SAUNTERING across a golf course in the Mediterranean sun, it would seem that Prince Andrew hasn't a care in the world.
For while his links to paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein come under renewed scrutiny, it's business as usual for 'Air Miles Andy' as he enjoys a free holiday at a £38million luxury villa.
The villa is one of the best in Sotogrande, a 4,500-acre slice of southern Spain which has become one of Europe's largest gated sports resorts.
It has verdant polo fields, a modern marina and no fewer than five golf courses on which the prince can work on his swing.
Crucially, the villa is virtually invincible to trespassers, being surrounded by an electric fence and accessible only down a drive that stretches for half a mile.
It is owned by a Spanish businessman who welcomes the subtle kudos of hosting a British prince and who is content to waive any rental.
His only insistence has ever been that Andrew donated a signed photograph of himself and his family, which now stands on the grand piano in the villa’s music room.
Naturally this is an arrangement which suits the Yorks, who have honed the business of free holidays down to a fine art.
Five golf courses and celeb friends
And luxuriating by his side in this palatial residence? The wife he divorced over 20 years ago – Sarah Ferguson.
The beleaguered pair – Sarah is herself facing scrutiny over £300,000 payments for “consultancy work” from Hong Kong businessman Johnny Hon – are staying together in the villa.
To those who know him, the holiday is no surprise.
According to several of his former girlfriends who soon grew bored of his routine of watching – and rewatching – endless DVDs on how to improve his golf game, Prince Andrew is a creature of habit.
Indeed Fergie and Andrew are said to view the villa as a second home.
For the last 20 years Andrew has rarely missed his break on the Spanish estate, often taking his two daughters Beatrice and Eugenie.
As the Epstein storm rages on, the Queen’s second son has once again retreated to Sotogrande.
A source says that Andrew has already played a round of golf with his friend, the society jeweller Theo Fennell, who also has a villa there.
Theo’s daughter is the actress Emerald, writer of the last series of Killing Eve and a best friend of Beatrice.
It has been said that Andrew was “haunted” by all the negative coverage building up over Epstein and had retreated early to Spain, breaking off his stay at Balmoral.
But this vacation at ‘Soto’ (as he calls it) has long been in his diary.
“Andrew and Sarah were due to go to Spain long before the Epstein business blew up,” says a senior royal source, “so to say that Sarah was publicly by his side beside to show her support is not quite right.”
Yet despite the growing chatter about a romantic reunion between Andrew and Sarah, there are voices who dismiss such a development.
One old friend of the royal family is quick to point out that although Sarah continues to live at Andrew’s home Royal Lodge – the Queen Mother’s old house in Windsor Great Park – the couple have separate bedrooms.
He says: “Andrew and Sarah get on wonderfully together, but as the staff at Royal Lodge know very well, there’s no romance between them. Those days are long gone. To put it bluntly, there is no physical activity.”
Togetherness is a mystery
For many, not least Prince Charles – who cannot abide Sarah – the togetherness of the divorced couple is a mystery.
Critics remember what had seemed an instant love match between the carefree jaunty prince (who had returned a hero from his Naval exploits in the Falklands war, and whose romantic adventures earned him the soubriquet Randy Andy) and redheaded ‘Fergie’, the bouncy daughter of the royals’ polo manager, Major Donald Ferguson.
But the Yorks’ marriage soon descended into a crumbling mess.
This was accelerated by Sarah’s inability to cope with the restraints of royalty and a public who rounded on her, dubbing her the Duchess of Pork when she began comfort eating during Andrew’s long absences at sea.
Sarah’s fall from grace was spectacular – her sexual exploits during the awful last few months of her marriage led her father-in-law Prince Philip to dismiss her as “idiotic”.
On her own, she became directionless, prone to attempts to cash in on her semi-royal status, and plunging into commercial enterprises which made her at first rich, and then, when things went wrong and she couldn't put a brake on her spendthrift lifestyle.
