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Daily Mail: Is Airmiles Andy earning his keep at last?

Daily Mail photograph

(Airmiles Andy: Is he finally earning his keep?)

EXTRACT: After the Easter weekend, the Prince criss-crossed the country on a chartered jet, meeting the President, pushing Rolls-Royce, BP, Shell and BG Energy, before flying back to UK on a scheduled British Airways flight.


Last updated at 01:03am on 25th May 2007

He’s ridiculed for cavorting with bikini clad girls and hijacking private jets to take him to golfwhile acting as our royal envoy. But, whisper it…Is Airmiles Andy earning his keep at last?

Late evening in the jazz-age ballroom of Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana Palace Hotel, and the kind of fabulous bash for which it was built is in full swing. Brazil might be hot outside, but in the hotel, guests are feasting on fish and chips and Yorkshire pudding.

The reason? It is the birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and the British expat community is throwing a party.

The hosts are the British Consul General Timothy Fitzranulf Flear and his partner Christopher Curtain. The colour for the evening is pink – Curtain has designed parties for Sir Elton John – and some guests are distracted by the number of pretty single women on the dance floor.

The guest of honour then takes the microphone. “This is an amazing party,” grins Prince Andrew. “I had no idea the British community here was so large. Or is this just an excuse to take a drink off the Brits?”

There is polite laughter – and one or two meaningful looks. Fresh from a round of golf and a dinner at which dark-eyed senhoritas competed for his attention, what was Prince Andrew’s reason for being in Brazil?

The subject of freeloading often crops up when the 47-year-old Duke of York ventures abroad on such official trips.

To the exasperation of the Royal Household’s PR operation, Andrew is still derided as ‘Airmiles Andy’ or the ‘Prince of Freebies’. He has never been seen as an homme serieux like his elder brother. Even the respect he earned for his bravery in the Falklands War was eroded by his marriage to Sarah Ferguson.

When he left the Navy six years ago and became special representative for the government body UK Trade and Investment, there was a chance for the Prince to turn over a new leaf.

The task of promoting British business abroad had been performed skilfully by his cousin the Duke of Kent, but since Andrew took over he has been accused of using it as a sinecure to allow him to play golf and lounge on yachts at the taxpayers’ expense.

Such an image was not reduced by taking an £11,000 helicopter ride from the Isle of Man to St Andrew’s in Scotland for a meeting of former captains of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

Nor did it help when £4,000 was spent in February to divert a private jet to take him home from an environment conference in Spain via a weekend skiing in Switzerland.

The Prince recently hit back at critics in an interview in which he argued that his services to British industry were “cheap at the price”.

Even friends of the Royal Family were taken aback at his phrasing: “The Duke of Kent would never have said something quite as crass as that,” one told the Mail.

But the source added: “It is terribly unfair that people refer to the Duke of York as Airmiles Andy, even if there have been a couple of unfortunate incidents involving golf. I imagine he goes down well with businessmen and he is good at the bar. He is doing a much better job than many people thought he could.”

Perhaps that last observation was what the Prince was trying to say in his own way. He believes he offers “value for money”.

Andrew receives £249,000 a year, which comes from his mother’s purse, rather than the Exchequer. His position with UKTI is unpaid, but his travel expenses are covered by the Government. In 2005 these amounted to £335,000 overall, a figure expected to rise this year to £500,000.

“The same old cheap shots,” sighs a spokeswoman in the Prince’s office regarding his use of private jets.

“He travels on commercial airlines when he can. All travel arrangements have to be approved by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Royal Travel Committee because the money comes from the Department of Transport.”

She adds: “Big companies use the Duke of York in very senior negotiations. If he was not value for money they would not do so. In fact, the demand for the Duke has increased.

“It is difficult to put an exact figure on it [value for money] as contracts are achieved sometimes over years and it is difficult to say if one particular person has clinched it. Of his 446 royal engagements in 2006, 293 were business-related. The figures speak for themselves.”

