Advertisement

The royal rehabilitation of Fergie: is she finally back in from the cold?

Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson at the memorial of King Constantine of Greece (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson at the memorial of King Constantine of Greece (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s been a tough start to the year for the royal family. First came the news that the Princess of Wales had undergone major abdominal surgery at the London Clinic (from which she is still recovering), followed by an announcement a mere 90 minutes later that the King required treatment for an enlarged prostate which was followed up with a shock cancer diagnosis.

It was also revealed the Duchess of York had recently been treated for an aggressive form of skin cancer, only six months after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a single mastectomy and breast reconstruction surgery.

The Duchess learnt of her second diagnosis shortly after Christmas, when days before she had made headlines for joining the royals at the Sandringham Christmas Day service, marking the first time she had had been spotted at the much-publicised event in over 30 years.

Members of the royal family, (left to right) Princess Royal, Sarah, Duchess of York, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi and Princess Beatrice and Zara and Mike Tindall, attend a thanksgiving service for the life of King Constantine of the Hellenes at St George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
Members of the royal family, (left to right) Princess Royal, Sarah, Duchess of York, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi and Princess Beatrice and Zara and Mike Tindall, attend a thanksgiving service for the life of King Constantine of the Hellenes at St George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

Sarah Ferguson’s surprise appearance at the annual family gathering sparked rumours of a royal rehabilitation, suggesting the 64-year-old has finally been accepted back into the royal fold after decades in exile. Many insiders put that down in large part to the admirably open way she has dealt with her recent cancer diagnoses, as well as the fact that it’s thought to be what the late Queen would have wanted (she was always a big fan of Fergie’s and went out of her way to include her in family events over the years). There’s no doubt the Firm has rallied around her over recent months, with one source close to the Duchess quoted as saying: “The King has been extremely supportive of her since her breast cancer diagnosis – he has been fantastic and so has the Queen.”

Now, Fergie has appeared alongside Prince Andrew, Princess Anne and Zara Tindall at the memorial service for the late King Constantine of Greece at Windsor Castle. The Queen too was in attendance without the King and Prince William who was unable to attend the ceremony for his godfather for ‘personal reasons.’ It is the most high profile royal event the Duchess has attended in decades. The 64-year-old Duchess won plaudits for speaking openly about her cancer treatment and for setting an example for other women to get screened. (Some suggest her openness even inspired the King to share more details about his own recent condition, which has been largely stigmatised due to its potentially embarrassing symptoms.) Towards the end of last year, Fergie appeared on shows including Loose Women and Lorraine, where she discussed her cancer diagnosis, jokily telling audiences she’d nicknamed her newly reconstructed left breast ‘Derek’, while her right breast is known as ‘Eric.’ “Derek is very perky and fabulous, and Eric is sort of down, he’s not as perky,” she said.

Members of the royal family, (left to right) Duke of York and Sarah, Duchess of York, Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, Mike Tindall and the Princess Royal, attend a thanksgiving service for the life of King Constantine of the Hellenes at St George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)
Members of the royal family, (left to right) Duke of York and Sarah, Duchess of York, Vice Admiral Sir Timothy Laurence, Mike Tindall and the Princess Royal, attend a thanksgiving service for the life of King Constantine of the Hellenes at St George's Chapel, in Windsor Castle (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

A spokesman for the Duchess said she was “very resilient” and was determined to carry on despite this latest diagnosis. In an Instagram post last week, Fergie spoke of her “shock” at being diagnosed with skin cancer so soon after undergoing breast cancer surgery and revealed she is now resting with family at Royal Lodge, the Windsor home she still shares with her ex-husband the Duke of York, after she spent time recuperating at the MAYRLIFE clinic, a medical spa in Austria, earlier in the month.

Sarah Ferguson recuperated at the MAYRLIFE Clinic after her second cancer diagnosis in a year (Sarah Ferguson Instagram)
Sarah Ferguson recuperated at the MAYRLIFE Clinic after her second cancer diagnosis in a year (Sarah Ferguson Instagram)

She’s currently waiting to find out if the malignant melanoma has spread to other parts of her body. There had long been plans in the pipeline for the Yorks to move out of Royal Lodge and into the smaller Frogmore Cottage, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s former home, but it’s said those were “quietly shelved” while the Duchess was convalescing over the summer. This latest diagnosis is sure to now kick that can even further down the road.

Those closest to the King say Fergie’s devoted loyalty to his disgraced younger brother has also played a big part in earning her spot back in the royal fold. The Duchess has always provided unwavering support to her ex-husband, which is proving even more vital in light of the fresh allegations that have come out over recent months, with the release of hundreds of new Epstein papers. The Duke’s name is mentioned 69 times in more than 900 pages of documents relating to Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell, where he is accused of forcing Virginia Giuffre to sleep with him, joining an “orgy with numerous other underaged girls” on Epstein’s Caribbean island, and touching Johanna Sjoberg’s breast. Though the Duke has denied any wrongdoing, the new papers have brought fresh turmoil to the royal family.

