This week it was all smiles and sycophancy in the studio of ABC’s Good Morning America (GMA), as the most popular U.S. breakfast TV show re-acquainted viewers with an old and titled friend.
‘Long before she was a novelist, she was the red-headed rebel who married a prince and became Princess Diana’s sister and sidekick,’ explained interviewer Juju Chang, who couldn’t hide her excitement at the prospect of talking to a woman who had ‘infused her mighty spirit into her really engaging novels’.
And then viewers saw that mighty spirit, Sarah, Duchess of York, walking through a smart bookshop before sitting down to chat about her latest Mills & Boon romantic novel, entitled A Most Intriguing Lady.
U.S. breakfast television is a gift to the gaffe-prone and scandal-plagued, as you can spout any old nonsense and presenters will just nod sympathetically.
Sure enough, the duchess’s GMA interviewer didn’t even flinch when she cringingly started to refer to herself in the third person.
Sarah, Duchess of York (left), sat down to chat about her latest Mills & Boon romantic novel, entitled A Most Intriguing Lady
Sarah Ferguson interviewed on Good Morning America, where she referred to herself in the third person
‘Sarah is cheeky, is feisty — yeah, yeah —is rebellious,’ the duchess said, as she confirmed that her book’s red-headed heroine, Lady Mary, is based on her.
‘I feel liberated . . . I’m really, truly authentic Sarah now,’ she said, adding that she wasn’t sure if this was because the Queen had died but ‘I now think I can just sort of say openly what I want to say without worrying I’m going to offend somebody’.
The duchess was not sufficiently ‘liberated’, however, to say anything remotely significant about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, or Prince Andrew’s dealings with his late paedophile friend Jeffrey Epstein, during her U.S. media blitz.
‘This redhead’ was ‘not good at conforming’, she declared, although — in case viewers were about to lump her together with Meghan Markle — she quickly added that she ‘absolutely’ believes in the institution of the monarchy and ‘totally supports’ the King and the Queen Consort.
The late Queen was deeply popular in the U.S. and the 63-year-old duchess’s endless references to the closeness of their relationship have been, frankly, shameless.
She told GMA that the Jeffrey Epstein scandal brought her closer to the Queen ‘as we were [Andrew’s] bookends during the last three years and she really was my idol . . . my legend’.
The duchess confirmed that she is now the keeper of the royal corgis, which ‘bark into the air and I think the Queen’s with me when they do’, adding, in what may strike many as a particularly outrageous plug for her book: ‘One of the last things I said was, “Well, what would you like me to do?” and she said, “Keep writing.” ’
When her interviewer suggested that this meant she was writing ‘by royal command’, she replied — looking entirely serious — ‘I like to think that’.
It was all classic Fergie flannel. But the U.S. media cannot get enough of an Americanophile who shed 50lb — and the cruel nickname ‘Duchess of Pork’ — during a stint as a well-paid Weight Watchers ambassador in the U.S. in the late 1990s.
Such is her profile here that she is even rumoured to be presenting an award at tomorrow’s Oscars (after all, Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic is a strong award contender and the Duchess recently spoke at her friend Lisa-Marie Presley’s Graceland memorial service).
Pictured with the late Queen Elizabeth II in 1990. The late Queen was deeply popular in the U.S. and the 63-year-old duchess’s endless references to the closeness of their relationship have been, frankly, shameless
With the duke in such disgrace, the woman who was once accused of trying to sell access to him for £500,000 to undercover reporters is now the acceptable face of the York family
This time, however, there is a new sense of purpose in her tireless self-promotion. For she insists that since Prince Andrew is no longer undertaking royal duties and so is no longer funded by the taxpayer, his ex-wife — who still lives in a wing of his Windsor mansion as a ‘guest’ — is now in a position to help bear the financial burden.
Ironically, with the duke in such disgrace, the woman who was once accused of trying to sell access to him for £500,000 to undercover reporters is now the acceptable — or at least, the more acceptable — face of the York family.
‘Since he stepped back [from royal duties] he doesn’t actually take taxpayers’ money,’ she told Hello! magazine of the ‘poor’ duke, who faces not only having to move out of his 31-room Windsor residence, Royal Lodge, but also the loss of his £249,000 annual grant as the King slims down the monarchy.
‘And I’m in a position where I can support him and the rest of the family through my work. And I’m really pleased and proud to do that.’
This is surprising news from a royal hanger-on long accused of being an outrageous sponger who, despite separating from the duke as long ago as 1992, has consistently refused to live within her means.
It’s almost as surprising, in fact, as her claim on Good Morning America that she spent years with the Royal Family and knows how to conduct herself. ‘I know the rules,’ she told the programme firmly.
Good manners must have prevented her hosts from mentioning the many times over the years when the duchess has been accused of mortifying the Royal Family with cack-handed attempts to make money.
But people close to the duchess insist that this time it really is different. The woman who in 2011 admitted she was ‘continually on the verge of financial bankruptcy’ after losing more than £3.2 million in the collapse of Hartmoor, her U.S. ‘lifestyle and wellness’ company, is finally on a solid footing. ‘People throw that one quote back from an Oprah Winfrey interview that she is constantly on the brink of bankruptcy,’ a friend of the duchess told the Mail. ‘The truth is that she is a successful writer now, she’s got a new career as an author.
‘The book [her first Mills & Boon novel] sold 11,000 copies in the UK, which is very respectable. It was on the Sunday Times bestseller list.’
