Press. Naturally, I hope it is going to be useful to the country.' Tact and diplomacy will be the required qualities. So just why at a party to mark the tenth anniversary of the PCC did he ill-advisedly quip to David Yelland, the bald editor of the Sun and a man he'd never met: 'I thought you were Duncan Goodhew.' Mr Yelland, who suffers from alopecia, was not amused.

As one senior Buckingham Palace figure says: 'The problem with Andrew is that his mouth engages before his brain does.'

No one will be watching his progress with more concern than the Prince of Wales, who harbours fraternal misgivings about his brother's suitability for the job.

'The problem with my brother,' he carefully told a friend the other day, 'is that he wants to be me.' After a year in which one highly publicised trip abroad has been followed by another, courtiers fear that Andrew's role may become a a convenient method of tagging holidays on to the end of official trips. And, rightly or wrongly, those might quickly come to overshadow his work.

'If he goes off to America to promote business, people will worry about what he is doing in his time off,' says a longstanding Palace staffer who has worked closely with the Duke.

'Will he be going off with Ghislaine Maxwell to a nightclub? The trouble with Andrew is that his private life will, willy-nilly, intrude into his public role.' According to one senior member of the royal household, no one in government has concentrated properly on the Duke's role. 'They expect him to act like a junior minister and do what he is told, but they don't realise that he is famous for not listening,' says the aide.

To be fair to the Prince no one can fault his years of dedicated service to the Navy, seeing action during the Falklands conflict as a helicopter pilot in the aircraft carrier Illustrious, where he flew decoy missions in his Sea King against enemy missiles and transported men and supplies around the Task Force.

He went on to serve all over the world, commanding the minesweeper Cottesmore and becoming one of the Navy's most senior helicopter warfare instructors.

But Andrew was never admiral material and as commander he had almost certainly attained his highest rank. He began to hanker after change and, convinced that he was the answer to the Royal Family's prayers to give it a more modern image, he lobbied the Queen for a fresh challenge.

His dedication apart, the Navy they will not be too dismayed to lose the Duke. 'Boorish and arrogant' are two of the kinder epithets, brother officers use. 'Agreeable enough company in the wardroom but rather overbearing and a bit of bully,' says one.

So why and how did he get this new job?

Certainly the Queen allowed his name to be considered (Andrew has always been considered 'rather good' at speaking to people and at 'working a room').

But another figure played a pivotal role: step forward Peter Mandelson, former Northern Ireland Secretary and New Labour's most assiduous suitor of the Royal Family.

'Peter definitely helped. He really talked Andrew up,' says one of Mandelson's friends. The former minister and the Prince became friends through the NSPCC's 'full stop' campaign in which both men have been instrumental.

Intriguingly, there is also a shared friendship between the two. In December, I can reveal, the Prince and the then minister were guests at the wedding of merchant banker Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and American broadcasting entrepreneur Lynn Forester (a friend of Ghislaine Maxwell) at the Liberal Jewish synagogue in St John's Wood, North London.

Indeed, according to Mandelson's friends the Prince and the minister were invited to be witnesses at the ceremony.

Away from the world of high society, however, Andrew, has one growing worry.

His longstanding private secretary Captain Neil Blair, who once served on the royal yacht Britannia, will soon leave and is working out his notice.

There is no sign of a new private secretary. 'Discreet inquiries have been going on for a month but no one seems terribly keen to take on the job,' said a Palace insider.The inference is that no one wants to work for the Prince.

This week, Andrew spent his 41st birthday posing for photographs with his ex-wife, Fergie, and their pretty daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, on the ski slopes of the Swiss resort of Verbier.

It's ironic that just as Andrew's private life was threatening to become ever more chaotic, it was his ex-wife Fergie, the one who once could have given him a lesson or two in living, who has reeled him back in.

She has reminded him of his public obligations as well as providing a salutary lesson in how to switch from a relentless pursuit of pleasure to a responsible attitude to life, work and standing on her own feet.

The funny thing is that at Buckingham Palace these days the Duchess is viewed as 'the sensible one'.

Says an official: 'The Prince bullies his staff but he can't get away with bullying Sarah. He is beginning recognise that she talks commonsense.'

Making Plans For Andrew by X-Royal-T

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