I’m not di­vorced FROM An­drew – I’m di­vorced TO him

Her weight is­sues. Her com­plex per­sonal life. Eu­ge­nie’s wed­ding – and THAT re­mar­riage gos­sip. In her first full in­ter­view for 20 years, Fergie at her most glo­ri­ously can­did

Irish Daily Mail - - News - By Frances Hardy

ONLY the cold­est of hearts could fail to warm to Sarah Fer­gu­son. Dotty and gen­er­ous, she is burst­ing with en­ergy and child-like joie de vivre. ‘Oh, I am in ev­ery way a child,’ she agrees, in that ‘posh but not plummy’ voice we re­mem­ber so well from when she first burst into the British royal fam­ily like a flamed-haired wreck­ing ball in the 1980s.

‘It’s who I am. It gets me into end­less trou­ble. Peo­ple think you’re im­pos­si­ble or dif­fi­cult if they can’t re­late to you, if you don’t take life se­ri­ously. But the key to me is that I look at life with a child’s sense of ex­cite­ment and joy.’

Doesn’t she just. Who didn’t fall in love with her all over again (while hold­ing a ner­vous hand over our eyes) watch­ing her at her younger daugh­ter Princess Eu­ge­nie’s wed­ding to Jack Brooks­bank last month. There she was, break­ing with pro­to­col yet again to hug well-wish­ers in the crowd be­fore en­ter­ing St Ge­orge’s Chapel, Wind­sor Cas­tle.

And flump­ing down in her pew — mouthing to Princess Beatrice that she couldn’t hold her tummy in any longer — be­fore wav­ing and beam­ing at friends in the con­gre­ga­tion.

That beam told us that Fergie is back, her sense of mis­chief and fun undimmed: en­veloped again in the pub­lic em­brace, rec­on­ciled with the British royal fam­ily af­ter years in the wilder­ness.

Last week, I spent two days with her and this un­prece­dented in­ter­view and rare ac­cess — the most ex­ten­sive in decades — gave me a sin­gu­lar in­sight into her char­ac­ter.

She speaks about her di­vorce from Prince An­drew, which con­tin­ues to baf­fle and fas­ci­nate 22 years af­ter they stopped be­ing man and wife — ‘We’re the hap­pi­est di­vorced cou­ple in the world. We’re di­vorced to each other, not from each other.’

She de­scribes, with mag­na­nim­ity, those wilder­ness years which left her in the sur­real sit­u­a­tion of hav­ing to watch her own daugh­ters on TV ev­ery Christ­mas, as they joined the roy­als at San­dring­ham, while she re­mained banned.

‘I will watch Ben-Hur and re­ally en­joy it, then watch the news and see how the girls are do­ing.’

AND of course, she shares with me the thrill ev­ery mother-ofthe-bride feels as she watches a daugh­ter marry. She’s still fizzing with ex­cite­ment.

‘I al­ways went to wed­dings and thought: “Why is the mother-ofthe-bride cry­ing?”’ she tells me. ‘But I com­pletely un­der­stand why now. It’s be­cause it’s so amaz­ing to think your daugh­ter is now grown up, leav­ing home and start­ing her own life.’

‘I’d just sat down in the chapel and ev­ery­one saw me go “Phew” be­cause I’d man­aged not to slip over in my high heels; then I looked across and saw my sis­ter (Jane) and I watched her face and there were tears — and I’m do­ing it again, I’m welling up now,’ she says, dab­bing at her eyes with a polka-dot han­kie.

Now in her 60th year, her nat­u­ral Ti­tian red hair is un­touched by grey, her stun­ning legs still slen­der as a gazelle’s — and her en­dear­ing ec­cen­tric­i­ties un­sti­fled by years of in­hibit­ing royal pro­to­col. Sarah Fer­gu­son re­mains mag­nif­i­cently, un­apolo­get­i­cally, her­self.

The wed­ding, on Oc­to­ber 12, was a day of ex­trav­a­gant cel­e­bra­tion in which ev­ery car­riage dis­gorged an em­i­nent guest or a celebrity, and ab­sent loved-ones — prime among them the late Princess Di­ana — were at the fore­front of Fergie’s mind.

‘I thought of ab­sent friends and fam­ily; of Di­ana — but she’s with me all the time. What I miss most is her tin­kling laugh­ter.

‘Di­ana was my best friend and the fun­ni­est per­son I knew. She had such tim­ing and wit. It was a to­tal joy to be with her be­cause we just laughed and en­joyed life so much, and I know she would have loved the wed­ding.’

