Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson at first seemed like a breath of fresh air in the usually stuffy British Royal Family; if only anyone had seen what was coming. Turns out, there was more to this sunny new personality than met the eye. People thought a royal divorce was as scandalous as it would get—but that was just the tip of the iceberg.
1. Her Arrival
Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson was the second daughter born to Major Ronald Ferguson and Susan Wright on October 15, 1959, in London, England. Although she had some aristocratic roots through her family ties, her own life was definitely not going to stay high and noble for very long. When it comes to scandals, Sarah Ferguson learned from the best: Her mother.
2. She Had Hard Knocks
When Ferguson was just 12 years old, her mother dropped a bombshell on the family: She was leaving them and flying to Argentina. This wasn’t just some vacation either; her mother met and fell in love with polo player Hector Barrantes, which prompted her move. Susan’s abandonment scandalized British high society—but for young Sarah, it was only going to get worse.
3. Her Family Grew
Ferguson’s parents eventually made it official and divorced, and just two years later, her father re-married. He had three more children with his new wife, which now left Fergie lost in a crowd. In dealing with the tremendous stresses, she developed a dangerous coping mechanism.
4. She Developed A Problem
As many children do, Ferguson blamed her mother’s abandonment on herself. If only she’d been a better daughter, maybe her mother would have stayed. The guilt wracked her, and she developed an eating disorder: “She hardly contacted me at all and that’s when food became my only friend.” But while Sarah Ferguson might have been down, she was definitely not out.
5. She Became A Budding Talent
Though she wasn’t a stellar student, Ferguson was well-liked by her teachers. They often described her as being fun and gregarious. She also excelled in athletics after developing keen interests in swimming, tennis, and skiing. These pastimes just marked the beginning of an adventurous streak for Ferguson. There were a rocky few years after her mother left, but she was finally coming into her own.
With her late teens approaching, she buckled in for an even wilder ride.
6. She Found Love In A Hopeless Place
Sarah Ferguson was now a young woman, and that meant one thing: Romance. While visiting her mother’s ranch in Argentina, a 17-year-old Fergie met stockbroker Kim Smith-Bingham. At the time, however, Smith-Bingham was a self-professed “ski bum” and the two didn’t date right away. Still, something sparked in that first meeting, and it was only a matter of time before they ended up in bed together.
7. She Reunited
Three years after first meeting, Smith-Bingham moved to Switzerland, and he still remembered the English girl from Argentina. Fergie was now working in a public relations role in London and often flew to stay with Smith-Bingham. But this was just a fling, not love. In fact, whatever spark was between them quickly faded. But with the romance over, Smith-Bingham left Fergie with one heck of a parting gift.
8. She Was Off To The Races
Smith-Bingham wasn’t Fergie’s Prince Charming, but he knew some powerful men—and one of them caught her eye. Her ex introduced her to Paddy McNally, a motor racing manager. He was more than 20 years older than Ferguson, but that didn’t bother her—she was head over heels. And, as an added bonus, McNally really knew how to spoil a girl.
9. She Dripped In Gold
During their three years together, Fergie and McNally never cohabitated, but they were still quite attached to one another. Their relationship consisted of expensive gifts, luxurious holidays, ski getaways, and quality time spent in the company of McNally’s two children from a previous relationship. If they could have made it work, maybe Sarah Ferguson would have had a nice boring life with her rich husband.
Unfortunately, Ferguson needed more than McNally could ever give her.
10. She Walked Away
After falling so deeply in love, Fergie began questioning McNally about the trajectory of their relationship. She wanted to move towards marriage, which was not in the cards for McNally. With their different paths laid out before them, Fergie went on the hunt for someone who could provide her with a more long-lasting commitment. But, lucky for Fergie, she had one heck of a matchmaker.
11. Princess Diana Was Her Matchmaker
Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana shared a loving friendship. As a matter of fact, their bond was even deeper than that; they were actually fourth cousins. Both were also on the outskirts of the royal family and shared a lot in common. It was a match made in heaven! So, like any good friend, Princess Diana decided to do Fergie a solid. In 1985, she offered Fergie a most prestigious invitation.
If Ferguson had known what was coming, she’d have thrown that invitation in the trash.
12. She Met A Prince
At the will of Princess Diana, Fergie received an invitation to attend an event at Windsor Castle. While there, Fergie was strategically placed next to Prince Andrew (Princess Diana’s brother-in-law and the son of the freaking Queen) at dinner. Love was once again in the air for Sarah Ferguson—and things were only getting brighter and brighter from there.
