Sarah Ferguson was first described to the general public as a "freckle-faced country girl" in a 1986 Vanity Fair article. Still, her personal life and style have suffered under the microscope of the global gaze through royal limelight, scandal, and divorce. The truth about Sarah Ferguson is that the world has watched every fashion choice, every life choice, and made its own judgment on her. But over time, this self-described "true redhead" has risen above her detractors and developed a style that is "exactly Sarah" (via YouTube).
Born in 1959 to an upper-class family, Ferguson’s mother left the family when she was just 13 years old. Abandoned by her mother to a lover in Argentina, Ferguson retreated into her own world of stories, something for which her family mocked her (via Financial Times). Nevertheless, she filled the void her mother left as best she could within the family. She wasn’t a strong student, but she muddled through and landed a job in the publishing world before her fourth cousin, Diana Spencer, came calling.
Cousin Diana comes through
Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson were distant relatives, but their relationship blossomed into true friendship in their teens. Princess Diana often included Ferguson in invitations to posh parties and royal events. In fact, it was Princess Diana who insisted that Ferguson be invited to the Royal Ascot in 1985 as a potential suitor for Prince Andrew. He had recently suffered several "indiscretions" and needed an image makeover. A fine romance with a vivacious redhead seemed like the perfect solution. Though Prince Andrew and Ferguson had known each other since childhood, this planned meeting by Princess Diana rekindled their relationship and, according to Vanity Fair, flung the two headlong into a whirlwind romance.
As the relationship progressed, Ferguson began making public appearances with the Royals, and Town and Country reported that she relied on Princess Diana to guide her. Princess Diana loaned her clothes or offered advice. Ferguson later wrote in her autobiography "My Story" about her first public appearance, "’Just keep smiling,’ Diana whispered. And I did, as I would for long years to come.’"
The courtship between Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew sounded like it began as most romances do: teasing and flirtation (via YouTube). But, according to Ferguson, on the day Diana re-introduced them at the Royal Ascot, he teased her into eating chocolate profiteroles, despite her diet and determination not to eat them. Then, he refused to eat them, saying he didn’t like them.
In an interview with Anthony Carfew (via YouTube), the couple said Prince Andrew proposed on a private trip to Scotland. When he proposed, he claims that he went down on both knees to ask her but admitted to being slightly surprised that she said yes. She responded, "When you wake up tomorrow, you can tell me it was all a huge joke."
"I haven’t," he whispered. "He hasn’t … yet," she muttered. They laughed and teased throughout the interview, but the conclusion was thus: "We are a good team, good friends," she said. And the world united around them in support and goodwill. As a symbol of their engagement, Prince Andrew commissioned a unique ruby ring for her red hair (via Insider) surrounded with diamonds "that looked like rugby balls," he said.
The wedding of Sarah Ferguson to Prince Andrew
On July 23, 1986, the cameras were trained on the future Duchess of York. The Mirror reports her gown was designed by British designer Lindka Cierach and was made of duchesse satin. Good Housekeeping remarked how it fit like a corset. It included bees and thistles embroidered on it, which were part of the Ferguson family crest. On the train, the letters A and S were embroidered in silver beads. Though the designer of her gown was not well-known, the wedding dress was immediately copied worldwide.
At first, Sarah Ferguson wore a large flower crown made of gardenias as she walked down the aisle because they were Andrew’s favorite flower, The Express reports. As she left the church, she removed the flower crown and sported a new tiara gifted to her by the royal family, a symbol of her own entrance into royalty. A large 5-carat diamond sat atop platinum scrollwork. Ferguson has since worn it several times, even after her divorce. It is known as the York tiara since she was the Duchess of York.
Years later, in an interview with Piers Morgan (via The Express), Ferguson described the day. "Like every bride’s wedding day, it’s a special day. And you’ve got a beautiful dress on. But you’re standing there with the man you love. And then there are people out there who are wishing you so well. And it’s just extraordinary."
Learning the ropes of royal life
After just a three-day private honeymoon on the queen’s royal yacht, the young couple was forced to steam back to London to pick up the queen and continue with Ferguson’s new in-laws on a tour. Ferguson admitted in a 1996 interview with Oprah that she was surprised by the rooms in Buckingham Palace they were given (only four) and the darkness of the rooms. She claimed they were only allowed to have 30-watt bulbs (via YouTube).
As she told Oprah, "You didn’t marry the fairytale. You married your man. You have to come to terms with reality … or their reality," as she referred to the royal family. She was never comfortable with the reality of royal life.
