Before the Sussexes — before the Grabdication was a twinkle in Meghan’s crocodile eye — there was Sarah, Duchess of York; greedy, grasping, grubby Fergie. Some see Diana as when the stiff upper lip of heritage royalty became the trembling lower lip of the new breed. But the Princess of Wales was a teenage virgin with a headful of dreams, lured into a marriage in which she was a breeding machine with a man who was still in love with his ex; this would have made any woman with spirit react. No, Diana was a hard worker with an attractive dash of spite — that revenge dress, that three-in-this-marriage quip — which stopped her from presenting herself as an all-round victim. Neurosis was just a small part of her emotional repertoire; she realized that one of the best guarantees of good mental health is helping others rather than contemplating one’s navel.
Or, in the case of Fergie, one’s novel. Because the original ginger royal whinger is back, at sixty-three older but no wiser judging from a long interview she has given to the Telegraph to plug A Most Intriguing Lady, which she has “co-written” with historical romance author Marguerite Kaye. Where to begin with this sumptuous word salad smorgasbord of PR puffery? “When in doubt, hitch your wagon to QE2” would be the first lesson — cue Fergie seeking credibility by association with the most morally upright monarch the world has ever seen: “It’s unbelievably important to uphold Her Majesty’s legacy. And although I’m not a member of the royal family any more, my values are what I believe is right — and that’s what they uphold… her poor son [Prince Andrew] has been going through such a tumultuous time, and I think HM was very relieved I could help her with him.”
She makes him sound like a corgi, two of whom — Muick and Sandy — the Queen left to her: “Every day I look at Muick and Sandy and want to say, ‘It’s all right’… HM used to give them little bits of digestive biscuits, so after lunch now I’ll crack up a biscuit for them and deliberately make that same noise.” I find it hard to believe that even the daftest dog could mistake Fergie for the late Queen.
Never mind, next she’s sharing her “favorite” quotes from Sidney Poitier —”It’s difficult when you’re carrying other people’s dreams. You have to hold on to the dream that’s inside yourself and know if you’re true to that, that’s really all that matters” — and Martin Luther King — “‘The inaudible language of the heart’ — doing things for others has been more therapeutic than anything else, she admits.” Could she not add a few lines from the late Rosa Parks to drive home the fact that Fergie is an inclusive and diverse parroter of better people’s sentiments? If only she could live up to them — instead, her sheer meretriciousness is hard to rival in recent history.
Coming from a village called Dummer (geography is destiny), she was the kind of none-too-bright Sloane — fond of skiing off-piste and skiving off early — who should only have ever been in the papers when hatched, matched and dispatched. Instead she married the Queen’s favorite son (promising to “obey,” which Diana had refused to — creep) for a brief six years. But we haven’t been able to get rid of her ever since; her life has been a shambolic cavalcade of toe-sucking aides, financial stings and weight-management merching — all linked by greed, Ferguson’s apparent guiding force. And all the while the insistence that she is a Strong Woman; this poor deluded creature whose only claim to fame is that she briefly played host to some lucky sperm — thus breeding a pair of princesses — somehow mistook herself for a feminist role model, hated for her dignity and courage.
As with many who are at times only on passing terms with la verite, Ferguson’s recollections vary. Thus she now tells the Telegraph: “The dream of every little girl is to be a princess, and I was a princess. And I loved every minute of it” — despite moaning to Oprah back in 1996 (again, leading where the Harkles would follow) that royal life was “not a fairy tale.” Even more recently, in a 2021 interview with French magazine Madame Figaro, she was calling herself “the most persecuted woman in royal history” but luckily “the bruised reed that doesn’t break is in my DNA.” She also said of her ex-husband, with whom she was (and is) living at Royal Lodge: “I loved him and I still love him today. I will stay by his side, because I believe in him. He is a good man.”
This is the interesting thing about a not-very-interesting woman: how did she and her ex-husband pull off such a harmonious conscious uncoupling that they make Paltrow and Martin look like Punch and Judy? Well, as I’ve written here before: “People always say ‘soulmates” like it’s a good thing, but such relationships can easily turn toxic”; when he was with Koo Stark, Prince Andrew seemed decent enough, and when Fergie was with her racing driver beau Paddy McNally she appears to have been a jolly redheaded party girl — and who doesn’t like them? But some negative alchemy seems to have taken place when they met. The phrase “thick as thieves” comes to mind; leaving aside the sexual depravity of Epstein and Maxwell (indeed, one area in which the Yorks appear to have succeeded is in raising their children) there is something of the corrosive co-dependence of that ghastly pair about them. Fergie was caught attempting to pimp Andrew out when she requested half a million smackers from an undercover News of the World reporter, telling the “fake sheikh” Mazher Mahmood: “That opens up everything you would ever wish for. I can open any door you want, and I will for you. Look after me and he’ll look after you… you’ll get it back tenfold.” She added that the £500,000 would be “a lick of the spoon” for her — once again, that greedy/needy thing which is such an unattractive personality trait.
Will she be so keen to stand by her ex-man now, one wonders, as her partner-in-slime is about to be decanted from Royal Lodge — thirty rooms, ninety-eight acres of land and a swimming pool — to Frogmore Cottage, the somewhat smaller playpen where Meghan and Harry staged their early temper tantrums? Well, stranger things have happened.
Which brings us to the case of the mysterious role model. Shortly before the Sussexes’ wedding, Meghan’s childhood bestie Ninaki Priddy told the Daily Mail: “[Meghan] was always fascinated by the royal family. She wants to be Princess Diana 2.0.” But what if it was avaricious Fergie rather than dedicated Diana who inspired the actress all along, combining Poor Me theory with Gimme-Gimme practice?
I’ve got nothing at all against hustlers. Some of my best friends are gold-diggers. But I can’t stand hypocrites — and if you ceaselessly bang on about altruism and healing while pursuing material goods with all the dignity of a tomcat getting tasered, you’re going to make seven sorts of fool of yourself. While Meghan may be eagerly competing with Sarah for the title of most victimized of royal wives, she might do well to stand back and analyze this ambulatory auburn archive of how not to conduct yourself when you marry into monarchy. Apparently the older duchess taught the younger one how to curtsey. How not to become a laughing stock, by studiously avoiding the mistakes already made — while there’s still a tiny window of coronation-shaped redemption left — might be an even more valuable lesson.
This article was originally published on Spectator Life.