A boorish, bungling freeloader: Blistering verdict on Prince Andrew by envoy who worked with himBy Simon Wilson
Last updated at 7:06 AM on 4th December 2010
Documents controversially made public by WikiLeaks this week reveal that Prince Andrew was described as ‘cocky’ and ‘rude’ by a U.S. ambassador as he carried out his duties as Britain’s special trade representative.
He also boasted about UK influence and alleged that countries such as France were corrupt.
These comments brought a rebuke from Business Secretary Vince Cable and a warning from former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind that the Prince had been ‘unwise’.
A vulgar buffoon: Former diplomat Simon Wilson who's worked closely with Prince Andrew describes him as a boorish freeloader who toadies to rich Arabs bungles vital trade deals
But the picture painted of an arrogant Prince prone to expletive-laden rants came as no surprise to one former high-ranking British diplomat who has witnessed, at close quarters, just how Andrew operates abroad.
Simon Wilson was Britain’s Deputy Head of Mission in Bahrain from 2001 to 2005 and was later the most senior British diplomat in Calcutta, with responsibility for eastern India, until he retired last year.
Here, from his unique perspective, the distinguished former diplomat gives an unprecedented - and devastating - insight into Prince Andrew’s performance in a role for which increasing numbers of people consider him unsuited.How it all came back to me when I read this week’s revelations about Prince Andrew committing a series of gaffes while at large as this country’s official trade envoy.
He was a regular visitor to Bahrain during the five years I worked there as Britain’s Deputy Head of Mission.
Unfortunately, HRH the Duke of York was more commonly known among the British diplomatic community in the Gulf as HBH: His Buffoon Highness.
This nickname stemmed from his childish obsession with doing exactly the opposite of what had been agreed in pre-visit meetings with his staff.
He frequently refused to follow his brief - we wondered if he had actually read it - and appeared to regard himself as an expert in every matter.
Despite copious meetings in advance of any visit, including briefings by senior officials from the Foreign Office and the Trade and Industry Department, the Prince usually ignored all advice and plunged straight in.
Colleagues put this behaviour down to an inferiority complex about being mentally challenged.
Exposed: Julian Assange's WikiLeaks has caused a diplomatic storm this week. Among the explosive cables were revelations about Prince Andrew who was described as 'cocky' and 'rude' by a US ambassador in the leaked documents raising doubts about his suitability as Britain's special trade representative
This may be a trifle unfair, but his attitude certainly drew attention to the fact that he was usually out of his depth at meetings.
After the Prince of Wales delegated work in the Gulf to his younger brother, HBH relished these visits to the various sheikhdoms: Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. He assumed the title of Special Representative for International Trade and Investment in 2001.
Officially, he doesn’t get paid for the role, but the style in which I observed him carrying it out beggared belief. He travelled with a team of six, including equerries, private secretaries, protection officers and a valet.
His arrival, not just in the Gulf but elsewhere as well, is now part of the folklore of the diplomatic service because of the reams of instructions about his likes and dislikes — ranging from demands that the drinking water should be served at room temperature to detailed food preferences.
There was also a 6ft-long ironing board that he insisted went everywhere he went. It was hilarious to witness the valet (a word that always had to be pronounced with an emphasis on the ‘t’) struggling off the plane with it and placing the precious object carefully into the minibus we used on such occasions.
On one of his visits to Bahrain, I remember the valet carrying the ironing board through the front entrance of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Amazing insight: Simon Wilson (pictured left with Prince Andrew in 2002) was Britain's former deputy Head of Mission in Bahrain. Revelations of the Prince's boorish conduct abroad come as no surprise to the retired diplomat
There was no doubt that HBH loved being among the Gulf royal families. He went out of his way in sycophancy towards them. I was convinced he was in awe of their wealth.
The thank-you letters he sent to his hosts after one visit to Bahrain — referring to ‘my little plane parked next to your stunning jet’ — made for cringe-making reading. (At the time, Andrew was using a BAe-146 from the Queen’s flight.)
I first met Prince Andrew when he went to Lisbon in November 1993 and I had to organise the visit.
At that time he was commanding HMS Cottesmore and had recently separated from Sarah Ferguson.
Our Defence Attache had helped to teach the Prince to fly helicopters — allowing him to display his bravery during the Falklands Conflict — and was now responsible for arranging a private dinner so that Andrew could meet a group of Brits in Lisbon’s top restaurant.
My wife, who has a passing resemblance to Sarah Ferguson, soon became the butt of a number of schoolboy jokes by the Prince. He even suggested that my wife had ‘touched him up’ under the table. This was our first introduction to his boorish behaviour.
Friends in high places: Prince Andrew (pictured here at Ascot with Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) doesn't officially get paid for his role, but as Simon Wilson reveals, he travels with a considerable entourage in princely style
When visiting the Gulf, the main business usually consisted of a speech to the British business community or to the local chamber of commerce, followed by a reception for businessmen at the British ambassador’s residence.
Andrew would often visit British schools or a hospital and open a British Council cultural event. There would be a dinner with a Crown Prince much of the time and a call on the Head of State.
Subsequent visits were always difficult to work out, as he had already exhausted most of the options.
A small team, usually consisting of a private secretary and a personal protection officer, would come out in advance to ‘recce’ the sights and approve the programme, usually during an extended three-day stay.
This was obviously desirable on the first visit to a new country, but in the case of a small island such as Bahrain such a prolonged recce was a complete waste of public money on subsequent occasions.