13. Her Courtship Unfolded
Fergie received several more invitations from Princess Diana that allowed her to get to know Prince Andrew on a deeper level. The young couple often stayed at Highgrove—a country house—with Diana and her husband, Prince Charles. As a group, the two couples vacationed together, which gave the paparazzi plenty of time to snap pics of them together.
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson were officially an item. Of course, that brought a whole new host of troubles.
14. She Got A Royal Blessing
In July of 1986, Sarah Ferguson received the Queen’s approval to marry Prince Andrew. The couple married and became royally dubbed the Duke and Duchess of York. Fergie was officially a royal—but that wasn’t all fun and games. She now had a series of commitments to uphold in order to stay in good social graces. However, the newest royal was far from prim and proper.
15. She Was A Renegade
Fergie definitely stood out from other women of the royal family. Although she accompanied the Duke of York on several official engagements, she made sure to keep her own interests in mind. In 1987, she completed the necessary training to obtain a private pilot’s license. Just because she was a duchess didn’t mean Ferguson’s adventurous streak had ended—but with adventure, comes danger.
16. She Escaped Harm’s Way
While attending a fundraising event in New York in 1988, a political protestor attacked Ferguson outside of her hotel. A young man lunged at her with a flagpole displaying the Irish Republican Army flag. Thankfully, the Duchess remained unscathed, and authorities quickly apprehended her attacker. Fergie remained safe and that was a blessing—because her life was about to change in a monumental way.
17. She Struggled With Pregnancy
Fergie and the Duke of York welcomed a baby girl named Beatrice into their family on August 8, 1988. Her pregnancy was far from idyllic though. Rather, Fergie suffered from high blood pressure and an abnormal amount of water retention during pregnancy. After successfully delivering Beatrice, Fergie was able to relieve a sigh of relief—but that bliss wouldn’t last long.
18. Her Parenting Was Under Fire
Just one month after delivering her daughter, Fergie opted to join her husband on a trip to Australia, leaving her newborn at home. The press and the public were merciless. One headline from The Daily Express declared her a “national disgrace” and accused her of being a “…self-centered woman who has abandoned her daughter like an unwanted doll.” Another publication dubbed her “the Dreadful Duchess.”
Personal attacks like these were devastating, but Fergie had to get used to them; they weren’t going anywhere soon.
19. She Was Body-Shamed
Between childbirth and disordered eating, Fergie’s weight fluctuated wildly. The vultures were absolutely ruthless. The media ridiculed her with names like “the Duchess of Pork” and “Fat Fergie.” To fight back, Fergie declared that after having Beatrice, she was going to lose weight and get her physical health in order. But soon, something was going to throw her off course.
20. She Started A Trend
Fergie helped to popularize an exercise program known as “callanetics.” The program helped her to lose a significant amount of weight and earned her public praise for the changes in her body. Problem solved, right? Of course not. Sarah Ferguson was about to see first-hand that there was just no winning with the press.
21. The Duchess of Daughters
In 1989, Sarah Ferguson became pregnant with her second daughter, Eugenie. The birth was no easy ride and resulted in a caesarian section. Leading up to this, the press greatly criticized Ferguson for not having gained enough weight to sustain a healthy pregnancy. Unsurprisingly, these constant remarks on her body took a toll on Fergie’s self-esteem and exacerbated her problems with food.
It was only a matter of time before Fergie turned to an even darker vice.
22. She Got In Over Her Head
During the early 1990s, Sarah Ferguson acquired a great deal of debt. People close to her regarded her as very charitable, but noted that she also enjoyed the finer things in life. This resulted in her going into the negatives to the tune of millions of British pounds. Eventually, this spending caught up with her—but even before that, she had other problems to worry about.
23. She Became Rattled With Anxiety
As the years passed, media pressure only intensified for Ferguson. Thankfully, Princess Diana was still there as a friend. In later years, Fergie recollected how much she relied on the Princess to guide her through these tough moments. But it wasn’t all good times—in fact, this royal friendship hid secret tension.
24. She Had A Royal Frenemy
You might think that between their family ties and position as royal outsiders, Fergie and Princess Diana’s relationship would be smooth sailing. In truth, there was a lot of insecurity on both of their parts. Being so young and new to a stressful environment undoubtedly caused much of this struggle, but other difficulties that presented themselves as well. In many ways, Fergie’s strengths became her weaknesses when it came to Diana.
25. She Was Too Good
After marrying Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson charmed her way into the royal family’s hearts by trying new sports, obtaining a pilot’s license, and learning how to drive a carriage. All of these pastimes earned her respect from the Royal Family—and jealousy from Diana. While Diana struggled to win over her in-laws, Ferguson seemed to be a natural. Hence, a rivalry between the ladies formed.
