Can Lynn rescue Andrew's image?; How Sir Evelyn de Rothschild's socialite wife has gathered some of America's most influential media figures to cleanup the Duke of York's playboy reputation
Byline: SHARON CHURCHER
At a discreetly affluent New York restaurant last week, 30 of the city's most influential figures gathered for a remarkable dinner party.
Seated around the table were Barbara Walters, America's foremost television interviewer, Tina Brown, editor of the most talked-about society magazine, top columnist Liz Smith, Howard Stringer, the chairman of the hugely influential Sony electronics and entertainment corporation, media baron Mort Zuckerman, and the evening's fixer, telecommunications entrepreneur Lynn Forester.
The assembled diners talked quietly while they waited for their guest of honour and as he walked through the door, they rose as a body to pay their respects to a man they have agreed to take under their wing.
This was the Duke of York's official debut into New York society. It was a subtle, low key, controlled and sophisticated occasion in stark contrast to his first Manhattan experience.
Significantly, his ex-wife Fergie was there to give it her blessing.
Just six months ago, he was pictured dishevelled and sweating at a bizarre Hallowe'en party, surrounded by leather-clad gays and grotesques. The photographs of the 40-year-old Prince cavorting at an S&M theme party with his close friend and confidante Ghislaine Maxwell was a seminal moment, cementing his public image as an irresponsible playboy in the throes of a midlife crisis.
His un-Royal behaviour - and choice of demimonde companions - caused intense embarrassment to the Royal Family and courtiers who were preparing Andrew for a high-profile role as an ambassador for British industry. It was clear something had to be done.
And last Thursday the first stage of the Duke of York's rehabilitation was launched.
The dinner for editors, publishers, titled heads and multimillionaires at the walnut-panelled Atlas Restaurant, overlooking Central Park, had been in the planning stage for two months as the diaries of New York's finest were synchronised.
It was arranged by a longtime friend of the Royal Family, billionaire banker Sir Evelyn de Rothschild, and his wife, American telecommunications entrepreneur Lynn Forester. The elegant 46-year-old businesswoman, who runs a multinational telecommunications company, met the Duke and Duchess of York thanks to her husband's long-term links with the Royal Family.
EIGHTEEN months ago Andrew was a guest at a house party celebrating Sir Evelyn's 68th birthday on his Martha's Vineyard estate. There she introduced him to Alexandra Styron, daughter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Styron, and one of the few respectable young women with whom he has been seen in America.
Some will be surprised that the Duke's ex-wife was present at the dinner last week but it was entirely appropriate. The Mail on Sunday has discovered that the Duchess of York played a key role in the preparations, persuading important friends and contacts to come to the aid of Andrew's reputation. The Duchess has shown herself adept at reinventing herself and has cleverly used her popularity in America, where she is adored and feted, to improve her image in Britain.
She now hopes she can effect the same transformation for her ex-husband, starting across the Atlantic. The Duchess insists she still loves 'her Prince' despite their divorce but the campaign is not entirely altruistic.
She was horrified by his ever-strengthening association with Ghislaine, the daughter of disgraced newspaper tycoon, Robert Maxwell, and the effect it was having on their two impressionable daughters. She is anxious to help end Ghislaine's influence, and to that end she teamed up with others who have the Prince's ear, notably 69-year-old Sir Evelyn, who is a trusted old friend of his parents.
A list was drawn up of New York's opinion formers with the necessary media access to put across a new, more serious Andrew as he takes up his post with the British Government's British Trade International.
And so on Thursday, the Duchess of York arrived after her former husband and was greeted with a warm kiss.
'It really achieved two purposes,' said a friend of Fergie's who was consulted by the organisers. 'It put the Prince in a room with the kind of people with whom Fergie and his other advisers would like to see him socialise when he comes to America as Britain's trade ambassador, people who are prominent and influential and totally beyond reproach.
'But it also was a deliberate decision to include a lot of media heavyweights on the list. They're the ones who are most essential if he's going to totally restyle his reputation.