Head­ing the panoply of se­nior roy­als were Queen Eliz­a­beth II and Prince Philip, who at­tends events on a ‘see how he feels on the day’ ba­sis now, and was in close prox­im­ity with his for­mer daugh­ter-in­law for the first time in 25 years.

It was said he couldn’t stand to be in the same room af­ter Fergie ‘brought shame’ on the royal fam­ily with those in­fa­mous pho­tos of her hav­ing her toes sucked by Amer­i­can busi­ness­man John Bryan, in the sum­mer of 1992, while sep­a­rated from Prince An­drew.

But Fergie’s gaze, of course, was fixed firmly on her daugh­ter.

‘My proud­est mo­ment,’ she says, ‘was watch­ing Eu­ge­nie stand­ing tall, very proud to show her sco­l­io­sis scar in her low-backed dress. I’d gone to all the fit­tings and sat there beam­ing with de­light, and be­cause there was no veil it was a very strong state­ment.

‘We rang St Ge­orge’s Chapel to make sure there wasn’t a spe­cial rule spec­i­fy­ing veils must be worn, but there wasn’t and Eu­ge­nie just wanted to be her­self.

‘The tiara (bor­rowed from granny) danced to her. She was just so ra­di­ant. She said: “Mum, I thought I was go­ing to get nerves,” but she didn’t.

‘She and Jack are just meant to be. He adores her, and now I’ve got a son. Jack is like Zebedee. Bo­ing, bo­ing!’ She demon­strates the en­ergy of the Magic Round­about char­ac­ter on his coiled spring.

‘He will be the best con­sort there is, as Prince Al­bert was to Queen Vic­to­ria. I know it will be that sort of love match.’

There were many pri­vate mo­ments in the chapel, the Duchess ad­mits, when her eyes blurred with tears, and there were sub­tle ways in which she car­ried the spirit of loved ones with her.

HER fa­ther al­ways en­cour­aged her to think of the back­room staff. ‘He said: “Re­mem­ber the kitchen is more im­por­tant than the din­ing ta­ble” so I made sure the chauf­feurs’ tent had lots of nice notes, cof­fees and bis­cuits, and I put my fa­ther’s photo up as I knew he’d be say­ing, “Well done”.’

Ma­jor Ron­ald Fer­gu­son died in 2003 and his first wife Su­san — Fergie’s mother — was killed in 1998, aged 61, in a car crash in Ar­gentina, where she lived with her sec­ond hus­band, polo player Hec­tor Bar­rantes.

The vin­tage Manolo Blah­nik bag Fergie held at the wed­ding be­longed to her mother.

‘Mum had car­ried the hand­bag at my wed­ding to Prince An­drew and the ad­mis­sion tick­ets were still in it. They were green — which was why I wore green on the day.’ And the el­derly woman in a wheel­chair whom Sarah em­braced in the crowd out­side the chapel, was her mother’s friend, Jessie Hu­berty.

‘I’d gone to live with her in New York for six weeks when I was 19. My fa­ther had said, “You’re too spoilt. You have to work your way round Amer­ica” — so I stayed with Jessie and got a job clean­ing lava­to­ries to earn enough to get a Grey­hound bus ticket.’

Stand­ing near Jessie was Nepalese Sherpa Gyalzen (Sarah also hugged him warmly), with whom she had climbed be­yond Ever­est base camp in 2000 for the Mac­In­tyre char­ity, which sup­ports peo­ple with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties.

The sherpa, who worked for duchess for a few years af­ter this, now lives in New York with his wife and son, and had trav­elled to Wind­sor spe­cially to wit­ness Princess Eu­ge­nie’s big day.

For the party at Royal Lodge on the Satur­day, where food was served from a se­ries of stalls, each dish was cho­sen for its spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance to the new­ly­weds and their fam­i­lies. There was Ar­gen­tinian beef — in mem­ory of Su­san Bar­rantes — rice dishes from Nicaragua (where Jack had pro­posed in front of a vol­cano), mini ham­burg­ers from the US where Eu­ge­nie’s em­ployer, art gallery Hauser & Wirth is based.

There was Ital­ian pizza and Span­ish paella, while crepes from Switzer­land rep­re­sented Ver­bier, where Sarah and An­drew jointly own a €15 mil­lion chalet.