26. She Evoked Jealousy
Diana’s marriage was miserable enough as it is—so it must have hurt when Prince Charles asked her why she couldn’t be more like Ferguson. Ultimately, she said that Fergie “…left [her] looking like dirt.” But, despite their differences, the two remained closer to friends than enemies. It helped that the two women shared quite a fun side—and it got them into all kinds of trouble.
27. She Trailblazed Partying
Fergie was the first female in the Royal Family to have a bachelorette party. Along with Princess Diana, the two dressed up as Bobbies and caused a bit of a ruckus outside of Buckingham Palace. Sharing such wild and youthful memories was a huge deal for the free-spirited young women. These moments helped to balance out the tension between them, and provided respite when being in the Royal Family got especially challenging. And it was only going to get more and more difficult.
28. She Felt Lonely
Prince Andrew’s career as a naval officer made married life increasingly difficult for Fergie. He was often away from home—by one point, he and Fergie only spent about 40 days of the year in each other’s company. Disillusioned by this lonely lifestyle, Sarah Ferguson felt more alone than ever. But she wasn’t a little girl any longer. She knew just what she had to do.
29. She Became A Single Woman
In 1992, Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew announced their separation. They divorced in 1996, right around the same time Princess Diana divorced Prince Charles. Their shared experiences with the disenchantment of royal life brought the women closer than ever. Sadly, however, this friendship—and so much else in Fergie’s life—would soon head downhill yet again.
30. She Was Turned Away
Unsurprisingly, Ferguson’s decision to divorce didn’t impress the Queen. The palace quickly announced that Fergie would no longer carry out any public duties on the Queen’s behalf—but that wasn’t all. The palace noted that all the debts Fergie had incurred became her responsibility—not the Royal Family’s. Ferguson was on her own yet again, and there were even more scandals to come.
31. She Created A Scandal
After filing for divorce, gossip headlines went berserk when Fergie’s friendship with Texan multi-millionaire, Steve Wyatt became public knowledge. Photographs of the two—in the presence of Fergie’s young daughter—appeared all over the media. Considering the drama surrounding her separation, this did not go over well with any of her in-laws; but Fergie was not about to let anything—or anyone—get in the way of what she wanted.
32. Oops, She Did It Again
Fergie wasn’t done having fun with new flames. Heads turned when photographs emerged of her sharing some intimate moments with an American financial manager, John Bryan. This resulted in public ridicule and lots of shunning from the royals. But the worst insult came from Princess Margaret. The Queen’s sister famously sent Fergie a letter after the images went public, saying, “You have done more to bring shame on the family than could ever have been imagined.” Ouch!
But Sarah Ferguson wasn’t finished bringing shame to the royals just yet.
33. She Took The Money
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew finalized their divorce in 1996, four years after their initial separation. As part of the settlement, she received a lump sum of £2.2 million in addition to a hefty monthly allowance. Fergie wasn’t just all about taking though; she had plans to give something back to the royals, herself.
34. She Dropped Her Title
As part of the divorce arrangement, Fergie was once again allowed to use the title of “Her Royal Highness,” which was in keeping with prior royal divorces. Astoundingly, Fergie chose to reject the title and instead opted to simply go by “Sarah, Duchess of York,” which remains her title to this day. But even though she was still a duchess, Ferguson still had that “crippling debt” thing to figure out—and it wasn’t going away any time soon.
35. She Sold Her Image
In order to pay off her significant debt, Fergie flew to America during the early 90s and began endorsing brands. She made over half a million dollars just by acting in juice commercials. Fergie didn’t stop there; she became a spokesperson for tableware, cosmetics, and Weight Watchers. Pretty soon, her debts started to disappear. And this big win—thanks to the American public—was only going to get bigger.
36. She Got Friendly
Even though she crossed the pond, Sarah Ferguson still knew how to shock Britons. In the late 1990s, she stunned English audiences by appearing in the sitcom Friends. Since the show was hugely successful in both America and the UK, this scored major points with the general public. The Royal Family hated the appearance, but as far as Fergie’s transgressions go, that was a pretty minor one.
They still hadn’t forgiven her for her scandalous biography, though.
37. She Embarrassed The Royals
Sarah Ferguson was never one to fall in line with the royals; that’s clear by now. But her 1996 memoir, My Story, was a whole new betrayal. The tell-all book revealed intimate details about the breakdown of her marriage—but that wasn’t all. Fergie also gave readers a juicy behind-the-scenes look at the royal family. Between this book and the subsequent book tour, she just couldn’t stop ruffling feathers at Buckingham Palace.
But soon, everything she did would look trivial, because tragedy was about to strike.
