The Duchess of Dough

By Kitty Kelley

I watched Sarah Ferguson on The Oprah Winfrey Show yesterday the same way I watch BP’s oil-spurting video from the Gulf of Mexico—hoping, praying, screaming for someone to cap the swill.

The Duchess of York and the Queen of daytime television are on a first name basis from having done previous interviews so for one hour it was “Sarah” and “Oprah” as the Duchess braided herself into knots with a yarn about why she accepted bribes and sold access to her former husband, Prince Andrew, Britain’s royal trade representative.

Lest she look like a Judas goat, Sarah said she grabbed the first bag of money ($38,000-$40,000) “for a friend of a friend,” who was in financial trouble.  Then, seeing how easy that take was, she upped her ante and demanded £500,000 (approximately $750,000 US) for full and complete access to her former husband.

Watching the video of herself fall for the sting by the News of the World tabloid, she mourned the image of the woman selling herself for a mess of pottage. “Oh, I feel so sorry for her…. Bless her … Oh, she’s completely drunk,” said Sarah.  She talked about herself in the third person as if to draw a distinction between the greedy, inebriated woman on camera and the humiliated person sitting in front of Oprah.

Tripping over her rationale, the Duchess got tangled in her skein about accepting a black bag of money for “a friend of a friend,” and Oprah, to her credit, said her explanation made no sense.

Oprah, whose net worth is $2.7 billion, could not fathom why the Duchess of York could not simply ask the Queen for the $40,000 Sarah claimed she needed “for a friend of a friend.” Obviously, Oprah’s producers had not told her that the doors of Buckingham Palace slammed shut on Sarah Ferguson in August 1992 when her topless photographs romping on the Cote d’Azur were splashed across the tabloids having her toes sucked by her lover John Bryan. Sarah said he was “just a friend.” Bryan protested he was not sucking her toes. “I was kissing the arch of her foot.”

Sarah was given the royal boot and a not so royal divorce from the Queen’s favorite son. Oprah asked if it was true that she only got $20,000 a year in alimony. Sarah should’ve answered, “No, it is not true.” Instead she shimmied. “I wanted friendship with the boss,” she said, leaving the impression that she had given up great sums of money to remain friends with Her Majesty the Queen.

In fact, Sarah had demanded a lump sum payment of $10 million, plus $5000 a month in child support and her title. She received $750,000 for herself, a $2.1 million trust fund for her two children and she was stripped of her title [HRH: Her Royal Highness] which meant she lost all of her royal perquisites: the royal curtsy, the royal guards, the royal train, the royal yacht, the royal trips, the royal invitations. She lost her royal box at Wimbledon, and her life-size wax figure was yanked from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum. Denied entry to the royal enclosure at Ascot, she looked pathetic as she stood on the side of the road, clutching the hands of her children and waving to the Queen as she passed in her royal carriage. The biggest loss was her standing in British society.

So she came to America and the plucky Duchess turned herself into a money-making machine. Over the next decade she made (and spent) in excess of $30 million. With John Bryan’s help, she hawked herself to the highest bidder: $25,000 for exclusive photo shoots, $50,000 to $200,000 for exclusive interviews. She signed a book contract for “Budgie—The Little Helicopter” for a minimum of $8 million, including a television series in addition to wind-up dolls, t-shirts, hats and lunch pails. She signed licensing contract with 13 U.S. firms to market souvenirs ranging from tableware to toilet seat covers. She also signed a $3 million contract to write her life story, which she promoted on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Then she signed a $10 million contract with Weight Watchers and traveled the word (all first-class expenses paid) as their spokesperson.

Sarah Ferguson made millions but she spent even more  until she found herself yesterday as Oprah said, “spiraling downwards” until she was, again in Oprah’s words, “spiritually and morally bankrupt.”

Like a priest hearing confession, Oprah prepared to absolve Sarah on yesterday’s show. “None of us are defined by our mistakes,” the revered talk show host said, “but once you get the lesson, you don’t repeat it again.” Sarah nodded but  Oprah knew she didn’t get it.

“So what is the lesson?” she asked her befuddled guest. Sarah Ferguson stammered a little, her eyes glistening with tears. “I guess chronic abuse of myself… dealing with it from a place of egotistical fear….”


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