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How Accurate is "Scoop"? The True Story of Prince Andrew's BBC Newsnight Interview


Gillian Anderson
Born: August 9, 1968
Chicago, Illinois, USA

Emily Maitlis
Born: September 6, 1970
Birthplace: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Bio: Journalist who Conducted the BBC Newsnight Interview

Rufus Sewell
Born: October 29, 1967
Twickenham, Middlesex, England, UK

Prince Andrew, Duke of York
Born: February 19, 1960
Birthplace: Buckingham Palace, London, United Kingdom

Billie Piper
Born: September 22, 1982
Swindon, Wiltshire, England, UK

Sam McAlister
Birthplace: UK
Bio: BBC Newsnight Producer who Secured the Interview

Amanda Redman
Born: August 12, 1957
Brighton, England, UK

Netta McAlister
Birthplace: UK
Bio: Sam McAlister's Mom

Keeley Hawes
Born: February 10, 1976
London, England, UK

Amanda Thirsk
Born: July 1965
Birthplace: UK
Bio: Prince Andrew's Private Secretary

Romola Garai
Born: August 6, 1982
Hong Kong, British Crown Colony

Esme Wren
Birthplace: UK
Bio: BBC Newsnight Editor

Richard Goulding
Born: abt 1981
Shrewsbury, UK

Stewart Maclean
Birthplace: UK
Bio: BBC Newsnight's Deputy Editor | Executive Producer of Duke of York Interview

Alex Waldmann
Born: 1979
Cambridge, England, UK

Jason Stein
Bio: Prince Andrew's PR Advisor

Connor Swindells
Born: September 19, 1996
Sussex, England, UK

Jae Donnelly
Bio: Photographer who Snapped the Prince Andrew Epstein Central Park Photo

Charity Wakefield
Born: September 18, 1980
Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England, UK

Princess Beatrice
Born: August 8, 1988
Birthplace: Portland Hospital, London, England
Bio: Princess Andrew's Daughter who Appeared with Him During a Meeting with the BBC

Colin Wells
Born: September 11, 1963
England, UK

Jeffrey Epstein
Born: January 20, 1953
Birthplace: New York City, USA
Death: August 10, 2019, Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York, NY suspected suicide | possible homicide
Bio: Convicted Sex Offender and Alleged Sex Trafficker

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

When did the Prince Andrew interview take place?

The BBC Newsnight interview conducted by journalist Emily Maitlis took place at Buckingham Palace on November 14, 2019 and was broadcast two days later on November 16. Maitlis grilled the royal regarding his seemingly close relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died in prison earlier that year while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. The eyes of Britain were on the prince as he squirmed and offered some bizarre justifications as to why he was innocent of the allegations made against him.

Emily Maitlis and Prince Andrew are pictured during the November 2019 interview at Buckingham Palace in the movie (top) and in real life (bottom). Photos: Netflix / BBC

Is Netflix's Prince Andrew movie, Scoop, based on a book?

Yes. During our Scoop fact-check, we learned that the film is based on Sam McAlister's book Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC's Most Shocking Interviews. McAlister, who is portrayed by Billie Piper (Doctor Who) in the Netflix movie, is the former BBC Newsnight producer who managed to secure the seemingly ungettable interview with Prince Andrew after months of negotiating. McAlister was also responsible for booking exclusives with Julian Assange, Stormy Daniels, Brigitte Höss, Sean Spicer, Mel Greig and Steven Seagal.

The movie and book offer a behind-the-scenes look at the push and pull between two major British institutions — Buckingham Palace and the BBC — as they negotiate the possibility of an interview and eventually the terms of the interview itself. How did the interview come to be? Who was involved in making it happen? Who signed off on it? How could the palace allow a royal to be subject to that level of exposure? Only Princess Diana's 1995 Panorama Interview came close, but that interview wasn't about questioning Diana of wrongdoing and the public reacted far more sympathetically to her candid responses.

Did journalist Emily Maitlis bring her dog to the newsroom?

Yes, but not to the extreme that the film depicts. According to The Independent, she never brought her grey whippet Moody (nicknamed 'Moods') with her when she was presenting. She only brought him on occasion when she was in the newsroom preparing for upcoming segments.

Did the BBC announce a major round of layoffs in 2019 to reduce its costs?