'Fergie and a lot of other people who love Andrew believe that his friendship with Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein [her former lover] has become really dangerous. They're using him just for his name and access and he is so innocent and naive that he doesn't realise they have ulterior motives.' The friend added: 'In London, by and large, it really hasn't been that bad.
Despite the publicity about his friendships with models like Caprice, his world there is mostly very honourable and respectable. But in America there have been some introductions that have been horrible for his reputation.'
Concern over the orbit into which Ghislaine and Epstein have drawn Andrew was heightened after impotence drug seller Christine Drangsholt graced his arm during a party at Donald Trump's Palm Beach estate. A loud and pushy woman, she bragged that she has seen the Prince several times, including in London.
Last May, Epstein also arranged for the Prince to make a late night visit to a raucous Miami nightclub where he 'raised the roof' for two hours on the dancefloor and bought a £300 bottle of Cristal champagne for his companions, an older man and younger woman.
And in November, the Prince caused a stir in Los Angeles when, during a dinner at a trendy restaurant, he all but ignored film star Dennis Quaid as he chatted up two blondes and stretched his arm along a banquette behind a brunette-dressed in fake fur and spiked heels. As other patrons goggled, the Prince ordered appetisers and popped them into her mouth.
Perhaps most embarrassingly for Fergie, he was reported to have cajoled an actress into his bedroom to tuck him in at 2am.
Last December, in yet another perceived insult to his ex-wife, he arranged a weekend house party at Sandringham 'in honour' of Ghislaine's 39th birthday. And when Andrew attended the wedding of old flame Aurelia Cecil, Ghislaine flew to Britain to accompany him.
The paparazzi, to Fergie's wrath and the deep suspicion of some of her friends, always seemed to get a tip-off when Andrew was due to kick over the traces. They were there to record the Prince's romp in Thailand, where Andrew stayed in a £4,000a-night private villa with a red-and-gold bedroom and private black-tiled swimming pool. At a party thrown during the visit by a Japanese fashion designer, he arrived in a towelling toga.
'One has to think that this is all great promotion for Ghislaine and Epstein, who's a real wheeler-dealer, ' said a friend of Fergie. 'A lot of the time when Andrew is photographed, Ghislaine is right there in the same frame.' But those days of excess seemed to have been consigned to the past last week, when the Prince showed his willingness to embrace his new image by dressing in a business suit rather than the blazer and jeans that have become the hallmark of his escapades as a middle-aged swinger. He was seated between the nation's highest-paid TV presenter, Barbara Walters, and 67-year-old cosmetics king Leonard Lauder.
The Prince sprang to his feet to thank the celebrity chef who presided over the menu - pigeon with foie gras and a starter of truf-fled white and green asparagus - and lavish praise on such cherished American ideals as equality.
'He said he loved being in New York because he could be anonymous here, just one of the people, walking around,' said Liz Smith, who plans to praise Andrew to the millions who read her column next week.
'He was very friendly and amusing and he is movie star attractive and I think that he is going to become very well-liked. He really is making a remarkable recovery and I think he is well on the way to rehabilitating himself, like Fergie, as a solid citizen.' T THE end of the evening the Yorks, who could have been forgiven for a moment of self-congratulation, returned to their suites at the stolidly traditional New York Palace hotel.
The Duchess is a regular there but Andrew's presence is another telling change in his behaviour.
For the past two years, his home-away-from-home in Manhattan has been a gaudily-decorated mansion acquired some years ago through a company apparently controlled by Epstein. Only last month, the Prince let himself in there for a night during an unannounced break from a visit to do good works for America's Outward Bound programme.
Anxious to distance her ex-husband from Ghislaine and Epstein, it was Fergie's suggestion that in the future Andrew stay at a vast apartment Sir Evelyn and his wife are renovating in a castle-like East River tower.
'The hotel was a stopgap because the apartment isn't finished,' said Fergie's friend. 'There is going to be a very determined effort to break the hold that Ghislaine and her set have over him and to make it known that he is a serious person.
'Fergie understands his attraction to New York and America. She loves America too. But the image she wants him to have there is as a hardworking ambassador for Britain.'
May 6, 2001
Mail on Sunday