I made objections to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about this but, clearly, they fell on deaf ears.
It mattered little anyway, as HBH almost routinely refused to keep to his agreed programme.
During an October 2002 visit, he had an official business meeting in the royal palace with the then King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, to discuss several topics — including the sale of British-made Hawk aircraft.
Boorish and inconsiderate: Simon Wilson recounts numerous occasions when Prince Andrew acted inappropriately when representing Britain's business interests abroad
We British embassy staff could hardly believe it. Instead of promoting the sale, he was trying to talk them out of it. He obviously didn’t know what he was doing, though I accept he must have learned the ropes since then.
Incidentally, the ambassador and I discussed whether the Prince’s faux pas should be reported to London, but agreed it could be a career-threatening move for us.
The Bahrain government did subsequently buy Hawk aircraft in 2005 - no doubt HBH put this successful deal down to his trade-promotion skills.
On another occasion, he was due to deliver a speech to the British business community, but petulantly decided at the last moment he wasn’t going to speak after all.
He didn’t give a reason. Instead, he patted the British ambassador on the head twice and announced to everyone present that this was the chap — not him — whose job it was to promote UK business.
There was an embarrassed silence in the room, broken only when the ambassador said HBH would answer a few questions.
Once, at a garden party at the ambassador’s residence held in 40-degree heat, I awaited his arrival from a British Council art exhibition.
The ambassador called ahead to say the VIP group were five minutes away and to ensure I had corralled the great and the good — six couples and individuals from the Royal Society of St George, Caledonian and Welsh societies and The Royal British Legion — to be on hand to talk to HBH on arrival, as agreed with his team.
But, after shaking hands with me, he then dived across the lawn to meet other guests and totally ignored our VIPs.
This wasn’t the first time he had behaved in such a rude fashion. I thought it was an aberration initially, but colleagues up and down the Gulf had similar stories about their British dignitaries being snubbed by the Prince, and of his boorish behaviour.
There were few occasions when we Brits had the nerve to challenge him.
However, one presented itself when a group of us took refuge in the air-conditioned embassy to escape the heat of the garden.
The most senior British businessman present, head of Cable & Wireless Sholto Hedderwick, was sweating profusely and his shirt was dripping.
Unimpressed: Prince Andrew's behaviour has earned rebuke from Business Secretary Vince Cable (left) and a warning from former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind that the Prince had been 'unwise'
The Prince chose to make a supercilious remark about him looking ‘rather flustered’. Sholto angrily shot back an acid response along the lines of: ‘It’s all right for you, you’ve changed your shirt.’ The Prince didn’t talk to him for the rest of the evening.
In 2004, we were hosting a lunch party at the ambassador’s residence with the Lord Mayor of London Sir Robert Finch and a group of very senior business leaders who had just accompanied HBH on a trip around Saudi Arabia. The Prince was holding forth about City de-regulation.
Everyone knew what he was saying was absolute twaddle, but only one person, a board director of HSBC, had the courage to politely say so. He, too, got the royal cold shoulder as a result.
There was invariably a moment of high drama at the end of each of the Prince’s visits — when the royal luggage was being loaded into our convoys to go the airport (the valet having already gone ahead in an embassy minibus with his trusty ironing board).
At this point, the Bahraini royal protocol escort would always hand over bags of presents.
The equerry would then rush forward and say these were Prince Andrew’s personal presents and that embassy personnel were not to touch anything.
One can only guess what was in those bags. The late emir, Sheikh Isa, gave a golden dhow — a type of boat — to the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana as their wedding present, which I believe ended up in a London auction house.
Of course, royals love other royals so, from that point of view, Prince Andrew’s role probably works for the Gulf — but less so for other countries.
In India, for example, where I saw him in action at the flagship UK Trade and Investment India Business Awards gala in Mumbai in November 2006, people seemed less impressed with minor royals.
This was particularly the case after HBH delivered a speech in a leaden tone and then left official guests open mouthed as he skedaddled off to a private party (not in his official programme) at the home of India’s richest businessman, Mukesh Ambani.
The media has run many stories about HBH’s dubious contacts in some of the Central Asian republics.
One involved the sale of HBH’s Ascot house in 2007, purportedly to the son-in-law of the President of Kazakhstan for £15 million — £3 million more than the asking price.
I know only what I have read of this sale, but it did not surprise me. For I recall that on a visit to the Gulf in 2005, Prince Andrew was hawking this house around during meetings with Gulf royals. Indeed, his private secretary had sounded people out about it in advance on a recce visit.
When I queried the ethics of this, his assistant private secretary told me that the head of the Foreign Office had personally authorised this exceptional lobbying.
This led me to wonder how much HBH knew about his ex-wife’s cash-for-access activities, which were discovered when an undercover journalist posing as a businessman secretly recorded her offering access to her ex-husband for £500,000.
In addition, there has to be a question mark over the value for money that British taxpayers get out of HBH’s trips abroad - the large entourages, the boorish behaviour, the family often in tow either side of official visits and the golf and other sporting arrangements in the margins of visits.
But the main issue has to be the Prince’s ploughing of his own furrow and the reluctance of senior officials to point this out.
It’s well known by diplomats there are serious shortcomings in HBH’s operations — but who is going to put their career on the line by criticising a member of the Royal Family?
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1335519/HRH-The-Buffoon-Prince-Andrew-slammed-diplomat-bungling-freeloader.html#ixzz178b6pvXW