38. She Lost A Loved One
In 1997, Princess Diana perished in a car accident while trying to escape the paparazzi. The loss hit Ferguson hard. Before Diana’s passing, the two ladies had stopped talking, which only added to Fergie’s guilt and grief. While it is unclear what caused the final rift between them, speculation circulated that Princess Diana was unhappy with the way she appeared in Fergie’s autobiography.
Fergie lacked the closure she desired, but she had no choice but to accept things as they were—because more question marks were about to overcome her.
39. She Mourned Her Mother
The blows just kept coming. While Fergie was vacationing in Italy in 1998, her mother also perished in a car accident. Her mother still lived in Argentina at the time, and the their relationship had never really recovered since she abandoned the family. Nonetheless, the shock of this life event—so close after the loss of Princess Diana—made Fergie do some serious soul searching.
40. She Turned Inward
Fergie’s normal coping mechanisms for stress involved overeating. But having lost two loved ones, she asked herself: “Are you going to waste your life and just eat yourself silly, Sarah, or are you going to wake up?” So, she began taking her commitment to healthy eating more seriously. In the years that followed, she continued her journey with Weight Watchers, and even enjoyed some peace in the most unexpected place.
41. Her And Her Ex Lived Together
Thanks to the amicable relationship she maintained with Prince Andrew, they actually continued to reside together for many years in Berkshire. It wasn’t until 2004—when the Duke re-located himself—that this arrangement ended. It was probably for the best though, because things were on the cusp of blowing up between them.
42. She Got Set-Up
Ferguson has always struggled with financial issues—and that put a target on her back. It was only a matter of time before some shady investor got the best of her. Unfortunately for her, that “shady investor” turned out to be an undercover journalist with the News of the World. What happened next made international headlines and made her a household name for all of the wrong reasons.
43. She Sold Out The Royals
The journalist caught Ferguson on camera promising that she would grant the “investor” access to Prince Andrew for cash. The undercover journalist handed her a suitcase of money with a vow to send her much more. It goes without saying, that follow-through never took place. Instead, footage of their interaction found its to news networks all over the world.
This poor judgment tarnished Fergie’s reputation. Remarkably, though, she still had a comeback in her.
44. She Went On An Apology Tour
Using the media once again, Sarah Ferguson publicly apologized on Oprah. She attributed her behavior to alcohol and expressed regret for her actions, stating she was “in the gutter at that moment.” The fact that she was so willing to humble herself and own her shortcomings led her to a slow rise back in popularity. But would it last this time?
45. Fergie Inspired Fergie
As her popularity once again crawled its way up the social ladder, Fergie impressed a certain musical talent: Stacy “Fergie” Ferguson. As a nod to the Duchess, the pop star named an album after her in 2006: The Dutchess. This prompted the most unusual friendship, and soon the Duchess of York invited the Dutchess to perform at her charitable foundation, Children in Crisis.
46. She Turned To Film
During the late 2000s, Fergie used her previous success in America to launch a new career as a television and film producer. She began working on material internationally, but her work garnered a mixed reception from audiences. She also fell into some pretty hot water when one documentary took things just a little too far.
47. She Got Ahead Of Herself
In 2008, Fergie entered Turkey after allegedly falsifying some paperwork to film a documentary on the state of a Turkish orphanage. The piece, Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission exposed the maltreatment of children in both Romania and Turkey and highlighted their poor living conditions. This exposé did not go over well with the Turkish.
48. She Became A Wanted Woman
In 2012, Turkey’s Ministry of Justice issued an international arrest warrant for Sarah Ferguson. They claimed that in addition to her fraudulent documents, she had also jeopardized the privacy of children with her covert motives to film a documentary. If found guilty of the charges, Fergie risked up to 22 years of behind bars. Thanks to some UK laws that protected her, though, Fergie ultimately asked her counsel to simply enter a plea bargain on her behalf.
49. Her Paradise Shattered
If there was one thing going for Fergie throughout her life, it’s that she had so often maintained a positive relationship with her ex-husband. Even after essentially selling him out to an undercover journalist, they had somehow managed to stay friends. But, in 2020, the pair entered into a legal dispute over their Swiss chalet, specifically the large debt that they both owed on it. At the heart of their argument was none other than the Queen.
50. She Found A Way Out
According to Fergie’s team, the Queen agreed to step in to help with the property debt. However, the Duke of York’s spokesperson claimed no such arrangement existed. Thankfully, Fergie and Prince Andrew were able to settle things by mutually deciding to sell the property to pay off what they owed. This deal may have helped Fergie move forward because in 2022, she went back to her industrious ways and co-founded a new production house called Vestapol Films, based in Paris, France.