COVER

‘FABULOUS FERGIE’

JOHN BARBER July 27 1987
COVER

‘FABULOUS FERGIE’

JOHN BARBER July 27 1987

‘FABULOUS FERGIE’

COVER

The Duke and Duchess of York initially displayed a no-nonsense demeanor when they made their first official appearance together before the Canadian public at Toronto’s Queen’s Park on July 15. As the 21 guns of the artillery troop of the 7th Toronto Regiment slowly boomed out their salute, the brisk and businesslike royal couple marched quickly through the park, scarcely glancing at the crowd of more than 5,000 well-wishers who had come to see them. But that seriousness dissolved as soon as Prince Andrew and his bride of almost a year, the former Sarah Ferguson, mounted the outdoor stage set before the Ontario legislature. There they beamed and gestured toward their admirers and laughed at the jokes proffered by federal Finance Minister Michael Wilson and Ontario Premier David Peterson. Then the ebullient duchess plunged into the crowd and chatted at length with almost everyone

who called out to her with the familiarity her manner seems to encourage as Fergie. It was a remarkably unrestrained debut, and it transformed the tour into an unabashed love-in for the woman who is known to her admirers as Fabulous Fergie.

Decorum: During the first days of their 25-day Canadian visit, neither Andrew nor Sarah showed any evidence of being borne down by the burden of scrutiny, heavy even by royal-visit standards. This was her first lengthy official trip abroad, and for both Andrew and Sarah, the tour of three Canadian provinces and one territory is their first opportunity to rise above a recent spate of media gossip. It has portrayed the younger members of the so-called Royal Firm as partaking in a summer filled with folly. The name of the duchess figures prominently in many of the rumors and escapades that have dogged the Queen’s family—from the tales of her sipping

too much champagne to a recent bottom-poking, wolf-whistling day at the Royal Ascot horse races. As a result, 700 journalists, including a hard core of 45 “royal correspondents” from London’s Fleet Street, are covering the tour —on alert for the slightest slip in royal decorum.

Gossip: Some British columnists speculated that the tour will give the irrepressible, flamehaired Fergie the spotlight that previously focused largely on her more demure sister-inlaw, Diana, Princess of Wales (page 32). Although the two remain fast friends, gossip columnists claim that an intense rivalry is growing between them. Said Andrew Morton, royal correspondent for The Star, a London tabloid: “For the past six years Diana has had the stage all to herself. Now she’s found that a woman who used to be a cheerleader is vying for top billing.” Added Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of Burke's Peerage, the leading authority on the British aristocracy: “Historians will point to Canada as the turning point in their careers.”

Certainly, their first foreign tour together is affording both Andrew and Sarah ample opportunity to show themselves off. In his opening remarks at Queen’s Park, Andrew spoke reprovingly of a packed schedule “set out by some rather overenthusiastic staff officers.” The Yorks have 10 days of official functions during a visit that will take them from southern Ontario across the Prairies, then north to Yellowknife, N.W.T. On their first Sunday their itinerary included a church service, a public reception and a walkabout in Cobourg, Ont., and then presiding over the 128th running of the Queen’s Plate Stakes in Toronto. The schedule on their first wedding anniversary four days later had them opening the rough-and-tumble rodeo in Medicine Hat, Alta. And the prince acknowledged that he was simply a supporting player to the main star of the royal road show. Said Andrew: “As everybody’s come to see Sarah, I’m sitting on the wrong side of the car all the time.”

After completing their official duties, the royal couple will take a twoweek private canoeing holiday down a river—unidentified in the public itinerary—in the Northwest Territories. Andrew has made similar trips in the past with friends from his days as a student at Lakefield College School near Peterborough, Ont. But the experience will be a first for Sarah, who has already proven her mettle by becoming the first female member of the Royal Family to learn to fly.

Paddle: The duchess acquired her first taste of canoeing during the second day of the tour, in Thunder Bay, Ont.

