Sarah Ferguson: Who is Prince Andrew's ex-wife?

Sarah Ferguson arrives for the wedding ceremony of Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and US actress Meghan Markle at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on May 19, 2018. (Photo by Gareth FULLER / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read GARETH FULLER/AFP/Getty Images)
Sarah Ferguson at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018. (Getty Images)

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, has announced through her spokesperson that she has undergone successful surgery for an early form of breast cancer.

"The duchess is receiving the best medical care, and her doctors have told her that the prognosis is good," the spokesperson stated.

On her new podcast, Tea Talk, Ferguson revealed, "I'm taking this as a real gift to me to change my life, to nurture myself – to stop trying to fix everyone else."

The Duchess of York was once more commonly known as 'Fergie', and Yahoo UK looks back at how this remarkable woman has long-captured the attention of the public — as she recovers from her surgery.

The ex-wife of Prince Andrew and mother of his two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, Ferguson has weathered many storms, been in and out of favour with both Brits and the Royal Family, yet remained part of the royal fold.

She attended Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral and paid tribute to her former mother-in-law after her death, calling her the "most incredible mother-in-law and friend." She wrote on Instagram: "I will always be grateful to her for the generosity she showed me in remaining close to me even after my divorce. I will miss her more than words can express."

Read more: When did Princess Anne get divorced?

In the press, Princess Diana and Ferguson were endlessly compared, mostly to the denigration of Ferguson.

This dynamic is not new – more recently it has played out in the endless comparison of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex and Kate, Princess of Wales.

Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) with Sarah Ferguson at the Guard's Polo Club, Windsor, June 1983. The Princess is wearing a jumper with a sheep motif from the London shop, Warm And Wonderful.  (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Diana and Sarah chatting at the Guard's Polo Club, Windsor in 1983. (Getty Images)

For decades, Fergie was a regular feature in the tabloids and certainly is no stranger to scandal.

Now, Ferguson is an author and the new owner of two very famous corgis, who she inherited from Queen Elizabeth upon the monarch's recent death.

Sarah Ferguson's childhood

Born to Major Ronald Ferguson and Susan Barrantes in 1959, Sarah's childhood was not always entirely blissful. She lived in Berkshire until she was 10 when the family moved to the idyllic Dummer Down Farm in Hampshire.

Perfect for outdoorsy Sarah, the farm was a place she played and rode ponies — a nearby woods even acted as the inspiration for one of the children's books she would later write: 'The Enchanted Oak Tree.'

But only a couple of years after the family had moved there, her mother left the family home and moved to Argentina with a boyfriend.

Susan Barrantes, la mère de Sarah Ferguson, sur un terrain de polo. (Photo by Rafael WOLLMANN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Susan Barrantes, Sarah Ferguson's mother, on the polo field in the early 1990s. (Getty Images)

"Mum returned from a trip to South America," Ferguson said to Harper's Bazaar in 2007, "walked in the farmhouse and said to my unsuspecting father, 'I'm going.' There were screams and shouts and then she just left."

Ferguson recalled that her mother's "last words to [her]" that day were "I don't like your hair."

She added that, "being a child, I believed that disobeying her caused their split — and started eating, compensating for my guilt."

Speaking to the Financial Times, Ferguson also said of this turbulent period in her early life: "I became the head of the house at 13 [...] Dad was morose and lived on the horse and polo ground, so it was just me." She added that she was already "a storyteller then," but did not receive much encouragement.

Even as a child, Ferguson had more than one royal connection: her father was the polo manager to the late Prince Philip, and later Prince Charles.

Read more: Susannah Reid says Sarah Ferguson’s breast cancer diagnosis is a ‘wake-up call’ not to ignore routine screenings

CIRENCESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 07:  Prince Charles With His Polo Manager Major  Ronald Ferguson (ron)  (father Of Sarah Ferguson) At Polo, Cirencester.  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Prince Charles with Sarah's father, his Polo Manager Major Ronald Ferguson in Cirencester, 1989. (Getty Images)

Through her ancestors, she can trace her roots back to James I, making her very distantly related to the Royal Family.

At secondary school — Ascot's Hurst Lodge School where she became a weekly boarder — she was made Head Girl, but it is said didn't excel academically, preferring instead to play tennis and go swimming.

Once she had finished at school, Ferguson went on to secretarial college. Afterwards, she reportedly worked for an art gallery in Covent Garden before taking a role at a publishing company.

Sarah Ferguson's friendship with Princess Diana

Sarah and Diana were fourth cousins and childhood friends that were connected through their mothers — who were reportedly close themselves.

Long before either of the girls would surely even have thought of who they would eventually marry, the stage was set for the matchmaking that would eventually lead Ferguson to join the House of Windsor.

