How Fergie fought her way back into the 'Firm': But as Andrew drives her to Balmoral, royal aides worry about the damage she can inflict on the monarchy
Twenty-five years ago this month, Sarah, Duchess of York was unceremoniously bundled out of Balmoral Castle and into exile, from where she would embark on her accident-prone life as an ex-member of the Royal Family.
She had been shamed after photos emerged of her topless, having her toes sucked by a man who was not her husband, next to a swimming pool in the South of France.
Stripped of the Royal Highness title, divorced from Prince Andrew and forced to live a money-grubbing existence which brought her notoriety, many would judge her life since to have been a complete failure.
Yet, here she is again, back at Balmoral this week as a guest of the Queen, basking in the lifestyle that could have been hers for keeps — arriving by private jet, surrounded by protection officers and spending her holiday being fawned over by flunkeys.
Prince Andrew and Sarah York leaving Aberdeen Airport after landing by private jet this week
Her confident smile from the passenger seat of the Range Rover driven by her ex-husband said it all. The woman supposed to be a royal outcast — some say a national disgrace — is very much back in the fold and relishing it. The only thing missing was a regal wave.
Those familiar with the Duchess say that in true Fergie denial mode, she’ll be waltzing around the castle as if nothing scandalous had ever happened.
As if she never tried to sell access to her husband for £500,000. Or — as the Mail revealed earlier this year — set up meetings in London hotel bars to flog her services in the field of ‘business support’.
Or masterminded a slew of failed business ventures leaving behind a string of debts.
Yes, the toxic trail left by the Duchess is long and unedifying. But for the Queen, having her favourite son and his family by her side on her summer holiday is crucial. And if the invitation must, at Andrew’s insistence, include the ex-wife — then so be it.
So, how has Sarah York managed to haul herself back into favour?
And is it true, as some observers claim, that she is gradually increasing her grip on her enigmatic ex-husband? Sarah’s critics point to recent activities that illustrate just how strong her hold over her him has become.
And is it true, as some observers claim, that she is gradually increasing her grip on her enigmatic ex-husband? (pictured at Royal Ascot last year)
Last month, Sarah deeply offended senior courtiers — and triggered public outrage — when it was discovered she’d used Buckingham Palace to host a birthday party for the young daughter of her friends David and Victoria Beckham.
Though the Palace line was that the ‘Royals have the right to host private parties’ — the implication being that Prince Andrew had hosted the event — officials are privately seething that it should have taken place at all in a royal building, without their knowledge, and that pictures of the event appeared all over social media.
Then there is her involvement in Andrew’s work. Once, ‘Air Miles Andy’ trotted the globe as a trade ambassador. These days, his main job is backing Pitch@Palace, a well-received initiative giving fledgling businesses a boost.
In April, Sarah unexpectedly turned up in a semi-official capacity at Pitch events at St James’s Palace — despite the resolve of Princes Philip and Charles that she should have no formal role connected with the Royal Family. Yet the couple posed happily for photos together.
Later, Andrew was overheard to quip: ‘It’s a family business.’
Sarah deeply offended senior courtiers — and triggered public outrage — when it was discovered she’d used Buckingham Palace to host a birthday party for the young daughter of her friends David and Victoria Beckham
This year, the Court Circular, the historic record of the doings of the House of Windsor overseen by the Lord Chamberlain and signed off by the Queen’s private secretary, contained the name of Sarah, Duchess of York. This was despite the fact she hasn’t been a member of the ‘Firm’ for 21 years.
Her name was there because she was representing Andrew at Westminster Abbey at a memorial service for the comedian Ronnie Corbett, where she was greeted by guests as if she was still a member of the Royal Family. Not surprisingly, questions have since been asked about whether more public engagements may follow.
The Duchess also made her presence felt in the alleged row between Princes Charles and Andrew over the future role of Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie — Andrew demanding an official role for them in Team Windsor, Charles seemingly adamantly against it.
For the Queen, having her favourite son and his family by her side on her summer holiday ~(their 2010 trip to Scotland pictured) is crucial
Last December, Andrew issued an angry rebuttal to media stories that claimed he’d asked for titles to be bestowed on his daughters’ husbands when they married.
For her part, it seems Sarah was behind the ‘Stop bullying the York family!’ campaign launched on Facebook and Twitter.
It does seem astonishing that her influence is so potent a force almost three decades after her divorce from Andrew and considering her rackety life since. People who know the couple say her hold over the 57-year-old Duke, though no longer sexual, is strong.
‘She pulls his strings. Andrew pulls the Queen’s strings. That’s why she’s at Balmoral,’ I am told. ‘For someone who can be so bonkers in her personal life, she’s extraordinarily shrewd when it comes to managing her relationship with the Queen.’
For most of the year, Sarah occupies a suite of rooms at Andrew’s home, Royal Lodge at Windsor, and they co-own a £13 million chalet in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier. She has described the Alpine town as her spiritual home: when they bought the chalet in 2015, she indicated it would become her main residence.
But it didn’t have the excitements of London or New York and, pretty soon, she returned to Royal Lodge.
The only thing she’s not been able to persuade Andrew to do is give her enough money to live on.
‘He was very reluctant,’ says someone who knows them well. ‘When Sarah gets cash, she spends it. Doesn’t matter how much — sooner or later it’s gone.’
It was this attitude to her finances that caused her in 2010 to fall victim to a sting by the red-top paper News Of The World, which exposed her offering introductions to her husband for £500,000. She has launched a £25 million legal action against the now-defunct newspaper’s owners.
Although the paper videoed her demands for cash, she claims her reputation was destroyed by the paper’s actions — not her own.
‘And that’s her big problem,’ says my source. ‘It’s always someone else to blame. Sarah is only ever one step away from a banana skin, and soon, she’ll slip up again. Her influence on the Duke of York is not necessarily in the Royals’ best interests. I wonder why the Queen seems unable to see this.’
Her attitude to her finances that caused her in 2010 to fall victim to a sting by the red-top paper News Of The World, which exposed her offering introductions to her husband for £500,000
However cordial her reception at Balmoral this week, the Duchess of York will be gone before Prince Philip arrives from Sandringham.
The House of Windsor’s grumpy paterfamilias is, at 96, still a force to be reckoned with and famously vowed never to be in the same room as the Duchess. Balmoral isn’t big enough for both of them.
And on Sunday, when the Queen attends Crathie church, the party will include Andrew, Beatrice and Eugenie — but not Sarah.
Yet she’s made great strides in her self-assured march towards rehabilitation. Popping up in the Court Circular, hosting Palace parties, attending official engagements as her ex-husband’s other half, issuing media statements — it’s as if Fergie never went away.
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