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18 Things You Didn’t Know About Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York

These days, the Duchess of York may be most famous for being Mother-of-the-Bride at the wedding of Princess Eugenie to Mr. Jack Brooksbank. But there's far more to this fascinating and fiery redhead.

Sarah FergusonHistoria/Shutterstock

She managed to get the playboy prince to settle down

Throughout the early 1980s, as Prince Charles and his young wife, Diana, settled into married life and set about producing Great Britain’s “heir” (Prince William) and a “spare” (Prince Harry), one of Charles’s younger brothers, HRH Prince Andrew, spent his time cavorting with models and actresses—earning the nicknames the “playboy prince” and “Randy Andy.” But in 1985, a fiery redhead named Sarah Margaret Ferguson caught his eye and won his heart.

 

Sarah Ferguson at Royal Ascot 1985Paul Fievez/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

She was born into an aristocratic family

Sarah Margaret Ferguson was born on October 15, 1959, into an aristocratic family with blood ties to the royal family. Throughout her childhood, she occasionally rubbed elbows with Prince Andrew, but it wasn’t until 1985—at the Royal Ascot (an annual royal event at the Ascot Racecourse)—that they formed a romantic connection. He proposed in early 1986 with a ruby ringed by diamonds, which he selected because it complemented Sarah’s flame-colored locks. They married on October 15, 1986, and the couple was styled as the Duke and Duchess of York.

Sarah Ferguson blood ties to royal familyHistoria/Shutterstock

About those blood ties…

Sarah is related to the royal family through several lines, but the most prominent of these is through her paternal grandmother, Marian Montagu Douglas Scott, the first cousin of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester (190 –2004), an aunt of Queen Elizabeth II (Alice married Elizabeth’s uncle, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester) and sister-in-law of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Here are 12 more royals who have married their relatives.

Sarah FergusonDavid O'Neil/Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

She’s also related to American aristocracy

Sarah is a descendant of Adam Winthrop, who was the grandfather of Massachusetts Bay Colony founder, John Winthrop. She is also the seventh cousin, seven times removed of the sixth U.S. President, John Quincy Adams. Find out 50 more fascinating facts you didn’t know about the royal family.

Sarah FergusonMike Forster/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

Princess Diana was her cousin as well

Diana, Princess of Wales, was Sarah’s fourth cousin. Their mothers were friends from their school days, but the friendship between Diana and Sarah blossomed in 1980 when Diana was 19 and Sarah was 21. Sarah had attended the wedding of Charles and Diana—alone, since she was not yet involved with Prince Andrew.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess DianaGraham Wood/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

Diana made the match

It was the Princess of Wales who invited Sarah Ferguson to the Royal Ascot in 1985, with the intention of introducing her to her brother-in-law, Prince Andrew. Diana then invited the new but unofficial (and not yet public) couple to visit her and Charles in Highgrove. The romance bloomed quickly, and the couple were married within the year. On the day of their wedding, Prince Andrew was fourth in line to the throne. He is now seventh (behind William’s three children) and soon to be eighth (behind Harry’s first child).

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrea Duke of YorkHistoria/Shutterstock

Sarah was the first royal to have a bachelorette party

“Fergie” as the press dubbed her, Diana, and a group of their friends dressed up as policewomen but found themselves in trouble with the actual police for causing a scene outside Buckingham Palace, according to Town & Country. Don’t miss this primer on royal wedding etiquette.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess DianaMike Lloyd/Shutterstock

Sarah and Diana were BFFs… until they weren’t

Sarah and Diana shared many light moments, sometimes to the consternation of other members of the royal family, who didn’t necessarily appreciate their “cheekiness.” In 1992, they both separated from their husbands and even vacationed together with their children in the South of France in August 1996. Later that year, Sarah’s autobiography, My Story, came out and included a humorous anecdote that was very much at Diana’s expense (it implied Diana gave Sarah plantar warts when she shared her shoes with her). Diana never spoke to Sarah again.

Sarah FergusonDavid Hartley/Shutterstock

She’s a licensed helicopter pilot

On December 14, 1987, the Duchess of York earned her helicopter pilot’s wings, becoming the first member of Britain’s royal family to gain a private helicopter pilot’s license (other members of the royal family learned to fly helicopters during military service), according to the Los Angeles Times. “I am constantly surprised by her,” said her husband as he pinned the wings on her sweater during a ceremony at an air force base in Oxfordshire, 40 miles west of London. Sarah, on the eve of their wedding the year before, had vowed to earn her wings. Here’s more about the everyday jobs of royal family members.