No. Scoop fictionalizes this as happening in mid-2019, heightening the tension and making it that much more vital that they land the interview. In reality, Fran Unsworth, the head of news at the BBC, didn't make the cost-cutting announcement until January 2020, two months after the interview aired. It was then that she announced that there would be 450 job losses at the company as part of an £80m savings target they wanted to reach by 2022.

Did BBC Newsnight producer Sam McAlister wear snakeskin stiletto boots?

Actress Billie Piper (Doctor Who) studied the real Sam McAlister extensively. She captured her distinctive walk, voice intonations, and body language, conveying both her steeliness and her warmth.

"Billie really encapsulated that mix between seriousness and the lighter side of my character," says the real McAlister. "To watch her literally transform, change her voice, [and wear] the extraordinary wig, my nails, the makeup, the roster of black clothing — it's exactly the same. So meta and surreal."

Did Newsnight producer Sam McAlister suggest to Prince Andrew's private secretary that they go talk over a drink?

In Netflix's Scoop, Billie Piper's character, Sam McAlister, tells Prince Andrew's private secretary, Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), that they should ditch their formal meeting over tea and head to the bar for a martini. The ensuing casual conversation at the local watering hole helps the women to develop a mutual respect for one another. However, this scene never happened in real life. McAlister told USA Today, "We didn't go for a martini, we just had tea at the palace. I don't know if she drinks, but I do."

Does Prince Andrew have a teddy bear collection?

Yes. The prince's obsession with teddy bears is accurate. It's also true that he wanted them arranged a certain way on his bed (and then in various spots around the room at bedtime). According to former maid Charlotte Briggs via The Sun, his 72 plush bears had to be arranged in order of size every morning. Like in the movie, he often lost his temper with his servants, especially when it came to his teddies.

Did Prince Andrew's PR adviser, Jason Stein, quit over the prince's decision to do the interview?

According to the Daily Telegraph, it's accurate that Jason Stein reported directly to Amanda Thirsk, Prince Andrew's private secretary. He left just two months after he was hired, reportedly due to the fact that he was strongly opposed to the prince doing the BBC Newsnight interview and had wanted to instead invite friendly press to the palace to meet with the prince. It's unclear whether things went down similar to the movie, with Stein telling Thirsk "I'm out" after her meeting with the BBC and the fact that she didn't set "red lines". According to The Sun, he had one meeting with the prince and his team, during which he strongly cautioned them against doing the interview, partly because he was familiar with Emily Maitlis and knew that she could be a ruthless interviewer. Despite Stein's objections, the prince's team, including his private secretary, Amanda Thirsk, talked him into doing it.

Did BBC Newsnight producer Sam McAlister tell Prince Andrew that the public knows him as "Randy Andy"?

Yes. In the Netflix movie, Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) wants Sam McAlister (Billie Piper) to spell out to him how the public sees him. He doesn't seem to have a clue. McAlister tells the prince that the public refers to him as "Randy Andy." The real Sam McAlister confirmed that this is accurate to how the true story unfolded.

"I literally said that," McAlister told CBS Mornings. "I said it to his face, and I was closer to him than I am to you." It's true that at the end of the meeting, the 59-year-old Prince Andrew announced that he would have to talk to his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, before he could commit to the interview.

Did Princess Beatrice attend the negotiation with Prince Andrew?

Yes. Journalist Emily Maitlis said that this did happen and it indeed made the meeting more stressful. Like in the movie, Princess Beatrice, Andrew's grown daughter with his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, even chimed in to confirm that people say horrible things about him on social media regarding his womanizing.

Was Emily Maitlis driven by her regret over not asking Bill Clinton about his affair with Monica Lewinsky?

Gillian Anderson's character feels pressure to nail the interview since she believes that she "let women down" in the past when she interviewed former U.S. president Bill Clinton and didn't ask him about Monica Lewinsky. She's referring to her 2014 trip to India with Clinton and her last-minute decision to not bring up his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Maitlis recalls this in her 2019 memoir, Airhead, stating that his aides told her that he had just had a "funny turn" with regard to his health and that the interview tapes would be pulled if he suffered further health issues on camera. Maitlis worried that asking her Lewinsky question might stress him enough to kill him, so she decided against it. She expressed regret over not asking, and it's believable, if not likely, that would have motivated her to press Prince Andrew, especially since Clinton also had ties to Epstein.

