14 Apr 2024

Sam McAlister: The BBC producer behind Prince Andrew’s infamous interview 

From Sunday Morning, 8:10 am on 14 April 2024

In 2019, under extreme scrutiny for his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and facing allegations about his own conduct, Prince Andrew sat down for the infamous interview with BBC’s Newsnight.  

Famously, it didn’t go well.


A scene from Scoop. Photo: © 2023 Netflix, Inc.

BBC talent booker Sam McAlister was the hand behind this extraordinary hour of television. Scoop, a new Netflix drama starring Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell and Billie Piper as McAlister, is her account of the experience. 

Sitting in the room while the prince was interviewed was an “extraordinary experience,” McAlister tells Jim Mora.

“I was about 15 feet behind him, and I could see the back of his head, and I must be honest with you as a producer on such an auspicious occasion, the real challenge is showing no reaction, making no eye contact, trying to look at no one.

"I have what I call a resting producer face. It's kind of like a poker face that is imperceptible for any human reaction. And obviously sitting there listening to that interview it was really crucial that I didn't eye roll, or laugh, or do anything that would indicate any level of disrespect.”

Listening to the prince give “answer after answer” she knew it was going to be global news, she says.

The lead up to the infamous interview took meticulous negotiation, McAlister says.

The film shows her at Buckingham Palace meeting with the Duke trying to secure the interview with him in a scene when he asks her about the public's perception of him. Her answer is blunt.

“I did say that to his face. I'll tell you why. It sounds disrespectful. It sounds risky. Perhaps even sounds rude. But the fact is the reason I believe I was a good negotiator is that I spoke truth to power, and I spoke truth to everyone.

“And you know, if you're asked your honest opinion of someone, my honest opinion was I'd lived here for 40-something years at that stage. And all I really knew about him was ‘Air Miles Andy’ and ‘Randy Andy’, those were the nicknames that he had during that period.

“And that did not speak well to the accusations against him, which to be clear, he still strenuously denies. So, I did say that to his face, because I gave an honest answer of how I thought the country and I perceived him.”


Billie Piper as Sam McAlister. Photo: PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX

This was no “gotcha” interview, she says. 

“If you listen to the questions, they are methodical. Emily Maitlis, the presenter, is brilliant and thorough. But there's nothing disparaging, there is nothing sensationalist. There is nothing ludicrous. And she keeps her tone throughout. What's gotcha are his answers.”

One of his oddest answers was where he said he was at Pizza Express in Woking with his daughters rather than dancing with Virginia Giuffre at Tramp’s nightclub in London.

“In the modern age, that would be, if untrue, infinitely disprovable, or provable because there would be logs and CCTV and social media and you know, hundreds of people would have taken a picture, but it was the time before then. So, we may never know.”

Prince Andrew wanted the interview to be a silver bullet to make people understand the real him, she says.

"It could have been, it could have been. I know that seems kind of bizarre as a proposition now. But an interview is a platform for you to explain yourself and had he come in and basically relentlessly apologised in 100 different ways, obviously not said that he was guilty because that's not something he's ever said.

“But if he had shown remorse for the friendship and regret for the pain of being caused to countless young women, by Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, and if he had shown remorse for the pain that Virginia Giuffre was sharing, despite saying that he had never done it, it could have been a different end, it would have been a boring interview for us, but it could have been constructive for him.”

Given Andrew reportedly prepped for the interview, she is baffled as to why it went so off course.

“The questions were infinitely predictable, obviously he didn't know what they were going to be. But it was, you know, pretty obvious.

“We were going to methodically go through the friendship. That's what they knew from the negotiation. We never pretended anything otherwise, that we were going to ask, you know, a lot of questions about that friendship, that was the only focus of the interview.”

At the end of the interview Prince Andrew thought it had gone well, she says.

“I think there was a very big space between his perception of what a good outcome was, and what the general public or the world would think a good interview was. And that was really his danger zone.”

His private secretary Amanda Thirsk, played by Keeley Hawes in the film, took the fall for the disastrous interview.

“My impression was that he was a bomb that was waiting to explode, and she was trying to manage the shrapnel.

“Her job was basically to do what he wanted to do and to make the best of it and I have nothing but respect and time for Amanda, a very bright woman who used to work in the city and finance. I think she went to Oxford or Cambridge. She was clearly extremely capable.

“But ultimately, when you're working for someone powerful like that. You have to believe in them otherwise you wouldn't do the job.

"So, she may have misunderstood his capabilities. But he was the one that made the fatal decision, to do the interview, I expect, and he was the one who was fatal in terms of his answers.”