Yet despite divorcing in 1996, Fergie and Andrew remain extremely close. In 2015, when the Giuffre claims first became public, Ferguson fiercely defended the disgraced Duke. “The York family is a tight unit,” she said. “We’ve always been a tight unit. He is the greatest man there is.” Just last year, she revealed she had made a promise to the late Queen that she would continue to support him. “I said to her before she died, I will be there with him, I will help him on his journey. We’ve all got journeys, we just need to be there with kindness, no judgment – and I will because he deserves it.”

“Charles has always had a fondness for Fergie and I think her invitation to Sandringham was a show of appreciation for her steadfast loyalty to Prince Andrew,” says Claudia Joseph, royal commentator and author of William and Kate’s Britain. “Although they have long since divorced, they still live together and she has supported Andrew during the Epstein scandal. She has also been an excellent mother to Beatrice and Eugenie and has never complained about her ostracism from royal life.”

It’s thought Fergie has gradually been welcomed back to private royal events since the death of the Duke of Edinburgh in 2021 – Philip is said to have considered her vulgar, and it was he who originally banned her from family Christmas gatherings after she was caught on camera having her toe sucked by financial adviser John Bryan in 1992, shortly after her split from Andrew. The late Queen is said to have made up with her former daughter-in-law before her death in 2022, and Joseph says the late monarch enjoyed the Duchess’s company because “she made her laugh.” Charles, meanwhile, has always had a soft spot for Fergie – the pair have a shared love of skiing and he admired how easily she fitted into royal life when she first married Andrew, once saying to Diana, “Why can’t you be more like Sarah?”

Sarah Ferguson appeared on This Morning (This Morning / ITV)
Sarah Ferguson appeared on This Morning (This Morning / ITV)

Others put the Duchess’s reinstatement down to Queen Camilla’s influence, with insiders suggesting she was the one who helped bring her back into the fold. “I see Camilla’s fine hand in all of this,” says Christopher Andersen, author of The King: The Life of Charles III. “People forget that, unlike Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, Fergie is a bona fide aristocrat. Her family tree is chock-a-block with barons, earls and viscounts. In other words, like Camilla, who is the granddaughter of a baron, Fergie fits right in. She and Queen Camilla also share the same raucous sense of humour and outwardly appear very down to earth.” And of course, Camilla also knows what it feels like to be left out in the cold by the royals. “The current King and Queen believe in forgiveness,” says Joseph. “Camilla is not a woman to hold grudges and she, more than anyone, understands what it is like to face public criticism.”

There could, of course, be another reason why Fergie suddenly finds herself so welcome at royal family engagements. The Duchess was very much persona non grata at one point, having shouldered her fair share of scandals and even being involved with Epstein herself, when her financial difficulties led her to allow the Duke to arrange for Epstein to pay debts of £15,000 to her personal assistant in 2011 (she later admitted this was “a gigantic error of judgment”). Since then, however, she has remodelled herself as a doting mother, grandmother and ex-wife, and has been branded the ultimate comeback queen. Now there are some in the Firm who believe she could be key to relieving some of the toxicity around Andrew.

The Duchess of York arrives at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle for the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (PA Wire/PA Images)
The Duchess of York arrives at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle for the wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry (PA Wire/PA Images)

“Fergie really is Andrew's way back into the family, and of course the Duke and Duchess of York's public appearance at Sandringham during Christmas would seem to indicate that Charles is softening a bit towards Andrew,” says Andersen. “On the other hand, recent revelations about Jeffrey Epstein may have undone all that. It can only be incredibly galling for Charles to have this stuff dredged up again and again – such bad press for a monarchy already awash in scandal.”

There is one other rumour currently doing the rounds: that Fergie and Andrew might be set to remarry. There have always been suggestions that the pair never wanted to divorce in the first place – the Duchess’s late father, Major Ronald Ferguson, even said as much once, stating: “Those two [Andrew and Sarah] never wanted to get divorced. It wasn’t them. It was that family.” The Duke and Duchess were perhaps the first ever couple to try out a form of ‘conscious uncoupling’ and stayed close while they raised their daughters. If they were to tie the knot again, there’s a chance it might go some way to rehabilitating Andrew’s image, re-cementing him as a family man.

“Clearly in the recent attempts to redeem Andrew's reputation, Fergie plays a key part,” says Nigel Cawthorne, author of Prince Andrew: Epstein and the Palace. “She has stuck with him throughout the Virginia Giuffre scandal, his one unstinting supporter. And there is an immutable law with the royal family – any flicker of opprobrium can be extinguished by a royal wedding.”