The cou­ple’s friends El­lie Gould­ing and Rob­bie Wil­liams — who was there with his wife Ayda Field (their daugh­ter Theodora,

six, was a brides­maid) — both sang their hits. And the Royal Phil­har­monic Orches­tra also per­formed, its pro­gramme in­clud­ing a com­po­si­tion, Twin Flame, by singer-song­writer Ta­nis Chalopin, writ­ten as a wed­ding present for the cou­ple.

Crit­ics have carped about the ex­trav­a­gance of the wed­ding — but of course the bride and groom’s fam­i­lies met those costs. As is stan­dard at any gath­er­ing at­tended by Queen Eliz­a­beth, se­cu­rity costs fell to the British tax­payer — as they did for the other grand­chil­dren’s wed­dings.

And there in the mid­dle of it all was Fergie, cen­tre stage af­ter years of painful alien­ation. To­day, her re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion seems com­plete.

For three suc­ces­sive sum­mers she has been to Bal­moral; she Beam­ing: Fergie to­day and at the heart of the royal fam­ily for Eu­ge­nie’s wed­ding reg­u­larly joins the Queen at As­cot and shares tea with Her Majesty at Wind­sor. And, of course, all the se­nior mem­bers of the royal fam­ily (Prince Philip prime among them) mus­tered for the wed­ding. Only Camilla the Duchess of Corn­wall, was ab­sent, hon­our­ing a long­stand­ing prom­ise to visit a tiny school in Scot­land. Was Sarah of­fended? Not a whit! ‘I think it’s won­der­ful she kept to her en­gage­ment, es­pe­cially as it was with chil­dren. She’s a won­der­ful lady and was a great friend of my mum,’ she says mag­nan­i­mously. And through­out the vi­cis­si­tudes of the past two decades, her close­ness to Prince An­drew has re­mained unas­sail­able. They share a home — Royal Lodge, Wind­sor — and have raised their well-ad­justed daugh­ters as a part­ner­ship. I ask if she loves him. It seems the Fergie of 2018 has learned diplo­macy and deftly side-steps the ques­tion, but replies: ‘We both say it. We are com­pletely com­pat­i­ble. Our by­words are com­mu­ni­ca­tion, com­pro­mise and com­pas­sion.

‘July 23, 1986 was the hap­pi­est day of my life. An­drew is the best man I know. What he does for Bri­tain is in­cred­i­ble; no one knows how hard he works for his coun­try.

‘My duty is to him. I am so proud of him. I stand by him and al­ways will. The way we are is our fairy tale.

‘Although we are not a cou­ple, we re­ally be­lieve in each other. The Yorks are a united fam­ily. We’ve shown it. You saw it at the wed­ding.

‘We stand up for each other, fight for each other. We’re to­tally re­spect­ful of each other’s po­si­tion and thoughts and we lis­ten to each other. Our chil­dren lis­ten to us, too.

‘And we sit round the ta­ble and have af­ter­noon tea to­gether. It’s a very im­por­tant part of our lives.’

The ques­tion has been raised many times: will they re­marry? ‘So many peo­ple have asked me that, but we’re so happy with the way we are right now,’ she says. ‘We en­joy each other’s com­pany; we al­low each other to

blos­som. I know it sounds like a fairy tale but that’s the way we are.

‘And the Sun­day af­ter the wed­ding, I said to Eu­ge­nie and Jack: “Do you want to stay some­where spe­cial?” No. They wanted to stay at Royal Lodge. So the night be­fore their hon­ey­moon, the whole fam­ily were eat­ing pizza to­gether in the kitchen.’

On her close­ness to Queen Eliz­a­beth II — who re­port­edly re­marked that what­ever Fergie has done, she has al­ways been a good mother — she is ju­di­cious: ‘Her Majesty is the finest icon I’ve ever been lucky enough to share a room with. She’s the most ex­cep­tional Head of State, lady and men­tor. I am very for­tu­nate to know her.’

SHE is equally full of praise for Prince Philip, whom she de­scribes as ‘an in­cred­i­ble man’. ‘I have huge re­spect for him and al­ways ad­mired him. It was a lovely pho­to­graph of us all to­gether. It was very good to be with him again. My fa­ther and he used to play polo to­gether. It brought back mem­o­ries of that.’

It is for be­ing a good mum that Fergie is jus­ti­fi­ably cel­e­brated. She says she and her daugh­ters are a ‘tri­pod’ — an in­ter­de­pen­dent and solid three­some.

Over the years, the princesses have en­dured crush­ing crit­i­cism: Beatrice, par­tic­u­larly, has been vil­i­fied for her shape, size and dress sense.

