Near midnight and, as music pounded through Annabel’s nightclub, a group of laughing friends were making their way back to their table on the edge of the crowded dance floor.
It was one of those intimate moments so familiar to regulars at the exclusive venue in London’s Mayfair when, after hours of food and dancing, a few people break away from the melee to catch their breath and talk over a quiet drink.
This particular group was rather special — it included Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah Ferguson. And the date was significant, too. It was late February 1992 — three weeks before the couple would announce their separation.
For another member of the party, the events of that night would stick with him down the decades.
This was American Allan Starkie’s first encounter with the Duke and Duchess of York, whose private lives would become inextricably linked with his over the following four years.
It was also his first experience of royalty and he was struck by the way other revellers would part to let the couple pass — and how everyone turned to stare at them.
But that was not his only memory. The other concerned the appearance of Andrew, who had just turned 32 and was a Royal Navy officer. Starkie noticed that the prince didn’t sweat.
‘It was extremely warm at Annabel’s that night and Andrew was wearing a blue suit of heavy wool,’ Starkie recalled this week.
‘The evening featured almost constant dancing, and I watched with amazement as he returned from each dance, escorting rather moist partners, yet always bone dry himself.
Former US intelligence officer Allan Starkie (pictured with Fergie in 1996) recalled a night full of dancing in London in which he claims the Duke of York did not sweat a drop
Prince Andrew leaving Annabel’s nightclub in Mayfair, London in 2009
‘It was extraordinary. The rest of us were perspiring madly, but he didn’t seem to have a bead of sweat on him.’
The events of that night have taken on a special meaning for Starkie, a former U.S. Army intelligence officer, as he has watched the prince’s reputation systematically shredded over allegations of sexual assault, not least because central to Andrew’s alibi is his claim that he is incapable of sweating.
Stunned by the brutal manner in which the prince’s royal life and its privileges have been stripped away, Starkie says he feels compelled to speak out now in support of the man he once considered a friend.
He is also the first person to provide an independent view of the main plank of Prince Andrew’s defence — a defence which, it has to be said, has looked increasingly threadbare at every twist and turn of this sordid case.
Andrew’s accuser, Virginia Roberts (now Giuffre), who claims she was trafficked by convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein to have sex three times with the prince when she was a teenager, has said that prior to the first sexual encounter, she had danced with Andrew at Tramp, another London nightclub, where he had been ‘profusely sweating’.
In his Newsnight interview, Andrew, who vehemently denies Roberts’s allegations, claimed that he was unable to sweat at the time.
‘There’s a slight problem with the sweating,’ he told BBC presenter Emily Maitlis. ‘I have a peculiar medical condition.’
He went on to claim that he suffered from an overdose of adrenaline after being shot at as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War, meaning it ‘was almost impossible for me to sweat’.
He was ridiculed for the explanation and the vagueness about the so-called condition at the time, and Roberts’s lawyers are now demanding that the prince hand over medical records and paperwork relating to it.
His legal team have rejected the request on the grounds that it was ‘harassing and seeks confidential and private information and documents that are irrelevant’.
Starkie, however, believes there is something to Andrew’s mitigation.
Recalling a night filled with dancing during a particularly warm evening at nightclub Annabel’s, American Allan Starkie noticed that Prince Andrew did not sweat. ‘It was extraordinary,’ he said (Pictured: Andrew leaving Chinawhite nightclub)
He says that at their first meeting at Annabel’s nightclub, ‘and through various subsequent encounters of over half a decade’, he ‘noticed the strange phenomenon that, regardless of how rigorously he exerts himself, he simply does not perspire’.
It has to be said that Starkie, who now runs a successful recruitment company in New York, is an unlikely ally of the Duke of York.
He was introduced to the Yorks in the dying days of their marriage by his then business partner John Bryan, the self-styled American ‘financial adviser’ to the duchess, who, in reality, was her lover.
Starkie was engaged by Bryan to give Fergie commercial advice as she attempted to establish a new life after separating from Andrew. The two became inseparable. They rode together and he accompanied her on countless official and private overseas trips.
Starkie established business enterprises for her, and when she was commissioned to write a book about Queen Victoria, he agreed to help with research, travelling with her as her friend.
He was at the centre of the duchess’s life as it spiralled out of control over mounting debts, sex and an increasingly wayward existence. And, to start with at least, he was a shoulder for her to cry on.
Allan, she once proclaimed, was ‘my best friend’.
Then, in 1996, after a string of financial setbacks when his and Bryan’s construction business collapsed with debts of £10 million, which saw him held for months in a German prison on fraud charges — for which he was later exonerated — Starkie wrote an eye-opening and unsparing account of Fergie’s chaotic world.
The book, which she tried and failed to get banned by the courts, was the most revealing study of a royal in crisis. It chronicled, though not unsympathetically, her intimate relationships, including her affair with Bryan, her spendthrift habits and her Prozac-taking despair.
He claimed that but for her two daughters, Fergie — anguished over Andrew and Bryan, and overwhelmed by the scale of her overdraft — had contemplated suicide.
The book destroyed his relationship with Fergie, but it did not end his affection for the duchess and, more importantly, the duke, whom he admired and respected.