There, she and Andrew helped a crew in voyageur costumes—along with Sarah’s lady-in-waiting, Helen Hughes, and Ontario’s Peterson, who is expected to call a September provincial election—paddle a 36-foot-long canoe 150 yards along the Kaministikwia River to Old Fort William. Then they disembarked at a reconstructed version of the fort that was once Canada’s greatest fur trading centre. Despite their easy manner, the couple surprised many present with their sedate attire. For one thing, the duchess, wearing a floral print dress, han-

died her paddle while wearing white gloves. And telephoned reports from Toronto that Prince Andrew had set out wearing a tie reached tieless civic officials shortly before his arrival in Thunder Bay. That news spurred city clerk Harry Kirk to race to Andrew Coffey’s Men’s Wear and borrow a box of silk ties. Then he distributed them to male dignitaries in the receiving line only moments before the royals arrival.

There was another surprise Saturday when the royal couple arrived to take a boat ride on the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, Ont.: the duchess did not have her hat. The reason was that en

route to the falls from Mississauga, a minor electrical problem developed in the couple’s helicopter. Taking every precaution, officials decided to call in a second helicopter to complete the trip. During the transfer the duchess’s hat blew off and was swept away by winds from the blades of the aircraft.

Charm: During the first few days of their tour, the Yorks displayed a charm and spontaneity that quickly won over the crowds that had gathered to meet them. But the same high spirits that endeared the couple to Canadians have

provoked public criticism at home. Indeed, Sarah is widely regarded as the catalyst that precipitated this summer’s royal soap opera, otherwise known as Dallas at the Palace. That indulgence in frivolity among young royals has drawn censure all the way from the lowest levels of Fleet Street up to the ramparts of the palace itself.

Pranks: The British public had the opportunity to judge for itself last month when the Duke and Duchess of York, along with Prince Edward and Princess Anne, took part in a televised charity event called The Grand Knockout Tournament. The royals, dressed in me-

dieval costumes, shouted from the sidelines as British celebrities played pranks. As a result of such undignified antics, the Queen recently “read the riot act” to the young royals, according to Brooks-Baker. The evidently horrified unofficial recorder of aristocratic bloodlines declared: “It is extremely dangerous for members of the Royal Family to conduct themselves in this way. These actions could lead to a republic.”

One thing is clear: the friendship of Sarah has brought out the sense of fun in the Princess of Wales. That first became apparent a few days before Sarah’s wedding when she and Diana, disguised as policewomen, visited the London nightclub Annabel’s—apparently in search of Andrew’s stag party. And it showed itself most plainly last month at Royal Ascot, a premier social event, when Diana and Sarah wielded their umbrellas to the discomfort of male friends and compensated them with kisses. The two succumbed to fits of giggles and whistled at the stiffly proper Princess Michael of Kent. Later, Diana turned to her companion and joked,

“Let’s get drunk.”

Daring: At the same time, royal-watchers speculated darkly that Sarah, by introducing Diana to her handsome banker friend Philip Dunne, had brought out something less innocent in the princess.

Dunne has denied that anything improper took place during a weekend house party he hosted for Diana and other friends while Charles was out of the country last February. But the supposed scandal underlined the fact that, although the princess steps out ever more daringly into the high society she never knew before, the Prince of Wales follows an increasingly private path in life (page 30). And it is clear that Sarah, at 27 a seasoned traveller in such circles, is acting as Diana’s guide. But although it is exclusive, that society is hardly sophisticated. Declared Britain’s The Sunday Times. “It is the single biggest weakness of today’s Royal Family that it is still too closely associated with the very upper classes, often of the more stupid sort, and some recent behavior has served only to remind everybody of this.”

For his part, Brooks-Baker said that

the young royals should learn from history that frivolous monarchs fare poorly. But the occasional frolics of the current royal brat pack pale before the incidents of murder, adultery, gambling and drunkenness committed by some of their blue-blooded ancestors. In the 17th

century Charles II, father to at least 14 bastard children, espoused a libertine lifestyle when he declared: “God will never damn a man for allowing himself a little pleasure.”

