THE man the tabloids once dubbed Randy Andy turned up for his televised mea exculpa dark suited, white shirted, sober necktied: financial adviser meets upwardly mobile football pundit. The rest of the props weren’t too shabby either – the vast expanse of Buckingham Palace with gilt chairs and a carpet in which well-shod shoes could doubtless drown.

The one element of window dressing poorly chosen was Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis, an interviewer with a terrier-like ability to shake damning answers from hapless guests.

Maitlis doesn’t go in for Paxman-like bullying, or resort to shouty putdowns as favoured by the appalling Piers Morgan. Instead, quietly but persistently, she phrases and re-phrases the same enquiries in the manner of a psychometric tester.

By common consent, though, the most glaring mistake made by the Queen’s second – and allegedly favourite – son, was to agree to give the interview in the first place. It’s not as if there haven’t been precedents to warn him off.

Diana’s “three in this marriage” claim with Martin Bashir; Charles’s admission of infidelity to Jonathan Dimbleby; and, most recently, Harry’s discussion of partial estrangement from brother William with Tom Bradby.

All of those TV encounters guaranteed smouldering rumours, given the oxygen of full frontal publicity, would fan the flames of further speculation. And blew the long-standing royal mantra of “never complain, never explain” straight out of the water.

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Had Andrew hitherto enjoyed the popularity of some of his close relatives, or had an established reputation for philanthropy rather than self-indulgence, the damage might have been containable. As it was, his answers to straightforward queries journeyed from evasive to downright incredible.

Perhaps it was lawyers who advised him to say he had “no recollection” of ever meeting the woman who claims she was forced by Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell to have sex with Andrew on three occasions, rather than a more robust denial of knowing her at all.

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But it sat ill with his later admission that it was indeed his good self pictured with his then 17-year-old accuser. Or with his assertion that the photograph in question had been taken in an upstairs part of the house which he had never visited (but with which he was apparently sufficiently familiar to make that statement, with Maxwell clearly visible in the background).

In any case, he would never be seen in London without a suit and tie. Eh?

The suggestion that the snap might have been doctored had already been circulated by “friends”. It gained no more credibility when offered by HRH. He did deny outright any sexual activity with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, producing an extraordinary alibi of the alleged first encounter being on the day of a late afternoon party at Pizza Express in Woking with his daughter Beatrice – something not difficult to check given there was a specific date.

Then he apparently spent the ensuing evening at home with his daughters as “the Duchess” was away. He won’t be the first person to flag up family as alibi, but if it turns out to be untrue they, too, will be victims of the ensuing mud storm.

The quote which will forever haunt him, however, is the assertion that he was photographed with Epstein in Central Park New York – having felt obliged to tell the convicted sex offender in person they could no longer meet – because of his own “tendency to be too honourable”. Puleeze.

He clearly knew it would be difficult to shrug off the fact that he spent four days in Epstein’s New York mansion thereafter, “doing other things” because it was “a convenient place to stay”.

And, of course, Epstein had “this extraordinary ability” to bring politicians, academics and other eminent people round his dinner table. Company the prince found informative and useful.

Arguably he might have found similarly stimulating company assembled by British consular staff, and I’m sure they would have been able to find him a suitable Manhattan pad without the inconvenience of all those nubile young people coming and going from chez Epstein. Andrew had found it rather like a railway station, but he was used to “staff” buzzing about.

And so, damningly on. He’d “never heard of” the man who claimed to have seen a young Russian woman give him a foot massage. It didn’t happen. Though because he’s never heard of him he couldn’t really accuse him of lying.

You could detect the hand of the luckless PR spinner in Andrew’s declaring he couldn’t have been perspiring after dancing with Virginia at Tramps nightclub. Because his close encounters with the enemy while serving in the Falklands meant an overdose of adrenalin affected his ability to sweat. Translation: I’m a war hero, don’t you know.

Even Maitlis, consistently polite without being overly deferential, was visibly shocked by the Duke’s calling Epstein’s penchant for using and abusing very young women “unbecoming”. When pulled up by his inquisitor he said he was merely being polite. Too honourable by far, eh?

The conventional wisdom that such a high-profile peak-hour interview would provide more questions than answers has proved to be so in spades.

Why did Andrew still feel able to use Epstein’s hospitality years after his conviction for sexual misconduct Why, if, as he insisted, Epstein was really no more than his friend Giuslaine’s “plus one”, did he feel obliged to fly across the Atlantic to explain why the two men couldn’t be buddies any more?

Why, if, as admitted, he had been on Epstein’s private plane, private island, and in several private premises, had he noticed nothing unusual about the rest of the cast list? Not least as he felt able to mention his credentials as an ambassador for the NSPCC.

This is a man who is very evidently not the brightest tool in the Royal box. (And the bar is not that high.) But being a bit dim is no excuse for being economical with the truth about a matter involving serious criminal behaviour.

So let’s hope he wasn’t. Let’s hope there has been no conduct “unbecoming”. After Saturday night, the jury may take some persuading.