How Sarah Ferguson has led with her heart – like her 'rebellious' heroine

·Royal Correspondent

Watch: Sarah Ferguson releases her debut adult novel

Sarah Ferguson has encouraged people to "lead with their hearts" as she releases her first adult novel, based on the life of her great-great-aunt.

The author and royal mother insisted the story was not an autobiography despite drawing several parallels with her own life and discussing the main character's rebellious nature.

Her Heart for a Compass is a fictional account of Lady Margaret, based on her great-great-aunt Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas-Scott sees her banished from polite society after fleeing an arranged marriage.

As the press goes after her, she moves to Ireland where she works with charities and writes children's stories. The physical similarities are obvious too, as Lady Margaret is described as "flame-haired". 

The Duchess of York, said: "It is a dream come true for me to be a first-time novelist at the age of 61. Lockdown gave me the time and space to tell a story that I have wanted to write for 15 years. 

"I think people will see the parallels between me and my heroine Lady Margaret – she’s a redhead, she’s strong willed and she’s led by her heart. She attracts the attention of the press and she makes a career in writing. 

"But ultimately, this is a work of fiction and not an autobiography."

She added: "It’s a coming of age story charting the journey of a strong woman who strains against the confines of 1860s society, when women were so controlled. I think the challenges Margaret faces will resonate with today’s readers."

Ferguson has admitted there are parallels with the character and her life, but said it's not an autobiography. (Debbie Hare)
Ferguson has admitted there are parallels with the character and her life, but said it's not an autobiography. (Debbie Hare)

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Ferguson said: "The main message I would like readers to take away from Margaret’s story is that no matter whether you make mistakes or get it all wrong, you keep going and fight for what you believe is your truth. You have to lead with your heart. 

"Personally, I feel more robust, authentic, confident in myself and who I am and where I'm going than ever, and that feeling is very much reflected at the end of Margaret’s journey in Her Heart for a Compass."

In a dramatic video trailer for the novel, the duchess said: "Lady Margaret defies the echelons of high society.

"She follows her heart. She is in search of what she believes is the truth of her own heart."

Although the book is a work of fiction, Ferguson has had many of her own opportunities to lead with her heart, and has identified with "royal rebels".

Royal biographer Anna Pasternak revealed in 2019 that Ferguson would go and sit at the grave of Wallis Simpson, the late wife of the Duke of Windsor, King Edward VII, who abdicated to marry her.

She said: "Wallis commented that no one was ever likely to place flowers on her grave, which I found tremendously sad, although I’ve since discovered from talking to Sarah that she does sometimes go there and sit at the grave and pay her respects.

"She feels a real understanding of what it’s like to be exiled from the royal family."

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Ferguson has been somewhat rehabilitated into the royal fold after the "toe-sucking" scandal of 1992 and when in the UK, lives at the Royal Lodge in Windsor with Prince Andrew, though they are divorced.

They married in 1986 and separated in 1992, eventually divorcing in 1996, the same year as Charles and Diana's divorce was finalised.

But the couple has always remained close, once calling themselves the world's happiest unmarried couple.

Ferguson remained at Sunninghill Park, their family home in Berkshire, with her ex-husband until 2004, when he moved into the Royal Lodge.

She joined him there in 2008 after a fire at Dolphin House, the home next door which she had been renting.

Ferguson has had to work for her living since her divorce and has published dozens of books, including memoirs and children's books. The duchess has also been open and honest about her life through her work with Oprah Winfrey in the US, where she was part of a programme called Finding Sarah.

Sarah Ferguson has said writing her first adult novel was a dream come true. (Debbie Hare)
Sarah Ferguson has said writing her first adult novel was a dream come true. (Debbie Hare)

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Even just before she became a member of the Royal Family, Ferguson was rebellious - hosting a hen do before she married Andrew, a rarity in the royal fold.

According to biographer Sarah Bradford: "On Fergie’s hen night she and Diana wore grey wigs, dressed up as police women and pretended to arrest a ‘prostitute’ outside Buckingham Palace."

She claimed they were even bundled into a police van before one of the officers recognised Diana.

But her antics somehow endeared her to the royals - with Diana even claiming Charles once asked why she couldn't be more like Fergie. 

Although the warmth did not last, Ferguson stayed true to her bold and carefree ways over the years.

At her lowest moments, when she had been told she would not be carrying out royal duties any longer, nor would the Queen help her with her debts, she set up the charity Children in Crisis, which she said saved her life, because she was able to have a focus on something positive.

Like her rebellious heroine, Ferguson has worked hard with charities through her life, and has retained links to those she worked with as a royal, like the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Her children, Eugenie and Beatrice, clearly admire her and value her advice, and she has admitted she tells them to learn from her mistakes.

She revealed they call themselves a tripod, because they all lean on each other, and they remain close to Andrew too, despite his own scandals in recent years.

Andrew stepped back from royal duties in November 2019 after a disastrous interview with BBC Newsnight about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein.

The novel will be called 'Her Heart for a Compass'
Ferguson's first adult novel is called 'Her Heart for a Compass'. (Mills and Boon)

That same month she shared support for him on her Instagram, saying: "Andrew is a true and real gentleman and is stoically steadfast to not only his duty but also his kindness and goodness of always seeing the best in people. 

"I am deeply supportive and proud of this giant of a principled man, that dares to put his shoulder to the wind and stands firm with his sense of honour and truth. For so many years he has gone about his duties for Great Britain and The Monarch. 

"It is time for Andrew to stand firm now, and that he has, and I am with him every step of the way and that is my honour. We have always walked tall and strong, he for me and me for him."

In May 2020 she posted a picture of the four of them, and said she was "proud" of the "united loving family" they were.

Ferguson is already working on her second adult novel, and has said it will set in the same world she has created for book one. So there may be more for her to draw on from her life in books to come.

Her Heart for a Compass is out now.

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