Lady Diana, le Prince Charles et la Duchesse Sarah Ferguson faisant du ski le 9 mars 1988 à Klosters, Suisse. (Photo by Patrice PICOT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Diana and Sarah on a skiing holiday to Klosters in 1988. (Getty Images)

Ferguson was around 21 when she reconnected with Diana, in 1980. Young women living in London with plenty of mutual social connections, it was no surprise that they were firm friends and that Ferguson was invited to the wedding of Charles and Diana the following year.

Ferguson has always spoken highly of Diana, despite the fact that, by her own admission, they hadn't had much contact in the year before Diana's death.

"The saddest thing, at the end, we hadn't spoken for a year," Sarah admitted to Harper's Bazaar, "though I never knew the reason, except that once Diana got something in her head...I tried, wrote letters, thinking whatever happened didn't matter, let's sort it out. And I knew she'd come back.

The Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Trooping the Colour ceremony, June 1991. The Princess is wearing a Catherine Walker suit and Philip Somerville hat. (Photo by Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images)
Diana and Sarah on the balcony of Buckingham Palace for Trooping of the Colour in 1991. (Getty Images)

"In fact, the day before she died she rang a friend of mine and said, 'Where's Red? I want to talk to her."

In 2018, speaking to the Daily Mail, Ferguson extolled the virtues of her once friend: "Diana was my best friend and the funniest person I knew. She had such timing and wit. It was a total joy to be with her because we laughed and enjoyed life so much."

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew's relationship

Andrew and Sarah first met as children, but it wasn't until 1985 that romance was on the cards. It is thought that Princess Diana was the one to set them up. Both Andrew and Ferguson were supposedly on the rebound. Sarah had reportedly broken up with much older boyfriend Paddy McNally, when it became clear that marriage wasn't on the cards for them.

Read more: Here's why the Royal Family is so worried about the new season of The Crown

Andrew had been seeing Koo Stark — a photographer and actress from America — but it hadn't gone the distance.

In 1985, it is said that Diana had the idea of inviting Ferguson to an annual house party thrown at Windsor Castle during the horse racing event Royal Ascot.

Prince Andrew, Duke of York with Sarah Ferguson after their engagement announcement, Buckingham Palace, London, 17th March 1986. (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Prince Andrew, Duke of York with Sarah Ferguson after their engagement announcement, Buckingham Palace, 1986. (Getty Images)

Within months, the pair were engaged. Not long after that, there was another royal wedding, this time at Westminster Abbey.

Sarah's dress was iconically eighties in every respect. Designed by Linda Cierach, the corset style bodice offset by the puff sleeves and full skirt — with a 17-foot train — created a striking silhouette.

"As my wedding day approached, I lived in a frenzy," Ferguson wrote in her memoir My Story, in which she movingly also noted the fleeting nature of public life: "It isn't so hard to enjoy mass adoration: the tricky part is understanding that it has nothing to do with you, and that it rarely outlives an English summer."

View of just-married couple Sarah, Duchess of York and Prince Andrew, Duke of York as they kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, London, England, July 23, 1986. Also visible is Andrew's brother, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex as he waves. (Photo by Derek Hudson/Getty Images)
Andrew and Sarah kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace after their wedding in 1986. (Getty Images)

Despite their initial happiness, Andrew was in the Navy, which meant that the newlyweds managed to spend little time together.

Long after they had divorced, Ferguson admitted how the time apart had affected her, saying to Harper's Bazaar: "I married my boy, who happened to be a prince and a sailor, because I loved him — and still do — my only condition being, 'I have to be with you.' And two weeks after the wedding, the courtiers told Andrew, who thought he'd be stationed in London, 'You have to go to sea.'

"I spent my entire first pregnancy alone – when Beatrice was born, Andrew got 10 days of shore leave and when he left and I cried, they all said: 'Grow up and get a grip.'"

The couple's first child, Beatrice, was born in 1988, and their second daughter, Eugenie, two years later in 1990.

KLOSTERS, SWITZERLAND - DECEMBER 28:  The Duchess Of York During A Skiing Holiday With Her Daughters, Princess Beatrice And Princess Eugenie In Klosters, Switzerland  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Sarah on a skiing holiday to Klosters with Beatrice and Eugenie in 1992, the so-called annus horribilis that was covered in season five of The Crown. (Getty Images)

Scandals and divorce

The enforced distance took its toll on Andrew and Sarah, only spending around 40 days a year together while Andrew was in the Navy.

In 1992, the couple separated, but when compromising photos of Ferguson were published in the press, life as she knew it was to change forever.

