RAE CORELLI July 24 1989



RAE CORELLI July 24 1989

On the surface, it was much like 150 other royal visits to Canada since the Second World War. There were the smiles and curtsies, set-piece welcoming speeches and nervous little girls presenting flowers. But when Andrew, Duke of York, and his controversial duchess, Sarah, descended the ramp from a Canadian Armed Forces Boeing 707 in Prince Edward Island last week, Britain’s royalty-watchers had already billed the 13-day tour as part of an attempt to polish the couple’s tarnished image. Although the Yorks have received relentless criticism from London’s often-savage press for nonregal behavior and for taking too many vacations, the harshest attacks have been directed at the duchess—dubbed the “Duchess of Do-Little” by British reporters—for not performing her share of official engagements. But at the welcoming ceremony in 25°C sunshine in Charlottetown’s Queen’s Square, a slimmer duchess, in an emerald green dress by Yves St. Laurent, and an affable duke, wearing a double-breasted, charcoal pinstripe suit, were models of public-spirited royal decorum. Said first-aid attendant Patricia Rogers: “They’re fun; they’re the new generation.”

Duties: The preceding generation still runs Buckingham Palace, and the duke’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, privately expressed annoyance last year at the lack of devotion to traditional royal duties by Andrew, 29, and his ebullient, red-haired wife, the former Sarah Ferguson, also 29. British newspapers criticized the couple for leaving their 11-month-old daughter, Princess Beatrice, behind when they take long trips. They have also pointed to Sarah’s infrequent public engagements and criticized her appearance and dress. In partial response, on the current Canadian visit, the Yorks are scheduled to take part in 52 separate events—including the symbolic adoption of a St. Lawrence River beluga whale—before they fly home from Edmonton on July 25.

In the meantime, they will be dogged every step of the way by a British press corps whose reports could strongly influence British public opinion. Said Andrew Morton, a reporter for the mass-circulation London newspaper the Evening Standard: “The honeymoon between Fergie and the press is over, but this tour is a hectic one, and she is trying to kiss and make up.” The duchess, added Ashley Walton of the Daily Express, “is desperate to regain her image.” As for Andrew, said Walton, “he’s never had a very good image.”

Impressed: But most of those in the Charlottetown crowds appeared to be impressed, and several people to whom the duchess spoke said that she told them how much she missed her daughter. George Proud, the freshman Liberal member of Parliament who defeated former federal environment minister Thomas McMillan in the Prince Edward Island’s Hillsborough riding in the Nov. 21 federal election, stood on a park bench for a better view of the royals. Said Proud: “We’re the commoners, and they’re royalty, and I think people in a strange way must secretly like that.” Mayor John Ready of Charlottetown described it as “a great day.” His wife, Anne, said that the duchess “makes you feel relaxed.” But one woman who would not give her name said, “I was talking to a friend this morning who said, ‘I don’t know why we should have to curtsy to a person who a few years ago was living with a race-car driver,’ ”—a reference to Patrick McNally, a millionaire and former auto-racer with whom Sarah once lived.

The duke and duchess should have ample opportunity to mould public impressions within the hectic schedule drafted by federal and provincial tour planners (page 40). After three days on Prince Edward Island, they were to spend most of this week in Quebec and Ottawa before flying to Saskatchewan on July 20 for five days. In London, close observers of the Royal Family said that prolonged press hostility had led to a concerted effort by Buckingham Palace officials to refurbish the reputations of the Yorks. In January, the mass-circulation London weekly newspaper News of the World reported that in a poll of 501 adults, the handsome and sometimes mischievous Andrew was picked after Sarah as the Crown’s second-greatest liability: 23 per cent said that he was guilty of unregal behavior and did not deserve the annual $300,000 from the tax-supported allowances paid to members of the Royal Family.

Criticism: The reputation of the once-wildly popular duchess has plummeted even further in public opinion polls. Last year, the vivacious redhead—who briefly became the darling of the British public after her 1986 marriage to Andrew—received intense criticism when she left the infant Beatrice at home for six weeks while she and Andrew visited Australia. As well, she has been criticized for carrying out too few official functions, and—more cruelly—for her failure to dress well or look glamorous. Writing in the glossy British magazine Blitz, style writer Paul Mathur in late 1987 criticized Sarah for being “badly dressed, fat and vacant,” and even called her “the ugliest woman alive.”

The slump in the Yorks’ popularity contrasted sharply with the unflagging public admiration for Andrew’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who visited Ontario the week before they arrived (page 44). And it also was at odds with the recent dramatic increase in popularity of other members of the Royal Family, including Sarah’s close friend Diana, the Princess of Wales (page 42). In January, a poll by the respected Market and Opinion Research International Ltd. showed a rise in the popularity of Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret, from last to eighth among 11 Royal Family members, and the Queen’s cousin Princess Michael of Kent, once among the most criticized royals, from 10th to sixth. In the News of the World survey, two out of three respondents picked Anne, the Princess Royal, as the hardest-working, and Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir-apparent to the throne, as the most popular. Now, according to insiders, a determined effort is under way to restore the Yorks to popular favor. At the beginning of this year, Sarah instructed her staff to find her more royal engagements to fulfil.

The critical attacks on Andrew, who is fourth in line to the throne, came after years of popularity for the handsome young prince. Andrew’s upbringing followed the traditions of the Royal Family—and included the development of special ties with Canada. Andrew’s current visit to Canada is his sixth. In 1976, as a boy of 16, he accompanied Queen Elizabeth II to the Montreal Summer Olympics. During the games, he met Sandi Jones, the daughter of a retired army colonel living in Kingston, Ont. When Andrew returned to Canada the following year to study for two terms at Lakefield College, a private boys’ school near Peterborough, Ont., he continued to see Jones. In 1978, Andrew attended the Commonwealth Games in Edmonton and, in mid-1983, spent two weeks on a canoe trip in the Northwest Territories with ex-classmates and teachers from Lakefield.