Increasingly, the British tabloids became ruthless. They called her "The Duchess of Pork" because her weight fluctuated and a "no-style zone," because her fashion choices were often questioned. Ferguson revealed in the aforementioned interview how much she struggled with both her portrayal by the media and by the life of a royal. She knew she could just play by all the rules and never question anything, but added, "I was hungry for life and this life made me lose myself."
The changing tide of public opinion and marriage
At first, the newlyweds seemed to get along as well as they believed they would. Prince Andrew was devoted and relieved to have the fun-loving new duchess at his side. During their tour of Canada in 1987, Sarah Ferguson delighted the commonwealth members with her enthusiasm and sense of fun.
A few years later, they returned to Canada to try and regain some of their lost popularity. According to Macleans, the queen was disappointed in the duke and duchess’s half-hearted attention to royal duties. Andrew often went on naval duty, and Ferguson made infrequent public appearances. But it seemed no matter which way she stepped, she never quite got it right. If she went on a public tour with her husband, she was criticized for leaving her new daughter, Beatrice, at home. In short, she needed to charm public opinion. So they increased their public appearances and tried to make good with the press.
After several years of such abuse, however, it was clear that Ferguson was happy to charm and talk to people, she was less inclined to care what the press or even the royal family thought of her. "My clothes and what I look like, really, that is entirely up to me because, quite frankly, Andrew likes it, and I like it, and if no one else does, well, that’s their problem."
Scandal and separation
The cracks began to show inside Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew’s relationship by 1992. Following the birth of their second daughter, Eugenie, the Duke and Duchess of York began to see significantly less of each other. Prince Andrew’s naval career kept him away from home to such an extent that the duchess claims she only saw him on average 40 days per year. A separation was announced in 1992. Sadly for Ferguson, scandalous photos of her own indiscretions ultimately brought the marriage to an end. The queen granted a divorce in 1996. Marie Claire reported that when Queen Elizabeth met with Ferguson after the scandal, she asked her, "What do you want?" The duchess surprised her with the response of "friendship."
While there is no doubt that a frostiness exists between Ferguson and the palace, the queen continued to include her in the invitation to her box at the Royal Ascot every year. Much later, Ferguson admitted that she didn’t want the divorce, but "circumstances" made it necessary. Those circumstances could have been the issues surrounding her fidelity, or the real reason for Ferguson’s divorce could have been because she claimed she wanted to earn money on her own — something a royal could not do at the time.
A new life and new career
Sarah Ferguson moved to the United States following her disappointing divorce. She retained her duchess title but no longer received much financial support from the palace. She found a new career as an author and published her first children’s book in 1995. Since then, Ferguson has written at least 38 children’s books, several autobiographical stories and even made a foray into historical fiction. She also supported herself with endorsement deals, Good Housekeeping has reported, such as her 11-year partnership with Weight Watchers.
The longer she was in America, the more she showed signs of finding her true self. She claimed that her grandmother taught her, "When you feel bad about yourself, go and give to others" (via YouTube). This inspired her to begin her own charities, first in the U.K. with Children in Crisis and later in the United States with Chances for Children.
The continued transformation of Sarah Ferguson
The next decade saw Sarah Ferguson emerge as a businesswoman, author, and truth-teller when it came to royal life. She continued to devote more of her time to charity, as when she modeled a stunning red dress during fashion week for The Heart Truth in 2004. While she and the queen have remained cordial, she is occasionally snubbed from family activities. Marie Claire has reported that Prince Charles refused to include her in the private after-party for Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.
She and Prince Andrew, however, have enjoyed a glorious reunification of sorts. She confirmed to the Financial Times that when she is in England, she lives with him in his home at the Royal Lodge, although in distinct wings. Though she once was caught selling an all-access story to him in 2010 to raise money, Prince Andrew stood by her and she, in turn, has stood by him in the face of his own scandals, despite all evidence against him. She has claimed, "We support each other like pillars of strength with the honor and integrity of truth."
Sarah Ferguson’s post-pandemic rebirth
In a recent interview with People (via YouTube) in celebration of her newest book — a work of historical fiction based on a distant relative — Ferguson revealed that the pandemic and subsequent lockdown "taught her to be who she is" and helped her to enjoy her life on a greater scale. The subject of her book, she said, was much like her: "A true redhead — spontaneous, with a zest for life." Ferguson said she believed the book’s main character wholly embodied the same spirit, just as she embodied the fiery hair color.
During the lockdown, Ferguson focused on her YouTube channel. She said that she read children’s books and played "everybody’s grandmummy" during a time of great loneliness, often appearing without makeup and wearing funny costumes. It seems Ferguson truly has embraced her life with gusto and transformed from a "freckle-faced country girl" to a beautiful and witty duchess.