We Need to Leave the Duchess of York Alone to Heal

Posted on July 16, 2010

Few have readily conceded that Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York has had clinical emotional difficulties for some time now.  Her excessive drinking and spending are signs of this.  Yet, stories about her sell magazines and newspapers and so the press continues relentless pursuit of the latest information and uninformed analysis of her situation.

The Duchess has been criticized for going off to an expensive spa in Spain and not to an island owned by British entrepreneur, Richard Branson.  The exotic locations and cost of it all have been ridiculed.  In the end, it is no one’s business who is paying for all of it but one thing is certain:  after what she has been through, she does need rest and sunshine.  One hopes that some kind of counseling is in the mix.

The article below that recently appeared in the Telegraph is illustrative of the mindless, unnecessarily long  assessments of Sarah.  It gives the picture of a down and out woman with no options who has been rejected by the royal family.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The members of “the Firm”  have in fact publicly stood behind her including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.  She no longer has her own staff but is sharing Andrew’s.  That is the kind of structure and economy to which Sarah needs to be exposed.

I present the Telegraph article here in toto as a monument to how extraordinarily long these assessment exercises can be.

Let’s leave Fergie alone for a time and give her a chance to heal.  Oh, and by the way, below the report is she has been frozen out of the royal family.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Read story at Mail Online.

Can it get any worse for Fergie?

As Sarah Ferguson is forced to make her staff redundant, those who know her most intimately admit that the Duchess faces an uncertain future

Sarah Ferguson

Sarah Ferguson Photo: GETTY

Sarah Ferguson has enjoyed her share of ups and downs during her royal and post-royal careers. Well – downs, mostly.

Like Caroline of Brunswick, the impetuous and unwanted wife of George IV, who unsuccessfully begged for admission to his coronation in Westminster Abbey in 1821, the Duchess of York is one of the great loose cannons of the Hanoverian-Windsor era. Cut away from the Royal Family, which once greeted her, like the young Lady Diana Spencer, as a breath of democratic fresh air, she has spent the last two decades seemingly rolling around the deck, smashing into this and that, leaving a trail of wreckage, usually financial, strewn in her flame-haired wake.

No stranger to humiliation (Texans, toe-sucking, etc), she has, to put it mildly, struggled to attain the position in the nation’s affections she has so long desired. But even by Fergie’s exceptional standards, her unwitting flirtation with the gentlemen from the News of the World was a disaster of magnificent proportions. To be secretly filmed in a hotel room drunkenly touting your ex-royal status for half a million pounds to a reporter posing as a shady foreign businessman is one thing. To be secretly filmed offering the shady businessman access to your Royal former husband, the fourth in line to the throne, for the same amount is quite another.

“Five hundred thousand pounds to me” – sweep of hand – “opens doors,” assured the Duchess, while pointing out helpfully that she was so poor she did not have a “pot to —- in”.

What must the Duke of York, Britain’s roving ambassador for business, have thought as he watched the mother of his two daughters, sodden with red wine, offering him up for sale? The roof of Royal Lodge, the home in Windsor Great Park he allows his ex-wife to share, must have lifted on its beams. An interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which the Duchess attempted to explain away her crassness (“I was in the gutter”), proved the exact opposite of a damage-limitation exercise.

And now her humiliation is complete. This week, the Duchess was forced to make her entire staff redundant in an effort to limit the latest financial crisis to engulf her. Out go her personal assistants, Helen Jones and Amanda Lewis; her driver and former Special Branch officer, Colin Tebbutt; two other full-time members of staff, one of whom manages the diaries of her daughters Beatrice and Eugenie; and four or five other part-timers.

Despite her reduced status – Sarah was stripped of her HRH status on her divorce in 1996 – this formidable retinue was considered necessary for the management of a life lived mainly on the hoof, or rather the wing. Despite years of faithful service, the Duchess’s employees are expected to receive only the bare minimum in redundancy payments, while she continues to jet around the world. This week it is Necker Island, the Caribbean retreat of Sir Richard Branson, who is celebrating his 60th birthday. Now she will have to rely on Prince Andrew’s staff for support as she seeks to dig herself out of her latest hole.