'Tacky and vulgar' attitude to money
But bizarrely, throughout all this turbulence the prince and his ex-wife managed a civilised relationship. It was all down, said one royal insider, to "an indefatigable ability on both sides to laugh at most things. Almost in the manner of a pair of somewhat backward teenagers.”
Another observer noted that both characters shared a “vulgar” attitude to money.
“They like being spoiled and they both sail close to the wind when it comes to pursuing freebies. There are always guys wishing to trade favours, whether it be private jets, yachts, villas, for a bit of royal glamour. Cash and royalty is often an uneasy combination.”
So no wonder that 14 years after their divorce Sarah enthused: “He’s still my handsome prince, he’ll always be my handsome prince, We really believe in being good parents for our girls. In our every day, we really respect each other and we honour each other.”
Beatrice has called them 'the best divorced couple I know.'
Most enduring relationship is with each other
Both have had other partners since they split: Andrew has been linked to actress Angie Everhart and businesswoman Amanda Staveley, while Sarah had dalliances with Italian Count Gaddo della Gherardesca, Norwegian frozen foods tycoon Geir Frantzen and internet entrepreneur Manuel Fernandez.
But right now it looks if the most enduring relationship for both of them is with each other.
As Sarah observed the other day when asked to describe their status: “We are divorced to each other right now. We've never really left each other.”
Epstein bailed out bankrupt Sarah from £1.5m debt
But there’s no doubt that Sarah, who has been through numerous of her own crises, will be in pole position when it comes to giving PR advice to her ex-husband about how he should handle his involvement with the sordid Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell last Saturday.
Epstein had been accused of arranging to have sex with dozens of underage girls at his homes in New York and Florida. His body was discovered hours after a court released 2,000 pages of previously sealed legal documents.
One repeated the allegation that Andrew had sex with Virginia Roberts, 17, at the time and one of Epstein's 'sex slaves', and that he groped a 21-year-old woman. These allegations are strongly denied by both Andrew and the Palace and Roberts' claims have been struck from the court records in the US.
But one of the reasons that the Yorks are putting on a united front amidst this storm, is that Sarah too was involved with Epstein.
When her finances ran aground with debts in excess of £1.5 million, it was Epstein who helped bail her out, along with a sizeable donation from Andrew himself.
So it was no surprise that when the first stories started appearing about Andrew’s questionable links with the seedy businessman – and that he had been a guest at Sandringham and Balmoral (and had met the Queen) Sarah’s was the first voice heard defending him.
"I won't stand by and have his character defamed," she harrumphed on American TV. "I will not have one word said about him on any level."
She called the sex claims "shockingly accusatory", adding: "He's a great father and humongously good man."
From toe-sucking and cash for access scandal to royal redemption
But these protestations, while admirably loyal, came from a woman who, for the past two decades since her departure from the royal fold in 1992 following the toe-sucking incident has been viewed by courtiers – and much of the public – as an embarrassment and permanently on the fringes of failure.
And she certainly knows what it’s like to feel the cold wind of public humiliation, an object of ridicule and scorn.
That, by her own admission, was one of her lowest points, a "huge lapse of judgement" brought about by the fact she had been drinking and was desperate for money.
But since then she has undergone something of a redemption, peaking with the proud moment when she took her place with the rest of the royal family in St George’s Chapel at Windsor at last year’s wedding of her youngest daughter Eugenie.
There was even a smile in her direction – just the one – from her greatest critic, prince Philip, who has not forgiven her for publicly humiliating the royal family following her divorce from Andrew in 1996.
How Philip would have winced had he been party to the renewed speculation at that very same wedding that the next couple making their vows – again – would be Andrew and Sarah.
It would be an extraordinary rehabilitation for Sarah, a journey which stretches back to 2014 when the Queen pointedly allowed the Duchess to host a party for 200 at Windsor Castle to celebrate the 21st anniversary of her Children In Crisis charity.
Because the Queen, it must be said, likes the Duchess.
Despite her extravagance and extraordinary ability to put her foot in it, she sees in Sarah a lively woman who has never lost her ability to make her favourite son happy.
And, as the Epstein scandal rages on, he'll certainly need Fergie's support.
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