Fergie the stealth royal: The Beckingham Palace row shows how the Duchess of York is getting herself back in with the Windsors
The Duchess’ use of Buckingham Palace for a private tea party sparked uproar
But Sarah Ferguson has been quietly re-entering the House of Windsor
The duchess has been a private guest at the Queen’s Scottish estate in Balmoral
The Yorks are making their move as Windsors transition between generations
And Prince Philip? Well, he was said to have been exasperated with the Duchess. As per normal.
Yet, for all its absurdity, the true significance of this latest Fergie escapade – revealed only thanks to a foolish media posting from upwardly mobile father David Beckham – has so far been rather missed. For this is by no means the first time that Prince Andrew’s starstruck ex-wife has played hostess at Buckingham Palace, although such get-togethers are not normally shared on social media.
Indeed, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that, while some prefer to associate her with yo-yo dieting, children’s books and a series of unwise business ventures, the mother of Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie has in fact been engaged in an underground campaign to rehabilitate herself with the Royals. And it is a campaign that seems to be working rather well.
Take last month, for example, when the 57-year-old duchess attended the memorial service for comic Ronnie Corbett at Westminster Abbey.
While it is by no means unusual to see Fergie at a celebrity-packed occasion, this was no ordinary outing as she was officially representing her former husband, the Duke of York. In other words, she was there as a representative of the Royal Family.
Her name duly appeared on the Court Circular, the list of Royal engagements authorised by the Queen and about which Her Majesty is said to be a stickler.
Nor was this the first time Fergie had stood in for Andrew with the approval of the Palace.
Last year, the Circular recorded that Sarah represented her ex-husband at another memorial service, to the inventor Sebastian de Ferranti, at the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
She is something of a fixture at Royal Ascot alongside the Duke of York, their daughters and other members of the Windsor family.
And keen Fergie watchers have seen her footprints as far away as Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s Scottish estate in the Highlands, where the duchess has been a private guest. Such is the warmth afforded her these days, she has been invited to stay while the Queen is present.
This stealthy rehabilitation stretches back all the way to 2014, when the Queen allowed the duchess to host a party for 200 people at Windsor Castle to celebrate the 21st anniversary of her charity Children In Crisis. Needless to say, the event – which appeared to double as her 55th birthday party – involved celebrities such as Kate Moss, Sir Elton John, Bernie Eccle-stone and Naomi Campbell.
What, then, can explain such a remarkable turn of events for a woman still seen by many as a figure of fun?
One answer, of course, is that, despite the controversy-ridden divorce from Andrew, 57, Sarah – who still regards herself as a member of the York household – has never really gone away and has throughout remained close not just to Beatrice, 28, and Eugenie, 27, but to her former husband, too.
It might strike many divorced couples as unusual but they continue to share Andrew’s home at Royal Lodge in Windsor, where she has her own rooms along a separate hall. Some describe it as practically a wing.
Then there is that £13 million ski chalet, Chalet Helora in Verbier, Switzerland – acquired in 2014 and registered in both their names.
So close are the former couple, they still send a single family Christmas card, featuring the children, too.
Last Christmas, friends and relatives received special thank-you notes featuring informal selfies taken on a summer trip to – where else? – Balmoral. Accompanying the card, a message: ‘A thought, a word, a deed, Nothing is more special, A warm embrace, A smile that goes the extra mile, Somebody, somewhere took heed. Andrew, Sarah, Beatrice, Eugenie.’
So far as Andrew and Sarah are concerned, they are still defiantly the Yorks, tied together domestically and in such business ventures as Prince Andrew’s [email protected] events – the Duke’s scheme to encourage young British entrepreneurs and one which he has described as ‘a family business’, incorporating his daughters, too.
Those close to the Yorks say that while there is no intimate physical relationship, Andrew and Sarah still consider themselves ‘soul mates’ and best friends, happy to remain close for their own sakes as well as for Beatrice and Eugenie. Could they remarry? Don’t bet against it, says one friend.
And it is the future of the Princesses most of all, perhaps, which explains Sarah’s attempted return to Royal – or quasi-Royal – status.
For this is a significant moment in the history of the Windsors, with the Queen slowly but surely retreating from frontline duties.
She no longer undertakes long-haul international tours and has handed over a number of responsibilities to the younger generation. Ninety-six-year-old Prince Philip, meanwhile, will ‘retire’ next month, no longer able, as he (jokingly) put it, to stand up.
