On Saturday afternoon, it was just an ordinary Pizza Express in Woking. By Sunday morning, it had become the focus of international media attention, second only to Salisbury’s branch of Zizzi on the list of Britain’s most notorious pizza places.

The local outlet of the popular chain was catapulted into the spotlight alongside the restaurant that was temporarily closed after a novichok attack last year after Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview on Saturday. In the interview, the Duke of York explained that a visit to the Woking venue on 10 March 18 years ago was his alibi for the allegation that on the same day he had sex with Virginia Giuffre, then aged 17, one of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged trafficking victims.

Giuffre, whose surname was then Roberts, claims that the pair danced at Tramp nightclub – where Andrew was said to have been sweating profusely – before going back to the Belgravia home of Epstein’s girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell.

But while Andrew had “no recollection” of meeting Giuffre, he said his visit to the food chain with his daughter Beatrice for a birthday party was especially memorable because it was a “very unusual” thing for him to do. “I’ve only been to Woking a couple of times and I remember it weirdly distinctly,” he said. “As soon as somebody reminded me of it, I went, ‘Oh yes, I remember that.’”

In spite of its new-found notoriety, business continued as usual at the Pizza Express as unsuspecting customers arrived for lunch on Sunday.

“Has it closed?” one asked, looking nonplussed at the press pack and camera waiting outside, before entering hurriedly. Staff, meanwhile, were tight-lipped, with one young waitress telling the Guardian that the restaurant would “not answer any questions”.

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Husband and wife Mike and Amanda Bibby have lived in Woking for more than three decades and strolled past the pizzeria on one of their weekly five-mile walks.

Mike and Amanda Bibby.



Mike and Amanda Bibby. Photograph: Aaron Walawalkar/The Guardian

“Oh my gosh. We have been coming here for at least 20 years,” said Amanda, 53. “We come for Mother’s Day, birthdays – all of the family events because it is easy for everybody.”

Asked whether she could recall her first visit, she took a moment’s pause. “I remember one of the first times when the children were tiny, it was winter time … I had the most amazing chicken caesar salad I ever had. I think that was in December 1994.”

The couple said that they had seen Andrew’s daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, “loads” seven miles away in Sunningdale, but never Woking.

Twins Brian and Trevor Woodcock, both born and raised in Woking, were also among the passersby. “I used to work in an office block across the road … It’s got to be 25 years ago,” said Trevor, wondering if he may have been on shift at the time of the Prince’s supposed visit. The 50-year-old added: “But no, I didn’t see him here.”

Brothers Brian and Trevor Woodcock, 50.



Brothers Brian and Trevor Woodcock, 50. Photograph: Aaron Walawalkar/The Guardian

He has been to the restaurant multiple times but, asked if he could remember his first, he simply said: “No, to be honest.”

Ian Spain has lived on the road adjacent to Pizza Express for 37 years but has visited it on few occasions, preferring instead to make his pizza at home. “It is not something you would say is remarkable,” said the 53-year-old. “There has not been any gossip on the street. I’m sure if he did go there, he must have kept a very low-profile.”

The town’s Pizza Express listing on Google has been inundated with fake reviews since the duke’s interview aired last night. “It has been 18 years since I visited, but I remember it like it was yesterday,” wrote someone using the name David Branwood.

“I was sweating profusely. So were all the other customers. It was hot. But one man, one mysterious man, was ice-cool, sweat-free,” it continued, a dig at the duke’s claims that he lost the ability to sweat following an overdose of adrenaline in the Falklands war.

While the seemingly nondescript restaurant has left a lasting impression on Prince Andrew, the memories appeared to be far less vivid for its neighbours.



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