His memoir was based on copiously kept diaries of his years at Fergie’s side. And he has returned to those journals again to remind himself of Prince Andrew’s condition. If Starkie’s recollections are correct, then the prince’s inability to sweat pre-dates his alleged encounter with the then 17-year-old Ms Roberts by at least nine years.
Starkie still recalls how Bryan had called him up at the last minute to join a party of friends who were heading for Annabel’s, the club where Prince Charles had taken a certain Camilla Shand (later Parker Bowles) in his arms for the first time.
Bryan had hoped to introduce two influential German bankers to the Yorks, but they had pulled out. Enter Starkie.
The party was made up by Bryan’s younger sister, Pamela, known as Baby, a married couple who were members of the Yorks’ circle, and a blonde female friend of Fergie’s, who was single.
Later Starkie made an account of the evening for his diary in which he claimed that the duchess hoped the blonde would distract Andrew from her and Bryan, with whom she had begun an affair.
The events of that night have taken on a special meaning for Starkie as he has watched the prince’s reputation systematically shredded over allegations of sexual assault, not least because central to Andrew’s alibi is his claim that he is incapable of sweating (Pictured: Prince Andrew with the Queen in 2019)
Between courses, the group made their way on to the dance floor.
‘The duchess took turns dancing with Prince Andrew, as did the blonde and Baby,’ says Starkie, who also danced with the three women.
The American also learned that night that the prince did not drink alcohol, and it got him wondering about why he didn’t have a bead of perspiration on his head when everyone else was dripping wet.
There were to be more expeditions to nightclubs over the years and every time he marvelled at the same spectacle — a sweat-free Andrew.
The oddest example by far was two years later in the spring of 1994 when Andrew had command of his first ship, the minesweeper HMS Cottesmore, in which he decorated his cabin with a large picture of Windsor Castle.
As part of a goodwill mission, the 625-ton vessel docked in the Pool of London and the duke invited Fergie, from whom he was by now separated, and Starkie to drop in.
‘There was a bagpipes ceremony which we watched, then a junior officer asked me to follow him below decks,’ he remembers. ‘I was escorted into a large cabin and Prince Andrew sprang on me from behind a door and wrestled me to the ground.
‘It was playful and hilarious and, not wanting to seem overly obsequious, I wrestled back before letting him win.’
A graduate of the elite West Point military academy, whose service record included espionage operations in the Middle East and Africa, Starkie could certainly handle himself. ‘It was a warm May day and a cramped room and I recall my collar felt like a wet rag when I got off the floor.’
And the prince? ‘He was bone dry, laughing and unflappable.’
After changing out of his naval uniform — he was by then a lieutenant commander — Andrew, Fergie and Starkie headed once again for Annabel’s.
Starkie said he felt compelled to speak up about Andrew amid a sex assault lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre in the United States (the pair allegedly pictured together, with Ghislaine Maxwell smiling in the background). The Duke of York vehemently denies the allegations
This time there was no Bryan present, but a businessman whom Fergie was keen to impress, and having Andrew there was key. She had just embarked on one of her most madcap schemes — hunting for a horse with which she could compete as an eventer in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
She and Starkie had found the horse, Heather Blaze, in Ireland; the only problem was that she needed someone to buy it for her. Clive Garrad, an apparently wealthy property developer, was the man she had alighted upon.
Garrad, a roughly spoken wheeler dealer, who had plans to put the duchess’s name behind a string of nursing homes that he was hoping to set up, was charmed by Andrew’s attention.
But the collaboration ended in scandal. Garrad was bankrupt and was jailed for evading VAT. Fergie never rode in the Olympics and although she did come to own a share of the horse, Heather Blaze had to be destroyed after breaking a leg.
But that night at Annabel’s things looked very different. Between conversation and dinner, there was more dancing, and once again Starkie was struck by how cool — and dry — Prince Andrew remained.
He noticed it again and again, at parties at the duchess’s rented homes of Romenda Lodge and Kingsborn, and at Sunninghill, the Yorks’ former marital home where Andrew was still living.
Often the prince would bring his Jack Russell, Bendicks, a much-loved family pet, and there would be rough-and-tumble games.
‘Every time Andrew was animated, participated in dancing and party games and never had a bead of perspiration on him,’ says Starkie.
A curious man, he pondered what lay behind it. He knew, for example, that his balding friend, Bryan, used an injectable hormone treatment to stimulate hair growth, and wondered whether Andrew used it, too, and the absence of sweat was a side-effect.
But while he was certainly thinning, Andrew was not suffering from hair loss. ‘I didn’t know at the time about Andrew’s metabolism and how he says it was affected by his Falklands experience,’ he says.
‘I thought the lack of sweating could be the result of medicinal side-effect, but I never found out. For a long time, I thought it might be a result of him being teetotal.’
Although he has not spoken to the prince for around 25 years, Starkie says that he would be prepared to swear on oath about Andrew’s sweating.
‘What has happened to him is a tragedy,’ he says. ‘He was a war hero who has devoted his life to serving his country, and he is being dragged down by innuendo.’
From his memory of the time he spent with Andrew, Starkie says: ‘I recall a man who was guarded and selective in social events and there was one common theme: he was still in love with his ex-wife.
‘As far as I can see, nothing much has changed. He did not chase women and I could never in a thousand years imagine him escorting a young girl like Virginia Roberts.’