And the void has been filled by Prince Charles and his immediate family – a man whose long-term vision of a slimmed-down monarchy contains no space for his siblings, including Andrew or his daughters, let alone their mother.
Now, then, is the moment for the Yorks to make their move – and this is exactly what they are doing.
There is an opportunity during the ‘transition period’, as it is known among Palace aides, for the family to gain ground and it is important they do so before the reign or even regency of Charles. Already Andrew is stepping in for his father alongside the Queen at official engagements, such as at the Commonwealth Young Leaders event last month along with Prince Harry. He joined his mother, too, in her lead carriage at Royal Ascot this year when the Duke of Edinburgh was forced to miss the event due to a bladder infection.
The rise of the Yorks’ influence at court has not been without a little tension. Relations between Andrew and older brother Charles have improved but continue, it is said, to be a little ‘frosty’.
Prince Philip, meanwhile, has long been critical of the former daughter-in-law he once championed when she first arrived on the scene, dismissing her as ‘odd and pointless’. The ill-judged Beckham party at the Palace will have done nothing to help change his mind.
Yet times are changing. The Duke of Edinburgh’s influence is waning – and that is another reason why his second son has felt able to shift the Yorks – Fergie included – a little more centre-stage. Or should that be centre-balcony?
Because, with Charles at the helm, there would surely be no space for Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie when the assembled Windsors wave to crowds below.
Charles is clear that when he is king, the Royal Family must be slimmed down to a core of senior Royals: Camilla, the Cambridges and Harry and his future family.
Household sources say the Prince of Wales has long held the strong view that the public going forward will not tolerate a bloated, publicly funded monarchy and a ‘slimmed-down’ Royal Family is more in tune with the modern world.
It would lead to a huge reduction in costs too, with less money spent on Royal protection and travel and as a result less adverse media coverage. But while the Queen, now 91, is still at the helm, the status quo will prevail. And, in his mother, Andrew does have a powerful ally, one who has always been close to him and who has had a lasting affection for Sarah and the York girls. There is nothing Sarah would not do for the Queen – upsetting her is her greatest fear.
Indeed, the Queen, with the benefit of hindsight, is said to believe the Royal Family could have done more to support Sarah at the time when her marriage was in crisis and Andrew was often away serving with the Royal Navy.
She also praises the way Andrew and Sarah conducted themselves as parents raising their daughters after their divorce.
Andrew is understandably concerned that with the passing of his mother or the lessening of her influence, his position, and indeed his financial security, is in jeopardy. It is no coincidence that the income for his office comes from the Queen.
Her protection cannot last for ever. The Prince of Wales might have been close to the duchess in the past but his patience is now stretched to breaking point and, like his father, Charles is said to remain deeply sceptical that she could be trusted to fulfil an official role within the Royal Family.
In many ways, the Beckham debacle serves to prove him right.
Yet no one can accuse Sarah of lacking determination. Those close to her insist that while she is by no means an official member of the Royal Family, she attempts to behave properly – and considers, for example, what the reaction of the Palace would be to her various business ventures.
A source recently disclosed that she had turned down several lucrative offers to be interviewed for documentaries to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of the Princess of Wales.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal she also declined a six-figure offer from a US television network to provide commentary during Prince William’s Royal Wedding. Her refusal is to her credit. No doubt the large cash offer was tempting, particularly given that – and not for the first time – she was in financial trouble.
She has been throwing herself into good works, too. For the past year, her Twitter feed ‘Sarah The Duchess’ (she retained the Duchess of York title after her divorce although lost the HRH) displays pictures of her charity work, interspersed with inspirational poster quotes.
One of her latest initiatives has been an ethical fashion range called Key To Freedom, where women from India are trained up and given a decent wage to produce clothes which are then sold in Britain through Topshop and the Royal Collection.
There is one crucial collaborator helping with the new venture, of course: the Duke of York. The website states: ‘The Duke of York’s office continues to manage the project and develop a long-term vision for expanding the Key To Freedom model.’
Her former wife is, it seems, another of his projects – and, for the Yorks, the stakes are high. But as Sarah’s much-ridiculed decision to throw a party for Harper Beckham has made clear, it is a gamble that comes with a risk or two.
Source: DAILYMAIL MAILONLINE
Tags: Prince Andrew, Prince Charles, Princess Eugenie, Princess Beatrice, Princess Anne, Camilla Parker Bowles