Fergie will not be drawn to com­ment, other than to say: ‘I am fiercely pro­tec­tive of my girls. I’m like a li­on­ess.’

It’s in­dis­putable, too, that Fergie and An­drew pro­vide a paradigm on how to par­ent well af­ter a di­vorce.

‘Of course we’re hu­man, both An­drew and I, but when we walked through the door we never brought our adult prob­lems to the chil­dren. This is al­ways our rule.

‘And you’re al­ways hon­est with your chil­dren. When they say, “Mummy, what’s hap­pen­ing?” you say, “It’s in­ter­est­ing you should ask the ques­tion,” and you ex­plain in a way they can un­der­stand.

‘When my par­ents di­vorced, I didn’t have a par­ent who was telling me the truth. I found out in 1974 through a news­pa­per what was hap­pen­ing.

‘And I felt … I be­lieved, that I had done some­thing wrong. I think it’s re­ally im­por­tant that chil­dren don’t feel that. The fact that we di­vorced had ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with the girls.

‘But I re­mem­ber think­ing I was re­spon­si­ble for my par­ents split­ting up — be­cause I’d cut my hair.’ She laughs rue­fully at the mem­ory. ‘And be­cause I wasn’t good enough. And that was when I be­gan to com­fort eat, and why I’ve had a weight prob­lem all my life.

‘It’s why I have to­tal em­pa­thy with what it is like to be de­stroyed by self-ha­tred, be­cause when you com­fort eat you put on weight, and then beat your­self up for com­fort eat­ing. It is such a vi­cious cir­cle.

‘I com­fort-ate all my life from the age of 13. I started when I was at board­ing school, when I heard my par­ents were get­ting di­vorced. I got up to 14-and-a-half stone.’

To­day, she looks en­vi­ably slen­der in a flirty flared skirt teamed with Smythe jacket in rac­ing green. The ‘soul-de­stroy­ing’ Duchess of Pork jibes that dogged her when she was at her heav­i­est are now pal­pa­bly in­ap­pli­ca­ble.

Her jew­ellery is trade­mark Fergie: a gold bracelet bear­ing her girls’ names picked out in di­a­mon­den­crusted cap­i­tals; a su­per-sized Re­mem­brance Day poppy in full bloom from her lapel.

Once she has kicked off the Jimmy Choo heels she wears (at our re­quest) for the pho­tos, she slips, with re­lief, into flat vel­vet pumps em­broi­dered with uni­corns. They seem to sum up her spirit: fan­ci­ful, child-like, princessy. If you asked Fergie her favourite colour, she might well say ‘glit­ter’.

She seems an amal­gam of con­tra­dic­tions: child­like but prag­matic; jolly yet re­flec­tive; ro­bust and hearty at times, then frag­ile.

‘It has taken me 59 years, but I’m happy to own this sense of joy I feel now,’ she says.

‘My mantra is the Hs: hon­our, hu­mil­ity, hope and hu­mour. If I have ever let any­one down, and I am sure I have done so at times, I have al­ways tried to amend and do my best. I be­lieve in for­give­ness for my­self and for oth­ers. It’s an im­por­tant qual­ity.’

She ad­mits to hav­ing felt ‘sad­ness’ in her past but is care­ful to dis­tin­guish this from de­pres­sion. When she feels low, she says, she has a strat­egy for cop­ing. ‘I take a bit of quiet time; maybe watch a black and white movie and make my­self cry even more. (Cary Grant is one of my he­roes.) But I love to laugh, too. I find a sense of hu­mour al­ways helps.

‘As my grand­mother would say, “This, too, shall pass.” She brought me up to clean my side of the street — by which she meant to for­give and never let the sun go down on an ar­gu­ment.’

I ask if she has learnt to cope with the lone­li­ness of suc­ces­sive Christ­mases spent with­out her daugh­ters. This year will be the 22nd, since her di­vorce, that her girls have gone to San­dring­ham to join the royal fam­ily, while she, un­in­vited, will stay home alone.

And once again, Sarah is gen­er­ous-spir­ited. ‘I know that Her Majesty adores my chil­dren, so I am happy to share them — both in Au­gust and at Christ­mas.’

I ask if it breaks her heart to be a dis­tant ob­server of this close, fa­mil­ial hap­pi­ness, but she replies with cus­tom­ary bravado: ‘No! I am happy mak­ing other peo­ple happy. I re­ally am like this. I love to share. It’s the joy of giv­ing.’