It was Queen Victoria who inaugurated the image of bourgeois respectability that the monarchy now enjoys—despite

the backsliding of successive royal Edwards. Indeed, her eldest son, who succeeded her as Edward VII, was a notorious rake, “as prepared to sleep with a fashionable harlot as with a duchess,” according to biographer John Pearson. At the end of one meal taken in a favored Paris fleshpot, waiters presented him with a naked woman under a vast silver cover.

Measured against those aristocratic excesses, the peccadillos of this generation of young royals seem absurdly petty—as do many of the breathlessly disapproving accounts of the alleged breaches in royal etiquette. The reason is the intense royal coverage provided by Britain’s thriving tabloids, which alternate pictures of bare-breasted women with an inexhaustible supply of stories about such semifictitious characters as Randy Andy (Prince Andrew); his younger brother, Prince Wimpo (Edward, socalled because of his decision earlier this year to quit the Royal Marines); Princess Pushy (Princess Michael of Kent); and even Melons (the ample-breasted Lady Helen Windsor, the Queen’s cousin).

CriticahDespite their rude, irreverent approach, the British tabloids never hesitate to point out royal impropriety. “We are not amused” boomed a Daily Mirror headline, after Sarah and Diana’s so-called “brolly-folly” at the Ascot races. Declared Clive Goodman, a News of the World writer now covering the royal tour in Canada: “We write as much to advise them as to criticize them.”

Still, British newspapers were quick to carry indignant stories about the supposed impertinence of Canadian counterparts who dared to criticize the royal couple—sometimes by adapting Fleet Street’s own phrases. Referring to Toronto Sun columnist Ted Welch, who recently referred to the duchess as “a giggling disco queen,” Thomas Corby of the British Press Association news service said: “It’s so rude and critical. We have never gone that far in the U.K.” And last week the London Evening Standard reported on “the astonishing attack on the Duchess of York by Canadian newspapers.” But the sharpest jab came from the Standard's own headline on a story about the hostile press reception that Sarah had supposedly received in Canada. It read:

“Fat giggler flies into storm.”

Zeal: For his part, The Star's Morton, author of a book entitled Inside Kensington Palace, to be published in November, stressed that the most recent stories have been created by the young royals themselves, not the media. But the fact remains that such journalism is renowned more for innuendo than its accuracy. Nor is the phenomenon new, either inside or outside Britain. The Paris newspaper France Dimanche reported as long ago as 1972 that, in the

previous 14 years, the French press had published 63 stories about the Queen’s imminent abdication and 73 about her equally likely divorce. And in a catalogue totalling 360 royal rumor stories, it found only two that were correct.

For many Canadians who waited to

catch a glimpse of the duchess and her husband, the alleged competition between Diana and Sarah is irrelevant. William Downey, a Toronto teacher who arrived at Queen’s Park early to get his first glimpse of Sarah, said, “The press has created that rivalry, there is no

need for it.” Downey, 40, added that he has more than 70 portraits of British royalty displayed in his home. Although few Canadians could equal such zeal, their response to the current tour has indicated that monarchist sentiments are still strong. Indeed, besides Sarah and Andrew, Canada has already welcomed the Queen Mother, Prince Philip, Prince Edward and Capt. Mark Phillips, the husband of Princess Anne, on separate visits this year alone—and the Queen is scheduled to make a 16-day visit during the Commonwealth conference in Vancouver in October.

Conquest: Clearly, many who have watched Sarah bounce into a crowd of excited royalwatchers would agree with the Daily Express's contention last week that “the extrovert Duchess of York is paddling her way into the hearts of the Canadian people.” With the sturdy Prince Andrew by her side, she has made a conquest that no amount of giggling or “brolly-folly” will undo.

-JOHN BARBER with THOMAS SUDDON in Toronto and PAULETTE ROBERGE in London

THOMAS SUDDON

PAULETTE ROBERGE