The Prince’s private office admits to growing weary of the criticisms. And following the derision his ‘cheap at the price’ soundbite attracted, the CEOs of several FTSE Top 100 companies have been praising him. Could Airmiles Andy be at last earning his keep?

If so, then some of the plaudits should go Sir Digby Jones, former head of the Confederation of British Industry and newly appointed special adviser to the Prince. “In our six months together he has worked very, very hard,” Sir Digby says. “He really is interested in learning, and because he is the Duke of York he gets audiences with the top people.”

Sir Digby is paid £12,000 a year, out of the Queen’s purse. “If the Foreign Office suggests a visit for the Prince, I identify businesses, people and markets which have an interest and arrange the meetings,” he explains.

“If he was a salesman you could cost his effectiveness, but the Prince is on the marketing side of UK Plc, so it is harder to quantify the return.”

He plans to tackle the Prince’s image head on: “At the end of our first year I would like him to do a public report which states where he went, what he did and how much Britain got out of it.”

Whether he does remains to be seen. And apart from a couple of trips to Europe, Sir Digby does not go with his boss overseas.

SO WHAT do those who see him in action think? Peter Barlow, finance director of International Power, a FTSE Top 100 firm worth £6.5 billion, is a supporter. “I do not want to sound like an advertisement but he exceeded my expectations,” he says.

Mr Barlow was impressed by the Prince’s involvement in trying to clinch for the company a £1.5billion contract with the Philippines. Though it was won by a Japanese firm, “the Prince did everything in his powers to help through his contacts”.

Another British senior executive, who wishes to remain anonymous, says: “The guy is not a genius, but he is very keen, has a good sense of humour and knows why he is there. The Royals have pulling power that guys like me can use.”

A measure of the Prince’s impact are his sorties into the world’s fastest growing economy, China, which he has visited twice in the past two years on UKTI sponsored trips. Andrew returned in spring last year from meeting officials in Shanghai, China’s most important commercial centre. A few months ago the assessment of the Duke’s trips arrived at Buckingham Palace.

Ambassador William Ehrman’s overview was positive. Perhaps the most significant ‘specific gain’ was Andrew’s lobbying of the chairman of Air China to buy British engines for its new Boeing jets.

The airline subsequently chose Rolls-Royce ahead of American rivals, and the £400 million deal was signed in London last September.

However, ask about Brazil, the Prince’s most recent overseas business trip, and the defences go up at the Prince’s private office. “It was UKTI which decided he should go to Brazil, not the Duke of York,” says his spokeswoman, crossly.

“They are the people who identify markets for UK business. Yet the false impression is given that he chooses the places on the basis that he will have a jolly good time there. It is just not fair.”

Fair or not, his eight days in Brazil, included business and relaxation.

He arrived in Brasilia in a Falcon 900 private jet owned by his multimillionaire friend Johan Eliasch, the Swedish-born boss of the Head sports group. Over a ‘private’ Easter weekend, the Prince was hosted by Mr Eliasch, with whom he played golf, and was guest of honour at a party in the Sao Paulo home the married tycoon shares with his Brazilian girlfriend.

Among those invited were Playboy model Alexia Deschamps, the woman with whom Andrew was pictured on a speedboat off Rio five years ago.

“The girls were the most beautiful women in Brazil,” it was reported. “They were what you call ‘available’ – either single or divorced – and all looking for a Prince Charming.”

And they found him. A picture taken at the party for Brazilian Vogue apparently showed Andrew surrounded by beautiful female guests. The magazine had the pictures pulled to avoid royal embarrassment.

After the Easter weekend, the Prince criss-crossed the country on a chartered jet, meeting the President, pushing Rolls-Royce, BP, Shell and BG Energy, before flying back to UK on a scheduled British Airways flight.

Fun? Most certainly. Cheap at the price? Too early to say.

This week the Duke visits golf-mad Japan on behalf of British industry. No doubt he was asked to go there by his UKTI handlers. No doubt he will hear ‘naiso sho!’ (nice shot!) on more than one occasion.

But if he does help the UK, Andy will have gone a little way towards convincing the world that the price we pay for him is not too high.

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