SHE gives a lot of time and en­ergy to her char­ity work: she is an Am­bas­sador for the British Heart Foun­da­tion and is talk­ing to me to­day to pro­mote the launch of Street Child, newly merged with the char­ity she set up in 1992, Chil­dren In Cri­sis. She is pas­sion­ate about the role ed­u­ca­tion plays in lift­ing peo­ple out of des­ti­tu­tion.

‘At Street Child, we all be­lieve that ed­u­ca­tion is a fun­da­men­tal right and that it is a scan­dal and a tragedy that there are 121mil­lion school-aged chil­dren around the world who are not able to go to school,’ she says.

Tom Dan­nant, who es­tab­lished Street Child in 2008, says: ‘It’s a mea­sure of the Duchess’s lack of ego that she was pre­pared to merge her char­ity with our faster-grow­ing one. She thought it would pack a big­ger punch and she could do more to help chil­dren that way.’

He re­ports, too, on her pas­sion, stamina and will­ing­ness to en­dure pri­va­tions. ‘Ear­lier this year, we drove through rough, wind­ing roads in Nepal for ten hours, then stayed in a cock­roach-in­fested ho­tel. She did it to reach the chil­dren in great­est need.’

I ask Sarah about this trip and she throws up her hands and laughs. ‘My fa­ther would have called it char­ac­ter-build­ing,’ she says. ‘They shov­elled me in a car and we wanted to find th­ese chil­dren who lit­er­ally had noth­ing.

‘The mon­soon rains were com­ing, they had no food and the wa­ter they drank was pol­luted and in­fested with co­bras.

‘And the ho­tel was one of those where you sleep on your can­vas suit­case be­cause it’s more com­fort­able than the bed.’

The char­ity will be build­ing a school in this re­mote and im­pov­er­ished out­post: Sarah has al­ready forged links with some of the chil­dren it will ed­u­cate. ‘My grand­mother al­ways used to say to me: “If you feel down about life, then go out and give to oth­ers”,’ she re­calls.

And there is no doubt in my mind that Sarah’s com­pas­sion, her em­pa­thy — ac­tu­ally her — for chil­dren is gen­uine. Vis­it­ing Ju­lia’s House, a chil­dren’s hos­pice in the English county of Wilt­shire with her, she blows in like a gust of fresh air, dis­pens­ing sweets and trin­kets, join­ing a craft ses­sion, dec­o­rat­ing a cake (with uni­corns) and read­ing from one of her Budgie the He­li­copter books.

Those who would de­cry her choice of read­ing ma­te­rial as op­por­tunis­tic might do well to recog­nise that the stipend she re­ceived from the royal fam­ily af­ter her di­vorce was re­put­edly just £15,000 (€17,000) a year.

She needs to earn money, and does so through a se­ries of creative en­ter­prises.

She shows me her range of teas — in­ge­niously con­cocted to smell and taste like the deserts she adores (there’s jam roly-poly, choco­late tart, straw­ber­ries and cream) — which have helped her re­sist pud­dings and keep her weight down. (Some of the prof­its from sales will go to Street Child.)

She gen­tly ca­joles her young au­di­ence, re­mem­ber­ing their names, chat­ting on their level.

LATER she con­fides to a group of par­ents: ‘I pre­fer to be with chil­dren be­cause I can be with my imag­i­na­tion. What I take away from any visit like this is the kind­ness, the love, the chil­dren and the to­tal joy. I love the at­mos­phere and good­ness here.’

I ask if she’s look­ing for­ward to be­ing a grand­mother. She laughs.

‘How many chil­dren’s books have I writ­ten? Twenty-two! Frances, I tell you, they’ll be older than me at age three! I’ll have more fun mak­ing the Bar­bie kit houses than the grand­chil­dren will.’

This is, per­haps, the essence of Fergie: to be child-like is to be re­leased from the obli­ga­tion to con­form to adult ex­pec­ta­tions and conventions.

‘When I got mar­ried peo­ple said: “You mustn’t make faces when you go out. You mustn’t do this or that.” But I just want to be my­self. I’m 59 but I feel about eight years old.’

I leave Sarah Fer­gu­son freighted with gifts from her. There’s a silk scarf (wo­ven by traf­ficked women), a se­lec­tion of her tea bags, china wed­ding me­men­toes, short­bread — a ver­i­ta­ble goodie bag.

As she hugs me, she says, ‘I like to have har­mony. Peo­ple say it’s peo­ple pleas­ing, but it’s the way I like to be. It makes me feel good.’

Proud mum: Sarah with Beatrice, left, and Eu­ge­nie

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