As much as possible, the Royal Family likes to present a united front.
Any arguing is kept strictly behind closed doors, particularly as ‘the Firm’ recalls how badly the airing of its dirtiest laundry in the tabloids—such as Princess Diana and Prince Charles’s marriage breakdown—made the family look.
The newspapers may have had a field day back then, but the Royal Family does not want to return to its poisonous, scandal-strewn days of the 1990s.
And so, when it came to reintroducing his ex-wife back to Royal family life, Prince Andrew had planned the delicate moment carefully.
For the first time since their divorce in 1996, Sarah Ferguson was going to be present at a high-profile, photographer-attended, public gathering of the British Royal family.
And not just any gathering. This was Royal Ascot.
Royal Ascot is a highlight of the Queen’s year, her favorite festival of racing, and by tradition Her Majesty is driven onto the course each day in a horse-drawn carriage, accompanied only by her most beloved family members and friends, or occasionally outsiders on whom she particularly wishes to bestow public recognition.
On day four of the festival this year, the Queen arrived with her husband, Prince Philip.
They rode up the straight and past the stands, filled with cheering subjects, drawing to a halt outside the main restaurant in the Royal Enclosure.
And out of the restaurant came Andrew and Fergie.
Andrew bowed long and deeply and Fergie gave a solemn curtsey. The Queen, who has always taken an indulgent view of Andrew’s often wayward and peripatetic existence, waved toward her son and his ex of almost 20 years.
The optics of the event were looking perfect.
Could there be any clearer way for Andrew to telegraph to the nation that Fergie was a reformed character, reconciled with the royal family from the top down?
Then, according to Britain’s Daily Express, Prince Philip noticed Fergie.
The moment the paper described was one of major-league shade.
Prince Philip was reportedly said to look furious.
As the carriage moved off, racegoers said, the Prince actually twisted back in his seat to get another look at her, doing a very visible double-take to make it quite clear to the onlooking crowds that he couldn’t quite believe his eyes at the audacity of the woman who still insists on being called “Duchess” by strangers and staff (she saves the ‘call me Sarah’ stuff for Oprah).
If he had muttered, “What is that ghastly woman doing here?” as they drove on, his wife would certainly have been unsurprised.
For although Andrew and Fergie have never been closer, living together at Royal Lodge, purchasing ski lodges and living to all appearances like a married couple, there is undisguised hatred between Fergie and Prince Philip.
Incidentally, Charles and William both share his loathing, to the extent that Fergie was not invited to the Royal Wedding.
Speculation that they may one day remarry continues to buzz, but the truth is that such a reunion could never happen while Prince Philip still has breath in his body. He even gets angry when conversation turns to Fergie and Andrew’s unconventional living arrangements
Philip has never forgiven Fergie for the damage she did to the dignity and reputation of the Royal Family through her well-publicized extramarital affairs, her desperate pursuit of money and shameless efforts to cash in on her royal connections, and her attempt to sell access to Prince Andrew to an undercover reporter from the News of the World.
Fergie, for her part, tells anyone who will listen endless stories of the tyrannical duke. “She always likes to say how he ‘rules the Royal family with a rod of iron,’” says a source. “They loathe each other, to put it frankly.”
The Royal Family take symbolism very seriously, and there is no doubt that even Andrew, not the brightest of the Royals, would have been aware of exactly what he was trying to achieve at Royal Ascot.
Philip, in turn, would have been quite alive to the fact that his over-the-top double take was being witnessed and photographed.
The fact that he doesn’t care who knows the contempt in which he holds Fergie, indeed that he seems keen to advertise it, shows that for Andrew and his ex, the road back to full acceptance will be an impossible one while Philip lives.