The Rehabilitation of Fergie, the Comeback Duchess
The Duchess of York is no stranger to scandal, but Prince Harry and Meghan Markle want her at their wedding—and damn what other royals, including Prince Philip, think.
In one of the most remarkable recoveries of recent years, Sarah Ferguson is going to Prince Harry’s wedding, despite resentment in the upper echelons of royalty. It’s testament to how she has turned her life around—and Harry’s compassion for his troubled auntie.
This week, Prince Harry took a stand.
He declared that he liked his awkward aunt, Sarah Ferguson.
Knowing that actions speak louder than words, he didn’t, of course, do this in a hastily-arranged press conference or TV interview. Instead, he quietly let it be known that Fergie would be coming to his wedding to Meghan Markle on May 19 this year.
Fergie is going, and make no mistake, this is a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of the duchess, as she is still formally known, having retained the title in her divorce negotiations with the palace.
For Fergie was cruelly excluded from the last royal wedding when Prince William and Kate Middleton declined to include her in the over 1900 invited guests to their wedding.
It was a petty and vindictive act, unworthy of the second in line to the throne, and it also backfired spectacularly, drawing attention to the royal rift with Fergie. Because Fergie, being Fergie, wasn’t about to be silenced.
William and Kate’s petulant act is rumored to have been carried out in accordance with the wishes of, if not at the behest of, Prince Philip, who makes no secret of the fact that he cannot bear to even be in the same room as Ferguson.
The enmity runs both ways: Ferguson, a source has previously told The Daily Beast, has told confidants that the Duke rules the family with “a rod of iron.”
Philip’s contempt for Fergie—shared by Prince William and Prince Charles—stems from the disrepute that she has brought the family into.
There have been many lows in the life of the ex-wife of Prince Andrew, mother of Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice. Being photographed in 1992 having her toes sucked by a Texan millionaire while still married to Prince Andrew remains one of the more embarrassing scandals to afflict the Royal Family, but it paled into insignificance to what would occur almost 20 years later, when Fergie was filmed offering to take cash to organize access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, who was then the British trade envoy.
With unpaid bills reportedly amounting to £200,000 ($276,600) at the time, Fergie clapped her hands with delight when an undercover tabloid reporter led her into a room with over £27,000 ($37,300) sitting on the table.
“Oh my god, you’re a genius,” she told the News of the World’s Mahzer Mahmood as she laid eyes on the cash.
Unfortunately for Fergie, Mahmood—who would three years later be jailed himself for manipulating evidence in another sting—was taping the whole encounter.
When the footage was published, Fergie’s professional life collapsed.
In court documents filed in 2016 (she was seeking damages from News International and Mahmood in the wake of his conviction, alleging her comments were unfairly taken out of context) she claimed that her earnings in the two years following the scandal dropped from £750,000, to £54,000 and then to zero.
Her personal life took a similar hit—but the final humiliation came with the no invite to the wedding of the year.
However, Ferguson was quietly turning her life around. The drunkenness that fueled so much of the incident with Mahmood (and which Ferguson copped to, admitting to Oprah she had been drinking and was “in the gutter at that moment”) is a thing of the past; don’t expect to see her with anything stronger than a glass of sparkling water in her hand on May 19.
As the royal biographer Christopher Andersen told The Daily Beast: “Fergie has more or less behaved herself in the seven years” since the access scandal broke.
Andersen believes Harry is likely to be able to identify with Ferguson owing to the personal embarrassments he has endured: “Harry knows all too well what it feels like to be branded as the black sheep of the Royal Family.”
Harry has generated more than his share of tabloid headlines, most infamously the Nazi uniform he wore to a costume party and the photos of a naked Prince Harry playing strip billiards in a Las Vegas hotel room.
“As for Meghan, she has had to weather all sorts of attacks in the tabloid press and has the scars to prove it,” said Andersen. “From what I understand she is as adamant as Harry that Fergie be invited to her wedding.
“Prince Philip, who has always detested the Duchess of York, may never be in a forgiving mood. But Harry is far more compassionate than previous generations of royals, and he obviously believes Fergie deserves another chance.”
Penny Junor, who has authored biographies of Prince Harry and a recent biography of Camilla Parker Bowles told The Daily Beast there was no way Harry would have left out Fergie due to his friendship with her children Beatrice and Eugenie, who is due to marry her barman boyfriend Jack Brooksbank in the same location as Harry later this year.
“Harry is very close to Eugenie and Beatrice, closer, I think, than William. Harry really is a friend. And while Fergie may have exhibited poor judgement over the years, and got herself into terrible messes, Harry would absolutely see that she is a nice woman who found being in the Royal Family extremely difficult. She made mistakes and caused embarrassment, but God knows Harry has too. Harry is a very tolerant bloke, the kind to let bygones be bygones rather than hold grudges.”
There is little doubt that Harry will have put some very important noses out of joint by extending the hand of friendship to Fergie in such a public fashion; Philip most obviously, but also his father Charles, who has moved ruthlessly to cut the Yorks out of the senior royal collective as he has been handed more of the queen’s powers—a move graphically symbolized by his refusal to allow Andrew and the Princesses to join the royal group on the Buckingham Palace balcony following the queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Richard Kay of the Daily Mail reported that the incident was “like a dagger to his heart and he hasn’t got over it.”
Like all the best family rows, Charles and Andrew’s animosity goes back to their childhood: Andrew was jealous of Charles’s position and Charles was jealous of Andrew’s acknowledged status as the queen’s favorite. Fergie became a proxy battleground.
But Harry’s decision to invite Fergie to his wedding—there have been rumors that she may just be invited to the after-party but one source told The Daily Beast it was likely she will attend the whole shebang—will hopefully represent the door closing on a period of time in which Fergie has been unnecessarily demonized by the royal establishment.