|By Elke Wetzig (Elya) via Wikimedia Commons|
And so it was at the polo field that the fairy tale really began, when a fairy godmother named Diana decided to play matchmaker. She could often be seen laughing it up with Sarah, aka "Fergie", while her husband played. Just a few years into her own not-so-fairy-tale marriage, Diana was likely already feeling stifled and lonely. What fun, she thought, to invite the boisterous Fergie to the Royal Family's Scottish castle just when she knew Prince Andrew would be there. Equally fun-loving and boisterous, the spark between Andrew and Sarah this time was instantaneous and unquenchable. Their romance was one of genuine affection and, 30 years later, their bond is as strong as ever. Perhaps even stronger with the struggles they have faced and the maturity that even the biggest party animals gain over time.
In re-watching clips of their wedding day, it is clear that the newly titled Duke and Duchess of York were absolutely smitten. Every member of the family also had pure joy written across their faces. It was an exuberant day, less grand than Charles and Diana's wedding five years earlier. The world was worshiping at Diana's feet, but Sarah was clearly a star despite her less than noble birth. Diana was the daughter of a Peer of the Realm; Sarah was from a much lower rung of Britain's stratified upper class. She showed none of the demure, ladylike qualities of her new sister-in-law. She was just an ordinary girl. As one American broadcaster remarked that day, every girl wished she could be Diana on her wedding day, but when Sarah married her prince, every girl could say "that is me."
The sunshine of that day turned out not to be so eternal. As an active duty military officer, Andrew was away more than he was at home. Like Diana, Sarah was left to figure out her royal role without much guidance and without her husband anywhere nearby. She did things her own way: learning to fly a helicopter to better understand her husband's work, joking loudly with reporters who followed her, openly flirting with people in the crowds she encountered. While Americans adored her, her boisterous nature soon began to wear on the stiff-upper lips of Britain. The media began to grab onto any little flaw--her questionable fashion choices, her constant struggles with her weight (at least one photo from her second child's christening even bore the remarkably crass headline, "Huge-Genie"), and more seriously, her tendency to spend beyond her means. The media constantly compared her to the still saintly Diana who seemed to be always elegant, always gentle, always slim, and Sarah did not measure well in the unfair comparison, especially in the fashion stakes. After all, The Prince of Wales has access to an enormous income that dwarfed what his little brother could provide Sarah.
She fell as quickly as she rose. But she was, as she has admitted, her own worst enemy. Yes, she felt sabotaged by the Palace insiders, whom she called the "men in gray," but she was allegedly more popular with her in-laws than Diana. After all, The Queen loves nothing more than horses and the two often rode together, and Prince Philip has always had a penchant for living a bit boisterously, too.
Unfortunately, however, Sarah pushed the limits too far and one of her enemies made sure that the press had the proof of it. Initially, it was intimated that she was spending too much time with a rich Texan, but everything fell apart when photos were published of her on holiday with another American (her financial adviser). Sunbathing topless, with her young daughters nearby, the Duchess was clearly cavorting with a man who was not her husband. (At least, I've never known a financial adviser whose services included sucking a client's toes.)
Within a year, the Yorks had separated and four years later their divorce was final. But, their relationship was not at an end. After their marital home, a gift from The Queen, was sold, Sarah and their daughters moved in with Andrew. Today, 20 years after their divorce, the couple still lives together at Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, which was renovated for them after the death of the previous Duchess of York (better known as Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother).
Despite a potpourri of less-than-royal behaviors (confessional books, jobs hawking products from weight-loss programs to dishware, numerous media interviews), constant money problems, and more scandals caught on tape (Sarah allegedly tried to sell access to her ex who was serving as Britain's Special Ambassador for Trade and Investment), the couple has remained remarkably loyal to each other and they seem to have done an excellent job of co-parenting their daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, who are both well-educated, lovely young women.
Beyond all the negatives heaped up against her, Sarah has continuously supported a variety of causes and considers herself a philanthropist. She even founded two charitable organizations of her own: Children in Crisis in 1993 and The Sarah Ferguson Foundation, both of which support children at risk. Two years ago, the four Yorks together launched a new organization, Key to Freedom, to provide economic opportunities for women in India.
Through it all, Sarah's public persona has remained as boisterous as ever. She is photographed at night clubs "on the pull" with her daughters, she holidays around the world, often with Andrew and the girls. She herself has said that they are the happiest divorced people in the world. During The Queen's Diamond Jubilee, she was even listed officially as a member of the Royal Family and she continues to assert that her former mother-in-law is the person she admires most in the world. Sarah can often be seen accompanying Beatrice, Eugenie and Andrew at public events, including high profile occasions like the funeral of Diana Princess of Wales and Andrew's investiture in the Royal Victorian Order.
Earlier this year, on a visit to Australia, Sarah appeared on a radio program. While refusing to be drawn into a conversation about the level of intimacy between her and Andrew, she gushed, "It was the greatest day of my life, marrying the finest man...and he is the finest man in my life. He's a great gentleman and he's got an essence of gold. In 1986 on July 23rd I completely threw myself in to the most incredible love affair for life."
The last century's devoted but scandalous royal lovers, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, were able to maintain a long marriage, but their existence seemed increasingly sad and hollow. This generation's scandalous royal lovers, The Duke and Duchess of York, may have officially ended their marriage but it is clear that they remain very happily in each others' lives and hearts, and I have no doubt that there is no royal household that is filled with more laughter and fun than theirs, even now.
Happy anniversary to Sarah and her prince!