At 50, Sarah Ferguson has never been an easier target. But there are those who still battle on her behalf, insisting that there is another side to her – the warm, kind, generous Sarah, as much sinned against as sinning.

“She has got a massive mountain to climb,” says a family friend. “The rot set in about 18 months ago when Hartmoor collapsed. She was in a very strong place – she had paid off all her debts, and then it all went wrong.”

Hartmoor was a company set up in 2006 in the United States by the Duchess and Todd Morley, a Wall Street investment banker. It was intended as a vehicle to market the Duchess’s wares – her books, products endorsed by her, and she herself, as a speaker at events. Following her divorce, the Duchess, a near-pathological spender, accrued debts of between £2 million and £3 million. But mainly through her promotional work with WeightWatchers she managed to repay them and put away about £700,000. This money was duly put into Hartmoor, which duly failed as a business in 2008. The Duchess has since taken out a loan in the region of £700,000 to pay the company’s creditors. For a while, she enjoyed the use of an apartment overlooking Central Park, now gone. Bankruptcy is a real possibility.

“She had sorted her life out and then Hartmoor came along, and then she personally went into the red to try to resolve it,” says the friend.

In addition to the loan, the Duchess is faced with a £200,000 bill from the London solicitors Davenport Lyons, the result of an abortive attempt to strike a deal with the film company Handmade, which was meant to have translated her children’s books, including Little Red, on to the screen.

“One bad decision and the whole thing unravels,” says James Henderson, director of Pelham Bell Pottinger, who now acts as the Duchess’s (unpaid) spokesman following her amicable separation some months ago from her long-standing representative, Kate Waddington. “Post-marriage, she had sorted out all her bills. She’s done lots of wrong things, but she’s achieved a lot of things, too.”

There are those who believe that the embarrassment caused to the Royal Family by the Duchess’s excesses – she is reported to owe the London department store Selfridges some £50,000 – is, to some extent, self-inflicted.

Although a headline figure of £3 million was attached to the divorce settlement, Sarah was left with relatively little hard cash. In addition to a £350,000 lump sum, she was awarded £500,000 towards a new home for her and her daughters, and a yearly income, based on Prince Andrew’s naval pension, of just £15,000. A trust fund of £1 million was set up for Beatrice and Eugenie, and the prince agreed to meet their school fees. Andrew kept possession of 12-bedroom Sunninghill Park, built for the couple in 1986, and later sold it to a Kazakh buyer in 2007 for £15 million.

“At the time, she caved in to the divorce settlement,” says the friend. “You can say in her defence that if she had been a little bit better looked after, she would not have had to go to America. She put her hand up and got on with it the only way she could – earning money by endorsing.

“She is completely alienated from the Royal Family – they have no time for her at all. I know she hasn’t handled things well, but she never complained about that [divorce] arrangement.”

The Duchess has always seemed vulnerable to the attentions of American businessmen promising her great wealth. “She will throw herself into a project and be really passionate, but the flip side is the unmanaged, naive side – the self-destruct side.”

The Duchess’s inability to check her behaviour may reside in childhood. When she was 12, her mother Susan quit the family home in favour of the Argentinian polo player Hector Barrantes.

“There is a restlessness about her – she bowls into things,” says the friend. “She loves the title, yet is the least pompous person you could meet. But the trouble is that she is massively insecure, and when she is feeling insecure she feels she has to buy people presents. It’s all part of her wanting to please. And then her life gets out of control.

“Maybe it was her mother leaving at an early age, a deep sense of rejection. She herself has been a great mother – her children adore her. They are immensely close.”

The disgrace caused by the News of the World expose has left the Duchess floundering. “She is absolutely devastated. Control has been completely removed from her. She will want to get back on her feet but she has nothing – no support or anything. She is in the most appalling mess at the moment.”

For the moment, the Duchess roams the world, looking for a future. “She is always on a aeroplane going from place to place. It’s almost as though she is in complete denial. She has got no base. The trouble is, she will do what she wants to do. She will rush headlong into it.”

Yet she has worked hard on behalf of the 12 charities she puts her name to, and commands loyalty among close associates. Even now there are irons in the fire. Her first novel, Hartmoor, is due out later this year. It has as its main character a “fabulous redhead” who falls in love with a “wonderful naval officer”.

Sounds familiar. But will it have a happy ending?