Did the late Queen Elizabeth II give her approval with regard to the interview?

According to The Times, this is what Emily Maitlis claimed. She said that Prince Andrew told her he would need to "seek approval from higher up." Maitlis said that they got confirmation the next day that Her Majesty was "on board". Some have argued that he may not have been referring to the Queen. In any case, Emily Maitlis revealed in a Channel 4 documentary that while Prince Andrew believed that the interview went well, the Queen read a transcript prior to it airing and recognized that it was a disaster. You can watch the full interview below:

Did Prince Andrew take journalist Emily Maitlis on a tour of Buckingham Palace after the interview?

Yes. "The contrast between the journalistic response and his response [to the interview] was very different, and he was beaming. So I infer that he thought it'd gone brilliantly," Sam McAlister told CBS Mornings. "He took Emily for a tour of the palace. Those iconic pictures are taken after that disastrous interview happened. So, we cannot think anything other than his beaming face, and his tour of the palace, told us that he thought it had gone brilliantly."

Emily Maitlis and Prince Andrew walk in Buckingham Palace after the interview in the movie (top) and in real life (bottom). Photos: Netflix / BBC

Did the BBC Newsnight interview backfire on Prince Andrew?

Yes. The Scoop true story confirms that Emily Maitlis' interview with Prince Andrew sparked scathing responses from the public and the media. The interview, which the prince initially thought went well, was largely considered a disaster and the biggest PR nightmare for the Royal Family since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The editor of Royal Central, Charlie Proctor, said he expected it to be a train wreck, but what we got was "a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion." Four days after it aired, Buckingham Palace released a statement saying that Prince Andrew was pausing his public responsibilities "for the foreseeable future."

"What we do know [with regard to the Queen's involvement] is that just a few days after this interview happened, she effectively sacked her own son," Sam McAlister told CBS Mornings, "because he was withdrawn from public life really, four days after this happened." He officially resigned from his public roles the following year.

Was Prince Andrew taking a bath when the Newsnight special aired on BBC2?

The ending in the movie, which finds Prince Andrew in the tub when the interview airs, is fictional. In the scene, his phone buzzes repeatedly. He climbs out of the tub and there is a final shot of his somewhat overweight, pale body from behind as he realizes the truth about the interview and the fallout he's about to endure. The scene is meant to show him as a pathetic man during his final fall from grace. The reality is that the Queen had already read a transcript of the interview and Andrew would have known by then that it was going to be a disaster. In reality, it is unknown what he was doing when the interview aired or how the Palace privately responded.

Were any of the real women involved in the making of the Prince Andrew Netflix movie Scoop?

Yes. Other movies about journalists holding larger-than-life institutions accountable, including Spotlight and The Post, primarily focus on men as the truth seekers. Here, the focus is centered on three women. At least one of the women, former BBC Newsnight producer Sam McAlister, was on set for the reenactment of Emily Maitlis' interview with Prince Andrew. Having observed the real-life interview, she said that it felt like she was "there all over again," commending Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell for "doing such a convincing job" as Emily Maitlis and Prince Andrew.

According to the TODAY show, journalist Emily Maitlis, who conducted the BBC Newsnight interview, was not involved in the Netflix movie. At the time the movie was being shot, actress Gillian Anderson met Maitlis once unexpectedly at a charity event they both attended and they posed for a picture together.

Emily Maitlis (left) is pictured during the interview at Buckingham Palace on November 14, 2019. Gillian Anderson (right) recreates Maitlis' look for the Netflix movie. Photos: BBC / Netflix

How accurate is Scoop, Netflix's movie about the Prince Andrew BBC interview?

With regard to the film's recreation of the BBC Newsnight interview, it's easy to see how largely accurate the movie's depiction is given that you can watch the real interview on YouTube. Of the movie's version, former BBC Newsnight producer Sam McAlister told Netflix, "The level of detail, putting together exactly the same room, the camera angles, the lighting, the specifics of the table, the cables, the types of cameras, the carpet — everything is so ridiculously close."

There are, however, some liberties taken in the build-up to the interview, which takes up most of the film. For instance, Sam McAlister actually spent 13 months going back and forth with Amanda Thirsk, Prince Andrew's private secretary, before she landed the interview. The movie condenses this into what seems like a matter of weeks. She heard no after no until the nos eventually turned into maybes, and finally, a yes.