Photographed topless with Texan John Bryan in Saint Tropez, the now-infamous 'toe-sucking' pictures were suddenly everywhere in August 1992. Despite the separation from Andrew, she had been on good terms with the rest of the Windsors.

Reportedly, she had been in Balmoral with the Royal Family when the photos were made public and it was Prince Philip who took the news the worst, refusing to even be in the same room as her for a long time.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 21:  Prince Andrew With His Fiancee, Sarah Ferguson, On The Balcony Of Buckingham Palace With The Queen And Prince Philip For The Queen's 60th Birthday  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Andrew and Sarah on Buckingham Palace's balcony with Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth in 1986. (Getty Images)

Andrew and Ferguson officially divorced in 1996 and she lost her HRH title and had to start making her own money, which almost two decades later, would lead her into even more trouble.

Read more: Camilla's title explained: Is she the Queen or the Queen Consort?

In 2010, she was caught up in the so-called 'Fake Sheikh' sting: captured on camera offering access to Prince Andrew in exchange for £500,000 by the now defunct News of the World.

Later, it also came out that Ferguson had taken £15,000 from the late Jeffrey Epstein, who was a convicted sex offender, something she publicly apologised for and called a "gigantic error of judgement".

Sarah Ferguson's grandchildren

Sarah has been let back into the royal fold publicly in recent years, particularly evident at the wedding of her younger daughter, Eugenie in 2018.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (3L), looks on as Britain's Princess Eugenie of York (2L) and Jack Brooksbank (L) look towards her parents Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York (2R) and Sarah, Duchess of York, during their wedding ceremony at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, in Windsor, on October 12, 2018. (Photo by Danny Lawson / POOL / AFP)        (Photo credit should read DANNY LAWSON/AFP/Getty Images)
The wedding of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, with the Royal Family in attendance, in Windsor Castle in 2018. (Getty Images)

She was centre stage — as you would expect the mother-of-the-bride to be, but for a long time it seemed as though that might never be the case — and has spoken since about the great pride she felt of the day and the sadness of "absent friends."

Diana for instance, Ferguson said to the Daily Mail, "would have loved the wedding."

In honour of her late mother — who died in a car crash in Argentina in 1998 — she carried the same Manolo Blahnik handbag that her mother carried at her daughter's own wedding to Andrew, adding "the admission tickets were still in it."

WENTWORTH, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 20:  Princess Beatrice And Princess Eugenie With Their  Grandmother, Susan Barrantes, Enjoying A Picnic At Wentworth Golf Course During A Charity Golf Tournament On Behalf Of Children In Crisis.  (Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)
Eugenie and Beatrice having a picnic in Wentworth with their grandmother Susan in 1998, only months before Susan's death. (Getty Images)

Beatrice married during the pandemic and therefore only had a few people in attendance due to the social distancing restrictions in place.

Since then, both of her daughters have had their own children: Eugenie gave birth to her sons August Brooksbank on 9 February, 2021 and Ernest George Ronnie Brooksbank, on 30 May, 2023. Beatrice welcomed her daughter Sienna on 18 September, 2021.

Ferguson's life as a grandmother seems to have brought her great happiness.

Last year, she wrote an open letter to her daughters in Good Housekeeping saying, "Being 61 makes me a young grandma and I love it. I smile from my heart every day because that is how it feels to be to be a granny [...] Nothing gives me more pleasure than watching you be incredible mothers."

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Princess Eugenie, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and Princess Beatrice attend the wedding of Petra Palumbo and Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat at St Stephen Walbrook church on May 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Beatrice, Eugenie and Sarah attend a wedding in London, May, 2016. (Getty Images)

Ferguson has written dozens of books: from self-help and weight loss guides, autobiographies, and children's books to, more recently Mills and Boon romance novels.

Standing by Prince Andrew

In recent years, questions have surrounded her relationship with Prince Andrew following Virginia Giuffre's allegations.

Giuffre alleges Prince Andrew sexually assaulted her three times when she was a teenager. Andrew strenuously denies these allegations, but in early 2022 settled a civil case brought by Giuffre. The settlement was reported to be as much as £12 million.

These allegations have not dampened Ferguson's affection for Prince Andrew. She has said that she "one-hundred percent" believes Andrew. She added that Andrew "unquestionably stood by," her during the cash-for-access scandal of 2010.

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, Duke of York at Royal Ascot in June 2019. (Getty Images)
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew, Duke of York at Royal Ascot in June 2019. (Getty Images)

The pair, though divorced for many years, still live together at Royal Lodge, in the grounds of Windsor Castle — although it has been reported King Charles wants Andrew to vacate the property.

"We're the happiest divorced couple in the world. We're divorced to each other, not from each other." Ferguson said in 2018. "Andrew is the best man I know."

This article was first published October 2022 and has since been updated.