I’m fiercely pro­tec­tive of my girls – like a li­on­ess

Daily Mail - - News -

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 the Queen — 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.

The Duchess 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 the Yorks 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 blooming 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 121 mil­lion 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 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 Proud mum: Sarah with Beatrice, left, and Eu­ge­nie 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 love — for chil­dren is gen­uine. Vis­it­ing Ju­lia’s House, a chil­dren’s hos­pice in 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 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 the Duchess 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.’ To sup­port the work of Street Child, visit www.street-child.co.uk

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.