The Real Story Behind Scoop And Prince Andrew’s Car-Crash Newsnight Interview

Based on Newsnight staffer Sam McAlister's 2022 book, Scoop tells the story of how *that* infamous interview got made.

Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) and Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) in conversation in Netflix's Scoop

by Isobel Lewis |
Updated on

When Prince Andrew sat down with Emily Maitlis for a Newsnight interview in November 2019, nobody knew that their conversation would mark a landmark day in royal history. The third child of the late Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip – often known as the Queen’s favourite son – had spent years dodging questions about his friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. When Epstein died by suicide in a New York prison in July 2019, the prince agreed to take part in an interview with Maitlis. Now, viewers can relive that fateful interview in Netflix's new film Scoop.

The original interview remains one of the most shocking and memorable live TV events of the 21st century. Andrew was quizzed about his friendship with Epstein, why he remained in contact with him after he was convicted in 2008 of a child sex offence, and the claims that he had sex with Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre when she was 17 years old (something Andrew has denied). But more shocking were the excuses he spieled off. Confronted with a photo showing him with his arm around Virginia’s waist, Andrew made the bizarre claims that he lost his ability to sweat in the Falklands War and that he couldn’t have had sex with Virginia on the day she claimed because he’d been at a Pizza Express in Woking.

Less than five years later, the interview is in front of the cameras once again in new Netflix film Scoop. This film is less about Andrew, played by Rufus Sewell (although it does feature a recreation of the infamous interview). No, Scoop focuses on the three women working on Newsnight who were responsible for making the interview happen: booker Sam McAlister (Billie Piper), editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai), and, of course, anchor Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson).

Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew
Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew ©Netflix

While Emily, with her laser-sharp line of questioning, was the face of the showdown, it was Sam and Esme’s work behind the scenes that contributed to its success. On the palace’s side, there was a woman pushing for the interview too – although her reasoning was far more miscalculated. Amanda Thirsk, played by Keeley Hawes, was Prince Andrew’s private secretary working, and is shown in Scoop believing that the interview with Maitlis would allow the Prince to charm viewers and prove his purported innocence.

Want to know the real story behind the interview that led to Prince Andrew stepping away from the royal family? We’ve got the, well, scoop...

Is Scoop based on a true story?

We all remember watching the interview – or at least seeing the memes about it. But the behind-the-scenes story of Scoop is rooted in truth too.

Billie Piper and Sam McAlister on the set of Scoop
Billie Piper and the real-life Sam McAlister on the set of Scoop ©Netflix

While the film begins with a disclaimer explaining that some elements have been fictionalised, Scoop is based on Scoops, the 2022 book by Newsnight’s booker Sam McAlister. Many people were involved in the process of securing the interview, but Sam was one of the few who were actually in the room at Buckingham Palace when it took palace.

The cast of Scoop: Real life v on screen

How accurate was Scoop to real life? Here's what the main players in the Prince Andrew interview looked like, IRL...

Emily Maitlis played by Gillian Anderson

Emily Maitlis and Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis
The real Emily Maitlis (left) and Gillian Anderson ©BBC/YouTube/Netflix

Emily Maitlis remained as the host of Newsnight until 2022. Then, she left the BBC to join Global, where she hosts news podcast The News Agents.

Prince Andrew played by Rufus Sewell

Prince Andrew and Rufus Sewell in Scoop
Prince Andrew (left) and Rufus Sewell ©BBC/YouTube/Netflix

For Prince Andrew, the interview proved to be a pivotal moment in his life and royal career. Shortly after the interview, Buckingham Palace released a statement saying that he was suspending his public duties 'for the foreseeable future'. In January 2022, he lost his military roles and use of the HRH title.

Sam McAlister played by Billie Piper

Sam McAlister and Billie Piper in Scoop
The real Sam McAlister (left) and Billie Piper ©Netflix

Sam McAlister, a trained criminal barrister, stayed at Newsnight after the interview. She took voluntary redundancy from the BBC in 2021, and released her book the next year.

Amanda Thirsk played by Keeley Hawes

Amanda Thirsk and Keeley Hawes in Scoop
The real Amanda Thirsk (left) and Keeley Hawes in Scoop ©Getty/Netflix

According to reports at the time, Amanda Thirsk was asked to ‘step down’ from her role after a conversation between Andrew and the Queen in the wake of the interview. The media reported that Amanda received a pay-out in the tens of thousands of pounds to leave her position.