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew WeddingNils Jorgensen/Shutterstock

Sarah did vow to “obey” Prince Andrew

Speaking of vows, whereas Diana, Kate Middleton, and Meghan Markle all chose to leave the word “obey” out of their vows, Sarah Ferguson vowed to obey her husband.

Sarah Ferguson and her daughters, Princess Eugenie and Princess BeatriceRichard Young/Shutterstock

Sarah has a close relationship with her daughters

Princess Beatrice of York was born August 8, 1988. Princess Eugenie of York was born March 23, 1990. Sarah, Duchess of York is known to be a warm and doting mum to her daughters. She doesn’t mind that they spend Christmas Day with the Queen, and not with her. “I know that Her Majesty adores my children, so I am happy to share them—both in August and at Christmas,” Hello! Magazine quotes her as saying in November. “I really am like this. I love to share. It’s the joy of giving.” Find out 15 things you didn’t know about Princess Beatrice.

Sarah Ferguson Toe-sucking scandal newsDave Caulkin/AP/Shutterstock

The “toe-sucking” scandal

Five months after the Duke and Duchess of York formally separated, photos surfaced of Sarah on vacation with her financial advisor, John Bryan, in which Bryan is sucking on Sarah’s toes, and the two are shown embracing. Princess Eugenie, then not quite two years old, is seen looking on in one of the photos. This scandal is known as the one that solidified the end of the York marriage and may be the reason Prince Philip avoids being in the same room as Sarah to this day.

Sarah FergusonSteve Back/Associated Newspapers/Shutterstock

She’s had a public weight struggle

Sarah Ferguson has admitted to a lifelong struggle with her weight and body image. Before her wedding, she lost 26 pounds, and she’s been quoted as saying she had longed to be as “beautiful and thin” as her sister-in-law, Diana. At one point she was cruelly nicknamed “the Duchess of Pork,” which she spoke of when she became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers in 1997 and stayed on in that role for 11 years.

Sarah Ferguson on television show FriendsMark Lloyd/Daily Mail/Shutterstock

She was on television’s Friends

The Duchess of York made a brief appearance on the television show Friends in 1998. In the scene, she’s telling Joey Tribbiani that she likes his Union Jack hat. Don’t miss these rarely seen photos of the royal family through the years.

Sarah FergusonGreg Pace/BEI/Shutterstock

She starred in an Oprah Winfrey mini-series

In 2011, Sarah took part in Oprah Winfrey’s mini-series Finding Sarah, a reality show in which the cameras followed the Duchess around in her everyday life.

Sarah Ferguson and singer Stacy 'Fergie' FergusonMatt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

She’s friends with the other “Fergie” (the former singer from the Black Eyed Peas)

The two Fergies became friends in 2006 after Fergie came out with the album, The Dutchess, referring to the fact the two are sometimes confused, according to Hello! Magazine. Sarah phoned Fergie to ask her to perform at a charity concert, and the singer happily accepted. Find out about 14 more royal friendships that will surprise you.

Sarah FergusonShutterstock

Sarah is conspicuously absent from the official royal website

The official royal website, Royal.uk, contains biographies about all of the hereditary members of the royal family, their spouses, and one ex-spouse: Diana, Princess of Wales. There is no biography for Sarah, Duchess of York. Here’s what The Crown gets wrong about the royal family.

Sarah Ferguson, Princess Beatrice and Prince AndrewShutterstock

She and the Duke of York remain close

Amid rumors of a reconciliation between Sarah and Andrew, who have remained close and currently share a house together at Windsor’s Royal Lodge, Sarah has reportedly been adding fuel to the fire, referring to the marriage as “the best thing I ever did” and describing Andrew as “a total gentleman” and “one of the kindest people ever.” The rumors began in October when the couple put on a “united front” at Princess Eugenie’s wedding, and were also fueled by the public’s wishful thinking: many royal fans have been calling for the couple to reconcile. Next, don’t miss these myths about the royal family that are totally false.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.