Prince Andrew’s ‘weirdly’ distinct memory of a trip to Pizza Express 18 years ago is scarcely credible, writes Stephen Jardine amid ongoing row about the royal’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Spare a thought for the duty press officer covering the weekend shift for Pizza Express. Normally the biggest concern would be an enquiry from the Sunday Express about the implications of Brexit for dough balls. Or yet another call about speculation the chain itself is going bust. Then the eighth in line to the throne slithered onto TV screens and all hell broke loose.
In the midst of an interview about his unacceptable relationship with a convicted sex offender, Prince Andrew turned to Pizza Express for an alibi. He famously said he couldn’t have been in a nightclub sweating profusely over one of Epstein’s poor victims because he’d actually been in Pizza Express in Woking. Despite being 18 years before, this was apparently memorable because it was a “very unusual” thing for him to do. “I’ve only been to Woking a couple of times and I remember it weirdly distinctly,” he added.
As excuses go, this ranks alongside the Russian Novichok agents’ fondness for visiting random cathedrals when it comes to oddness.
Ironically, that saga too involved an Italian restaurant. Zizzi in Salisbury city centre was forced to close for a major toxic clear-up after Sergei and Yulia Skripal fell ill. Pizza Express in Woking might want an equally extensive deep clean following the news that Prince Andrew has been a customer.
His excruciating interview with BBC Newsnight had more holes in it than a particularly leaky kitchen colander but the Pizza Express alibi was only matched by his claim of being unable to sweat for sheer lunacy. Failing to remember what happened on a specific night nearly two decades ago is a perfectly acceptable response to a question in an interview. Being adamant that you were in Pizza Express in Woking is not. The consequences for the hapless Prince have been immediate.
Following a conversation with The Queen, he is to withdraw from public duties and end his links to hundreds of charities. The writing was on the wall when businesses started to sever connections fearing the damage to their reputation.
However his callous ineptitude has had one business benefit. Before he slinks off to dishonourable obscurity or perhaps falls foul of the US Justice System, Andy leaves one business a little better off.
Pizza Express in Woking has never had it so good. With the chain facing debts of over a billion pounds, earlier this month there was speculation branches would have to close to stop the entire chain going under. Now it is the most talked about restaurant in the UK, if for all the wrong reasons.
Just check out the many fresh reviews like this one from Dave. “It has been 18 years since I visited but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sweating profusely. So were all the other customers. It was hot. But one man was sweat-free. I will never forget it, he was like a Prince amongst men.”
At the very least, Pizza Express should thank the Prince for all the publicity. Perhaps they should name a dish after him as a lone reminder of the contribution he has made to the life of the nation.
They could call it the Pizza Prince, thick and crusty and like his excuses, particularly hard to swallow.