In a leafy and affluent corner of Her Majesty’s empire, which happens to be just a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle, a doleful and unavoidably symbolic dismantling has been taking place over the past few weeks and months.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s former family home, the gigantic McMansion Sunninghill Park, is being quietly demolished.
The new owner, a Kazakh billionaire who bought the house off Andrew for a £3m over the asking price in a very suspicious deal, is said to be planning a vast new monstrosity here, redolent with marble and gilt.
Planning documents in the public domain indicate the new palace will be even larger than ‘SouthYork’—as Sunninghill was known in its heyday by Andrew and Sarah’s many critics.
Demolition began last year and is now almost complete. Little was salvaged from the house, which serves as a powerful allegory for all that is rotten in the House of York.
At first the house, which is on the edge of Windsor Great Park, the gigantic ‘garden’ of Windsor Castle, stood simply for the vast wealth of the royals. The 12-bedroom home was given, outright, to Andrew and Sarah Ferguson as a wedding present by the Queen in 1986.
Long-standing rumors that Andrew was her favorite son were quietly confirmed by this stunning generosity.
They lived there for a while, but in 1996, when the couple separated, the house became a convenient symbol for the entitlement which Sarah Ferguson felt (and, by the by, continues to feel) her role as Duchess of York has bestowed on her. She stayed on in the house with her two daughters.
The house’s fortunes mirrored those of Fergie. As her downward spiral into debt and alcohol abuse progressed, large areas of the mansion were shut up and boarded off.
In 2002, she moved out of the increasingly neglected mansion altogether and headed for a new life in America.
When that didn’t work out, in 2008, she moved back in with Prince Andrew. Prince Andrew’s new house was Royal Lodge, on the Windsor estate, the Queen Mother’s former home. (This house has been in the news again in recent days after it was alleged that ‘airbags Andy’ rammed a disobliging electric gate in his Range Rover to force it open. The gate retaliated by scraping the side of Andrew’s car as it closed.)
He spent millions refurbishing the Queen Anne property and was granted a lifetime, rent-free lease in return by the Crown estate, which was nice for him.
Andrew was apparently in no great hurry to realise Sunninghill’s cash value. The property sat on the market for five years after Fergie moved out. It was finally bought in 2007 in a deal which saw a shady Kazakh billionaire pay £3m above the £12m asking price.
Andrew was a regular visitor to Kazakhstan at the time as part of his role as UK Special Representative for Trade and Investment. He even went goose-hunting with then-President Nazarbayev, who just so happens to be the father in law of Timur Kulibayev, the buyer of his house.
The palace has always insisted that the deal was legitimate and that Andrew was merely ‘fortunate’ to get such a good price for the house.
Thus it was that the house entered a new era as shorthand in the public mind for Andrew’s apparent abuse of his power and connections, such as his friendship with the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, which led to Charles severing the majority of connections with his troublesome little brother.
This new symbolism was steadily reinforced in the years following the sale, as its new owner literally left the house to rot into a dystopian nightmare of smashed window and collapsed roofs.
Now that the last scraps of Sunninghill have been torn down, the Royals can heave a sigh of relief that the most visually embarrassing reminder of Andrew’s chaotic and privileged life has been buried in landfill.