Its 11,000 UK sales are indeed respectable but they pale beside the ten million sales of author Julia Quinn’s bodice-ripping Bridgerton novels, whose TV dramatisation success the Duchess’s team reportedly hoped she could emulate.
But the duchess, her team notes, also has a 22-book deal for children’s and ‘young adult’ books with a small Australian publisher, Serenity Press, which includes the ‘Genie Gems’ titles based on her daughter Eugenie.
‘She has been producing almost one book a month for the last year,’ said her friend.
Any author who churns out a book a month is liable to be accused of putting quantity before quality — but her output doesn’t stop there. The duchess’s two Mills & Boon novels — both co-written with historical romance author Marguerite Kaye — are being made into a TV series, according to her U.S. spokesman, who wouldn’t identify the company but confirmed it was an American one.
Sarah Ferguson on her wedding day. The duchess, her team notes, also has a 22-book deal for children’s and ‘young adult’ books
The duchess — who cannot be faulted on her energy and imagination — also recently jumped on the ‘digital art’ bandwagon, creating her own NFTs
She is also in talks to turn one of her children’s characters, a doll called Little Red, into an animated series. And Fergie, who has some experience of scripted drama as a producer of the 2009 feature film The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt, has also co-founded an independent film production company called Vestapol, based in Paris.
‘That film was all her idea and came from the books she wrote,’ stressed her friend. The same source said the duchess is working with British screenwriter Mark Gill [an Oscar-nominated director] on a film about Princess Louise, the mother of Victoria’s devoted husband Prince Albert.
The duchess is also a serial endorser of products who once flogged £38 food blenders on America’s QVC shopping channel and raised her game considerably in 2020 by embarking on a partnership with Italian luxury goods maker Montegrappa to design a range of £1,600 ‘nature-inspired’ fountain pens.
But her ambitions at that stage mainly hinged on turning her own company, Ginger & Moss, into a ‘whole lifestyle brand’. Although insiders blame the pandemic, the business has so far proved conspicuously unsuccessful.
It emerged a year ago that Ginger & Moss was £262,000 in debt and had been forced to cut its ‘Duchess Collection’ range to just four products, among them a £20 box of 80 teabags.
Fergie’s optimism remains undimmed, however, with a spokesman saying the company expects to unveil an expanded range later this year.
The duchess — who cannot be faulted on her energy and imagination — also recently jumped on the ‘digital art’ bandwagon, creating her own NFTs (or non-fungible tokens) from poetry she has written which is then read online.
Amid this flurry of activity, the duchess’s finances nonetheless remain a puzzle to observers.
Even she was confused about her assets, according to the ‘Panama Papers’, the 2016 documents of former Panamanian offshore law firm Mossack Fonseca that were leaked to journalists.
The papers revealed that the duchess’s advisers were having difficulty making sense of what she owned in the opaque tax-haven world in which her companies were registered.
Last year, she faced another financial imbroglio when it emerged that a £225,000 fee she said she received for being a brand ambassador for a solar power firm had been paid to her by Selman Turk, a man with no obvious connection to the business and who has been accused in a London court of embezzling nearly £40 million. The duchess denies any wrongdoing.
And in October, she was accused of offering her services to the makers of The Crown, the Netflix drama series that has been widely attacked for its negative and inaccurate portrayal of the Royal Family.
But while the duchess told a U.S. magazine she had offered advice on her own character in the series, she later denied claims she had put herself forward as a consultant.
In June last year, she paid cash for a £4.3 million mews house in Belgravia, Central London — but the revelation last month that she cannot sell it without the permission of her daughters prompted speculation that it was bought for her by Beatrice and Eugenie.
Friends say the duchess has no plans to move into the house in any case, and will move wherever Prince Andrew goes if he has to leave his grand Windsor digs, as they are ‘inseparable’.
As to whether she will be at his side when he attends the King’s coronation in May, those same friends say she doesn’t ‘particularly expect’ to get an invitation and, despite heaping praise on the King in recent interviews, is ‘not lobbying’ for one.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Duchess has once again been exercising her talent for befriending the super-wealthy, with a new tycoon recently drifting into her orbit.
Like previous beaux Steve Wyatt and the toe-sucking John Bryan, he’s a Texan.
Trammell Crow Jr, 72, is a pony-tailed billionaire and green entrepreneur described by the Dallas Morning News as the ‘token hippie’ in the city’s solidly conservative millionaire belt.
His father, Dallas property magnate Trammell Crow Sr, was one of the richest men in Texas and once reputed to be America’s biggest landowner.
Trammell Jr, a divorcee and father of four, once became a virtual recluse for five years. ‘Everything was floaty, floaty,’ he recalled, but denied rumours that he got into drugs.
His older brother Robert, a Hollywood film producer, certainly did, however. In 1990, he was embroiled in a sensationally toxic divorce battle with his estranged actress/model wife Emilia, in which she claimed he was a cocaine addict who had threatened to kill her and who spent thousands of dollars a week on $1,000-a-night prostitutes.
He countered that she was a cynical gold-digger who cheated on him.
In court, she revealed that they spent around $140,000 (£116,000) a month on their personal living expenses in Beverly Hills. Mr Crow died in 2011.
Insiders assured the Mail there is actually no truth to the rumours of a romance between the duchess and Trammell Crow Jr.
‘She was visiting her literary agent, who is in Dallas, and she had one meeting with him about an environmental initiative,’ said a source.
But even if there isn’t a new man in Fergie’s life, the salacious story of Bob Crow could be perfect as the plot of her next potboiler.