The Royal Family's Surprising Role Model? Fergie
How The Duchess of York's U-Turn Is An Inspiration
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I was flicking through my news feed last night, and saw that Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, or Fergie as all Brits still affectionately call her, was in the US, talking up her new novel, A Most Intriguing Lady.
I haven’t been paying much attention to the minutiae of the Fergie’s life so it took me a few mouse clicks to get up to speed and learn that she’s written several novels, and has a contract to write 20 more. She’s so successful she says she is now is in a position to support her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, with whom she lives.
The Queen’s corgis are now in her care. Think about what the enormity of that gesture shows. The Queen’s late husband banned Fergie from the house. But the Queen entrusted her with the creatures she loved most.
In one of Fergie’s TV interviews, I noted that she was generous about absolutely every member of the British Royal Family who came up in conversation. She didn’t dwell on the bad, she harped on the good. She said she was thrilled that Harry had found love as he deserved. She adores her ex brother-in-law King Charles. The invitations to the Coronation have not gone out yet. If she’s not invited to the Coronation, she will pass the time eating coronation chicken. And sausage rolls.
As for Andrew’s kamikaze relationship with Jeffrey Epstein? She talked about how “kind” Andrew is; how she’d been his “rock” and he’d been there for her. And that it was “sad” for her and her daughters to have watched his reputational demise.
It makes you pause when you consider that this was a woman who was banished, essentially because of some embarrassing photographs and over-spending. Compared to recent revelations by and about members of that family, Fergie’s indiscretions seem understandable, even dull.
In a way, she’s become a fabulous role-model not just for her daughters and grandchildren, but for all of us. The wisest among us knows that what counts is not how you navigate the easy, calm waters of success, but how you steer in the storms of fuck-upery.
Fergie has proven to be a world-class navigator. She hasn’t just gotten herself out of the muck, she’s carried the water of others while doing so. Wearing a smile on her face.
Catching up with her news reminded me of an anecdote from years ago that was revealing as to who she really was. It was circa 2008. My twin sons, now 20, were around five. I worked from home. It was the era when most of us used landlines and actually listened to our voicemails. My small sons knew that when the landline rang it was always for me - and never for them - because, let’s face it, they were five.
Except for one time. Fergie phoned me (I was interviewing her for a story about a friend of her late mother’s for Vanity Fair) and she informed me that she’d already phoned earlier and that my youngest son had not only picked up but had a very long conversation with her. I was completely flummoxed. At that point my youngest son, to my knowledge, hadn’t had a very long conversation with anyone. When I asked him about it, he said “huh?” and looked at me as if I was stupid, so I thought she must be exaggerating.
A week or so later a package arrived in the mail, addressed to both my sons. It contained a bunch of Budgie the Helicopter books. From Fergie. (They were authored by her as part of effort to straighten her finances). My younger son beamed. Remember he was a five-year-old New Yorker. He had no idea who Fergie was, who she’d been married to, or even who the British Royal family was. She was just a nice woman who had wanted to engage with him when, naughtily, he’d picked up the phone.
I, on the other hand, was frankly startled by her attention to detail - and the generosity. I should emphasize I wasn’t writing a story about her. I’m not even sure I wound up including what she said. She wasn’t trying to buy me off.
Later that year I phoned her cell phone (it was to do with the same article) and a high-pitched voice answered “Sarah’s phone. Beatrice speaking.” There was a din in the background and Beatrice explained “The whole family just got to Mallorca”. there was no standing on ceremony.
More recently I bumped into Beatrice, who was in New York for a while. I recall chatting to her one time when we are at a summer book party and the humidity in New York was overwhelming. We were rudely interrupted by my then boyfriend who had absolutely no idea who she was and nor did he care. “I need to go, it’s so hot,” he grumbled.
She shot out her hand and laid it on his sweaty arm. “Isn’t it?” she said kindly. Even he momentarily forgot to be irritated.
Had she been someone else the moment could have gone entirely differently.
But like mother. Like daughter. It’s good to remember that not everyone in that family is entitled.