The problems for the Duke of York over his relationship with disgraced billionaire Jeffrey Epstein continued to mount on Friday night after he was thrown out of the one organisation he had tried to cling on to.
A day after The Daily Telegraph disclosed the Duke was attempting to remain at the helm of Pitch@Palace, a company run from Buckingham Palace that allows him to take a cut of tech investment deals, he was forced into an about-turn.
A source said the company was being rebranded and dropping “@Palace” from its title, while a clause giving the Duke 2 per cent of investment deals it helped to put together was removed.
The source added that the Duke was being told to stay away from the organisation that he founded in 2014 and over which he has “significant control”.
In a further humiliation, the Duke has also been ordered to move his private office out of Buckingham Palace.
It comes as friends of the Duchess of Sussex were said to be horrified by the manner in which the Duke of York dismissed allegations that he had sex with a teenager.
The Duke denied Virginia Roberts Giuffre’s claims that they had a number of sexual encounters, telling the BBC that he would have recalled it if they had, because sex for a man was a “positive act”.
The Duke’s explanation is understood to have left friends of the Duchess, who has championed the cause of female victims of violence, feeling uncomfortable.
In further developments on Friday, William Barr, the US attorney general, hinted that charges were close to being brought against co-conspirators who helped procure under age girls for Epstein.
Mr Barr said: “They are definitely pushing things along. “I’ll just say there is good progress being made, and I’m hopeful that in a relatively short time there will be tangible results.”
The Duke is understood to be braced for a request to give evidence to the FBI over what he knew about Epstein’s sex ring. He has denied all knowledge.
The latest charity to ditch the Duke is the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. On Friday its board decided to part company “with immediate effect”.
Barclays, meanwhile, announced it was pulling its funding from Pitch@ Palace. The Duke has also resigned as the patron of the English National Ballet “with immediate effect”.
The many outstanding questions about how to deal with the Duke left Palace aides and charity directors in a muddle on Friday, with briefings changing by the hour and many admitting they were confused about exactly what was going on.
One source revealed Pitch directors had been trying to work out if another senior member of the Royal family would take on the project, but nothing appeared forthcoming.
“What exactly are you sponsoring if the royal part is removed?” they said. The BBC also confirmed that it was broadcasting a fresh interview with Ms Giuffre, the Duke’s chief accuser, on its Panorama programme.
A Pitch@Palace source confirmed the Duke would be completely stepping away from his role.
Amanda Thirsk, the Duke’s private secretary, who is believed to have been a key mover in organising the interview, is understood to have stood down, and will become chief executive of Pitch@Palace.
“The big decision regarding the Duke has been taken. It’s now time for everyone to take a breather before we focus on the detail of how we proceed,” a source told The Telegraph.
It also remains unclear whether the Duke will retain ownership of Pitch@ Palace Global Ltd, of which he is the “significant” controller, according to Companies House.
The project has seen the Duke travel the world, hosting events that brought together leaders from the worlds of business, technology and politics.
He had stubbornly refused to give up that part of his life – even planning on travelling to Bahrain this weekend for an event before it was hastily cancelled at the last minute.
Aides said Pitch@Palace would move to his “private portfolio” and that he would be allowed to host events “on a commercial basis” at palaces.
But even that eventually proved too much for the directors to stomach.
Keenly aware of the urgent need to salvage the project’s reputation, no one, including its royal founder, was deemed indispensable.
Meanwhile, a clause that entitled Pitch@Palace to a 2 per cent equity share of any company that went through its programme for a three-year period was quietly removed from official documents on Friday.
One entrepreneur said it was “absurd beyond belief” that the company could take such a cut and “scandalous” that the terms were buried on the final page of the application process.
The row over the Newsnight interview continued on Friday night over the Duke’s comments after being asked if he had had a sexual relationship with Ms Giuffre when she was 17 in 2001.
In the Newsnight interview, Emily Maitlis asked the Duke if he had ever had sex with Ms Giuffre or “any young woman trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein”.
The Duke replied: “No and without putting too fine a point on it, if you’re a man it is a positive act to have sex with somebody.”
A friend of the Duchess of Sussex said the interview had “left everyone watching it wanting to curl under a table. It just got worse and worse and worse”.
The Duchess, formerly an actress, is champion of a series of causes that are the antithesis of everything the Epstein scandal represents.
Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer at the Centre for Women’s Justice, said on Friday: “This clearly suggests a very sexist stereotypical view of sex as something men do to women. It also makes no sense as to why it would be more likely you would remember it. The whole sentence – and interview – has no authenticity about it.”
Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, has complained that aspects of the Duke’s language were “very difficult” to hear.
“It would suggest for a woman it is not a positive act,” she said. “Actually, it’s a positive act for anybody, man or woman to have sex, because if it’s not a positive act, then there is not that consent, and that’s rape.”
The Duke’s travails continued on Friday night when he was finally forced to sever ties with the Pitch@Palace initiative, having desperately tried to cling on to the project for several days.
He had refused to step back from the Dragons’ Den-style set-up – founded at Buckingham Palace in 2014 – despite being ordered by the Queen to withdraw from public duties.
But following a Telegraph investigation that revealed its contracts contained a clause allowing him to make money out of tech deals, the board of directors concluded he would have to step down.
It came as key sponsors, many of whom had already severed ties with Pitch@Palace, warned that the Duke’s ongoing association with the project was simply not tenable.