Emily Maitlis has revealed Newsnight turned down an earlier opportunity to interview Prince Andrew after his team said questions about the royal’s friendship with Jeffrey Epstein would be off limits.
She said Newsnight producer Sam McAllister had approached Buckingham Palace a “full year earlier” to ask for a sit down talk with Prince Andrew.
The palace returned the interest in May this year, she said, “suggesting that [Prince Andrew] might want to discuss a whole range of things — trade after Brexit, his projects, and Britain’s place in the world”.
But, Maitlis added: “His friendship with the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein was the one area they did not want discussed.”
“This rings alarm bells with our deputy editor, Stewart Maclean. His news antennae — and discomfort with being told what can or cannot be addressed, will become instrumental to this whole process.
“And so we decline — just out of principle. Red lines are never a good starting point for any interview.”
Two months later Epstein was charged with sex trafficking by federal prosecutors and then found dead while being held in custody in New York.
Prince Andrew’s friendship with the disgraced financier – who served time in 2008 for soliciting prostitution – has since come under further scrutiny.
He faces allegations from one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts, that she was forced to have sex with him when she was 17.
The duke told Newsnight: “I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever.”
Maitlis said the Newsnight team met with the palace twice while trying to secure the interview and that Prince Andrew sought final approval from the Queen before it was given the go ahead.
“It is impossible ever to feel ready for an interview like this one,” the journalist wrote in the Times.
“It will be one of a kind. But at 1pm on Thursday I am bundled into the cab to the palace, with Jake Morris, the investigations producer, at my side.”
She described the interview on-air as “exceptionally rare” and said Newsnight had come to Buckingham Palace in “highly unusual circumstances” when normally it would be to discuss royal duties.
It has since been described as a “car crash” for the duke and made the front pages of a number of newspapers.