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Down-to Earth Duchess: Candor captivates crowd - Sarah Ferguson holdsa bouquet of roses as she speaks at the Convention Center.Sarah, Duchess of York, charmed the nearly 1,500 women — and a handful of men — who attended Wednesday’s Power of the Purse luncheon at the Greenville Convention Center with her candor and humor. In the process, she helped raise money for the Women for Women Endowment Fund, which provides grants to assist women and girls in Pitt County.

She spoke without prepared notes, telling personal stories including tales about an idyllic childhood that fell apart with her parents’ divorce; escapades with her dear friend, Princess Diana; tidbits about her romance with Britain’s Prince Andrew, and details about how she turned her life around after the negative publicity following their split.

She shared nuggets of wisdom she’s picked up along the way. And she vowed to take the mission of Women for Women with her as she continues her charitable activities throughout the world.

Childhood sadness

Although she referred to her rural childhood in England as “the perfect life,” the Duchess recalled the pain she carries because her beautiful, dark-haired mother told neighbors that her red-haired daughter “came from the postman.”

Then, despite her mother’s desire that she never cut her hair, the Duchess said she rode her pony into the village when she was 12 and had her hair cut. Later that day, when her mother stormed out of the house after a fight with her father, she assumed it was because she had cut her hair — not because her mother was leaving her father to marry an Argentine polo player. For the next six years, she was raised by the family housekeeper.

“I went through the most extraordinary pain, but I didn’t let anyone know I was in pain,” she said. “That was my secret that no one must know — so I must be more funny, more crazy and more mad. That’s easy.”

She said she also turned to the comfort of food for the first — but not the only — time in her life.

Prince Charming

Her life changed dramatically with a 1985 phone call from Princess Diana, who just happened to be married to Britain’s Prince Charles. The princess invited her cousin, whom she called “Fergie,” to a house party at Windsor Castle to celebrate the Royal Ascot races.

“I’m a working girl,” the Duchess recalled. “Heavens, OK. So I go to my friend next door, and I say, ‘Could you make me some outfits for racing at Ascot?’ So she makes me an outfit, and I arrive at Windsor Castle. ... I’m sitting next to Prince Andrew, and I’m thinking that if I move, my dress will break.

“The footman came around with some chocolate profiteroles (a small, filled pastry topped with chocolate), and I’m thinking there’s no way I’m eating chocolate profiteroles. There’s no chance.

“So Andrew looks at me and goes, ‘You are at Windsor Castle. You have to eat the chocolate profiteroles.’ And I went, ‘No, I don’t want to eat chocolate profiteroles.’ and he went, ‘You have to, it’s rules.’ So I took the chocolate profiteroles on the plate thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, my dress is going to break.’

“And then the footman came to him and he went, ‘Oh, no thank you.’ I knew immediately that we were going to get married.

“I walked out of lunch, and I said to Dutch (her nickname for Princess Diana), I said, ‘Dutch, Dutch, he’s cute,’ and she goes, ‘Duh, Fergie. Why are you here?’”

Magical wedding

When she was 24, Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew, in her words, “the best-looking prince.” She recalled walking down the steps of Clarence House to get into a glass coach pulled by six white horses that would transport her and her father to the wedding, through the throngs of well-wishers on the street.

“Dad goes, ‘What do we do?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, Dad.’ So we’re going along, and it’s like the entire nation has stopped for the day to watch my wedding — me. I kept looking around, the little fat girl. As I’m going along I said, ‘Let’s wave,’ and off we go.”

Marital problems

Two weeks after the wedding, Prince Andrew, who was a Naval helicopter pilot, was sent out to sea. Despite her pleas to go with him, the Duchess was ensconced in the second floor at Buckingham Palace.

“I saw him 40 days a year for the first five years of our marriage, and I really couldn’t cope,” she said.

She said she worked hard to be involved in his life, including learning to fly helicopters herself. “He was really taken that I had really immersed myself in his life,” she said. “I tried everything to make our marriage work. But it wasn’t to be.”

She and Princess Diana, who also was experiencing marital issues, bonded over their problems with the royal family, and they often ended up in the tabloids for their exploits.

“Diana and I, we fought hard. You’ve read all about it. We were partners in arms, and we had the most wonderful time together,” the Duchess said.

“But the British press worked to make Diana the saint and me the sinner. ... I walk in here today, and 50 percent of the room is not going to actually think much of me because of what they’ve read.”

After 10 years and the birth of two children, the couple divorced.

She said she wished she and Prince Andrew had fought harder for their marriage, but they have forged a good relationship as parents to their daughters,

“Had I been honest with myself and really looked at Sarah and what she was doing, maybe I would still be married,” she said.

Becoming a giver

“So I went through divorce, I lost Diana, I lost my mother ... I had huge financial problems ... the whole thing just tumbled down. I was going to make sure everyone hated me,” the Duchess said.

In the midst of all these trials, she was given some advice that changed her focus — and turned her life around.

“My grandmother said to me, ‘Sarah, you know what? You’re so self-obsessed. Why don’t you go and give to others, and then you’ll realize just how lucky you are.’

“And she was right,” the Duchess said.

She visited Poland, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, addressing health issues for women and children.

“I stopped thinking about myself,” she said. “I stopped thinking about what I got wrong. And I realized that it’s in giving that I was able to manage.”

Visit to Greenville

As keynote speaker for the fifth annual Power of the Purse luncheon, the Duchess helped raise funds for grants for local women — and also raise the profile of Women for Women.

“The reason I’m standing on this stage today is because you are all givers,” the Duchess said. “Coming here today teaches me so much. There are so many wonderful people out there who really are listening, who really can make a difference. I stand up on this stage, and I just love to be with such compassionate people that really are listening.

“It’s not about Africa or Sierra Leone or all these other places. It’s on our own doorstep. I think that’s why I’m so keen to come to Greenville and to see what you Women for Women have achieved on your own doorstep. You can’t do anything unless you get your house together.

“I’ve managed to get my house together. But it’s not about me. I realize that the nuggets I learned all the way through my life have given me the ability to be a foghorn for silent whispers.

“You don’t just help Greenville by having me here, you’re helping the world because I’m taking your messages of what success you’ve had” to other parts of the world.

For more information on Women for Women, visit the website

Contact Jane Hudson at (252) 329-9577 or

Nuggets of Wisdom

from Sarah, the Duchess of York

When you’re a child, you should get lots of love and hugs and kisses.

Listen to teenagers, honor them, respect them and remember that, as a parent, you were once teenagers and slammed doors and got spots.

Marry a prince. No really, anything you want to do, set your mind to it. I decided I was going to marry a prince, and I did.

If you don’t learn from your experiences, you may sabotage yourself and doom yourself to failure.

Never take yourself too seriously.

Remember that half the sky is held up by women.

Stand firm with courage, for what you believe.

Be honest with yourself.

Don’t blame everybody else. Take responsibility for your own actions.

It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about you, Be who you are.

Soure: Greenville Daily Reflector

05 May 2010

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