Esme Wren played by Romola Garai

Romola Garai as Esme Wren in Scoop
Romola Garai as Esme Wren ©Netflix

Editor Esme Wren, who had previously worked for Sky News, also left Newsnight in 2021, moving across to Channel 4 News.

What did Prince Andrew say in his Newsnight interview?

Prince Andrew made a lot of claims during his Newsnight interview. But what were some of the biggest ones?

When asked by Emily Maitlis why he’d stayed at Epstein’s New York home after he was released from prison in 2010, Andrew said that he had gone to break off his friendship with Epstein, but stayed there because it was ‘convenient’. Andrew said that he was ‘too honourable’ but still didn’t regret their friendship due to the ‘useful’ ‘opportunities’ it gave him.

Many of the questions related to Virginia Giuffre, who claimed that she went to Tramp nightclub in London with Andrew when she was 17 and was later made to have sex with him. While Virginia claimed that she remembered Andrew sweating, he responded to Maitlis, ‘There's a slight problem with the sweating because I have a peculiar medical condition which is that I don't sweat or I didn't sweat at the time.’ This, he said, was after suffering an ‘overdose of adrenaline’ during his time fighting in the Falklands War that made it ‘almost impossible for me to sweat’.

Also had an alleged alibi, claiming that he hadn’t been at Tramp on the 10th March as he’d taken his daughter to a Pizza Express in Woking for a party. Asked by Maitlis why he would remember these details so vividly, Andrew responded, ‘Because going to Pizza Express in Woking is an unusual thing for me to do.’

Did Prince Andrew bring Princess Beatrice to his meeting with Newsnight?

Watching Scoop, we had one big question on our minds: did Princess Beatrice (played by Charity Wakefield in the film) really attend her father’s first discussion meeting with Newsnight to talk about the prospective interview.

According to Sam McAlister, the answer is yes! In her book Scoops, Sam claims that when she showed up for a negotiation meeting with the palace, Andrew had his daughter Princess Beatrice in tow. According to Sam, Beatrice was the ‘rainmaker’ with the power to make or break discussions.

The cast of Scoop
Beatrice (right) joins discussions ©Netflix

'The only thing more difficult than negotiation in Buckingham Palace with a member of the royal family about the alleged improprieties that he has committed of a sexual nature – extremely delicate – is [doing it] in front of his daughter,' Sam said. 'I really felt that she was the rainmaker. She asked very sensible questions that everybody else was probably, you know, a little bit circumspect about answering, because the focus, understandably, was on Prince Andrew. But I answered them all, because I felt her element in that negotiation was absolutely crucial.'

What did Emily Maitlis wear during the Prince Andrew interview?

In Scoop, Maitlis’s choice of outfit for the interview is discussed by her Newsnight staffers. While the idea of a dress is floated around, she in the end opts for a pair of trousers with a military-style jacket.

Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis
Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis ©Netflix

The real Emily discussed the clothing choice during 2023 documentary Andrew: The Problem Prince. ‘I arrived at the palace with my huge bag. I ended up wearing this sort of military-style jacket,’ she said. ‘I remember thinking, “He’ll like a military coat, he’s a man of the armed forces, he’ll appreciate that” and then I start to feel actually just really sick and I sort of dived into the loo.'

Did Prince Andrew really think the Newsnight interview went well?

One of the more bizarre moments in Scoop is Andrew’s reaction to the interview. Not only is his private secretary Amanda pleased with the chat, but Andrew offers Emily on a tour of the palace.

Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) gives Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) a tour of the palace
Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) gives Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) a tour of the palace ©Netflix

Emily also revealed this during the 2023 documentary, saying that she knew Andrew was ‘happy’ with the interview because he ‘stayed chatting’ and ‘seemed very jolly’ once filming wrapped.

‘A whole load of people came in and I said, “What’s going on?” And they said, “Oh, Thursday evenings we have cinema night at the palace. You can stay if you want.” And at that point, I just thought, “I’ve got to get away from here. I need space to work out what just happened.”’

Did Emily Maitlis have a dog?

On screen in Scoop, Gillian Anderson’s Emily Maitlis is frequently accompanied by her dog, a whippet called Moody, who comes with her everywhere. This is true of the real-life Emily too – in fact, the broadcast journalist thinks so much of her pet she was previously criticised for allowing Moody to sleep on a train seat next to her.

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