Scandals, debts and philanthropy: Who is Sarah, Duchess of York?

Alice Sholl
The Duchess of York at the BFI Luminous Fundraising Gala 2017 [Photo: PA]

Offended that you haven’t been invited to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s wedding on May 19 yet?

You’re not the only one, as Sarah Margaret née Ferguson – aka the Duchess of York – is reportedly “deeply unhappy” that she hasn’t made the guest list for the pair’s private evening reception.

The apparent rejection has dredged up old family feuds. The Daily Mail reports that while the Duchess has been introduced to Markle by Harry, who has been adamant she is invited to the ceremony itself, it’s Prince Charles who doesn’t approve of the Duchess.

The Duchess wasn’t invited to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011, either.

But who is the Duchess of York, and why does she seem to have been frozen out of family affairs?

Nicknamed “Fergie”, the 58-year-old Duchess is the daughter of the late Major Ronald Ferguson and his first wife Susan Barrantes.

She has two daughters with Prince Andrew, her former partner. They are Princess Beatrice of York, 29, and Princess Eugenie of York, 28.


In 1986, the Duchess married Prince Andrew at Westminster Abbey, who she had been friends with since they were children.

The pair separated in 1992. It was announced that from this point, Sarah would no longer be undertaking any royal engagements.

The pair, however, still maintain a close relationship to this day and it’s believed they still live together at the Royal Lodge in Windsor.

The Duke and Duchess of York in 1990 [Photo: PA]

The “toe sucking” scandal

Months after the announcement of her and Prince Andrew’s separation, photos emerged of the Duchess sunbathing topless with John Bryan – a financial adviser – that appeared to show him sucking or kissing her toes.

The public ridicule that followed had her further ostracised by the royal family.

The Duchess of York and John Bryan [Photo: PA]


The Duchess of York and Prince Andrew announced their decision to divorce in 1996. Despite claiming she only received £15,000 as part of the settlement, in 2010, The Telegraph revealed that she and her daughters received around £3 million from the royal family.

Also according to The Telegraph, when Sarah sent a bouquet of flowers to Princess Margaret as a gesture of goodwill that year, the Princess replied: “You have done more to bring shame on the family than could ever have been imagined.”

The Duke and Duchess of York with their daughters in 1998 [Photo: PA]

Money troubles

In 2010, the Duchess was accused of accepting a £500,000 bribe from a News of the World journalist in exchange for access to Prince Andrew. A video recording of their conversation was shortly released to the media.

In the same year, it was reported that she might declare voluntary bankruptcy with business debts of anything between £2 million and £5 million.

The Queen was said to be “deeply concerned” about them, and according to the Guardian, the Duchess’ declaring bankruptcy could make her the first senior royal to do so.

Much of this debt stemmed from her media business, Hartmoor, which reportedly folded with debts of £650,000 and racked up legal fees in the process. This was particularly bad news as according to The Telegraph, she had only recently ditched her lucrative 11-year contract with WeightWatchers in America to focus on her business.

In 2011, it was reported that after being called upon by Prince Andrew, Jeffery Epstein paid off part of the Duchess’ debts. The fact that Epstein was a convicted paedophile did not bolster the Duchess’ public image.

The Duchess of York at the London Marathon in 2010 [Photo: PA]

Charity work

In contrast to the avalanche of negative press coverage since the 1990s, the Duchess has supported a large number of charities throughout her career, as well as founding her own organisations and foundations.

In 1990, the Duchess became a patron of the Teenage Cancer Trust, and since then has become a patron for Springboard for Children, a charity that supports students with reading and writing difficulties, and children’s charity Humanitas.

She also founded Children in Crisis and is a global ambassador for anti human trafficking charity Not For Sale.

The list goes on.

Sarah helping to build a wall of a school in Rwanda [Photo: PA]

Her daughters

The Duchess has maintained a close relationship with her daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, and has previously expressed confidence that she’s been a “really good mother”.

On Australia’s Kyle and Jackie O show in 2016, she reportedly told the hosts: “I look at them and think ‘wow’.

“No matter what I’ve done in my life, there’s one thing I know 100% is I’ve been a really good mother.”

Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie [Photo: PA]

What is she doing now?

As well as her charity work, Sarah has penned a collection of books, including several for children such as Little Red’s Summer Adventure and Ballerina Rosie.

She’s also written her memoir, Finding Sarah: A Duchess’s Journey to Find Herself, which was published in 2011.

So if you want to get to know the real Fergie, perhaps you should read it for yourself – and keep an eye out for her on the big day.

The Duchess of York at the Queen Mary University of London after she was announced as the official ambassador for the British Heart Foundation [Photo: PA]

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