Impulsive: Andrew’s impulsiveness landed him in trouble the following year when he travelled to Los Angeles for a series of official engagements. During a tour of a housing project in the predominantly black Watts district, the prince was handed a paint-sprayer, which he promptly turned on a group of reporters. Buckingham Palace had to pay one photographer $1,200 for damages to his camera. A Los Angeles TV news commentator called it the “most unpleasant British visit since they burned the White House in the War of 1812.” In October, 1982, at the end of his combat service as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands War with Argentina, the Queen’s second son became embroiled in an affair with a 25-year-old soft-porn film actress, Kathleen (Koo) Stark—and British tabloids began calling him “Randy Andy.”

Then, in 1985, Andrew began courting Sarah Ferguson, the daughter of Prince Charles’ polo manager, Maj. Ronald Ferguson, when she was working for a London firm of art publishers. In February, 1986, Andrew asked her to marry him. Five months later, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Robert Runcie, married them in London’s Westminster Abbey. Shortly before the ceremony, the Queen named Andrew the 14th Duke of York, bestowing on him a title created in 1385 by King Richard II and most recently held by Andrew’s grandfather, who later ruled as George VI.

In July, 1987, the recently married couple were at the height of their popularity as they prepared to visit Canada. At one point, Canadian tour planners in Ottawa asked Buckingham Palace about the couple’s likes and dislikes. Replied a palace aide: “No food preferences, no allergies. They will do anything within reason.” That summer, the couple’s 25-day westward swing took them from Ontario to Manitoba, Alberta and to the Northwest Territories.

It was not long before the British press began to criticize the fun-loving Yorks. In August, after returning from Canada, Fergie went deer-hunting in Scotland and cut her forehead on the telescopic sight of her rifle. Sunday Mirror columnist Muriel Gray wrote that she was sorry that the duchess had hurt herself “while pursuing the innocent girlish pleasure of murdering a large mammal for sport.”

The criticism abated last year when Andrew and Sarah flew to Los Angeles for nine days to lend their prestige to fund-raising campaigns—one for $200,000 to help replace books lost in a fire at the central Los Angeles public library and a second for the same amount to bankroll a three-month festival of British arts and commerce. The in-flight movie, Baby Boom, was appropriate: the duchess was about four months pregnant. Andrew’s spray-painting gaffe of four years before was put aside, and the pair—especially the duchess—became hugely popular with crowds.

In fact, she was the star of the royal road show. At one juncture, Sarah appeared with tiny American and British flags in her hair and told photographers: “Check out the hair, boys.” The same air of irreverence was evident during an interview at a Los Angeles art school. Fergie confided to reporters and students that the toilets at Windsor Castle near London were flushed by yanking the handle up. Sarah chatted with actors Jack Nicholson and John Travolta, and Chinatown merchants were so enchanted that they put up a banner reading: “Welcome Fergie and What’s His Name.” When a bystander shouted, “We love you, Fergie,” she yelled, “I’ll see you later.”

Star: But as the duchess’s star rose in California, it paled with members of the British news media, who said that her behavior was insufficiently regal. Declared the tabloid Star: “She is a royal, so she should act like one, and that doesn’t mean gigglingly revealing the secrets of the royal water closets.” The Sunday Times faulted her for “grabbing every opportunity to chirp inane and coquettish remarks.” It described Andrew as “an over-animated young man with a carnivorous grin.”

A more serious controversy erupted last summer after the birth in August of the couple’s first child, Princess Beatrice (fifth in line to the throne after her father). Seven weeks later, the duke and duchess flew off on a six-week trip to Australia. The baby, then—as on the current trip—remained in the care of her nanny, Alison Wardley, at Castlewood House near Windsor (the house is on loan to the Yorks by Jordan’s King Hussein until their own 16-room, $1.9-million residence in Berkshire is completed). An aide told London’s Sun on May 19: “The duchess is aware that she is likely to face criticism again for leaving the baby, but she is quite happy that her decision is right.” In an interview in Sydney, Andrew had insisted that “Beatrice is much better off at home, where things are stable. It would have been possible to bring her here, but it would have made life so complicated and disjointed, it would never have worked.”

But by then, Andrew and Sarah had clearly become the victims of one of the periodic campaigns of so-called royalty-bashing that is characteristic of the cyclical, love-hate relationship between the British tabloid press and the Royal Family. The campaign against the Yorks steadily gained force, with newspapers, magazines, broadcasters and standup comics heaping scorn on Andrew and his battered bride. Last year, Hollywood designer Richard Blackwell joined in by putting Sarah at the top of his 1988 list of the world’s 10 worst-dressed women. Blackwell said that the duchess walked “like a duck with a bad foot.”

Analysis: The Duchess of York’s avoidance of official duties appears to have played a part in her growing unpopularity. In January, The Times published an analysis of the working records of members of the Royal Family, which calculated that in 1988, Sarah undertook only 153 official engagements, compared with 248 for Diana and 665 for Anne. Still, some observers have said that there are other factors involved in the Yorks’ current unpopularity. Bob Houston, the editor of the glossy magazine Royalty Monthly, said that the press held off criticizing the Duchess of York until the birth of her daughter last year. Said Houston: “The public’s honeymoon image of her is well over. The tabloids had a kind of truce as long as she was pregnant, but after that, they went for her.”

Nigel Evans, deputy editor of Britain’s Majesty magazine, said that the British press treats the royal saga as an ongoing soap opera in which there must always be a “bad” character. That role, said Evans, was filled successively by Princess Margaret, because of her 1978 divorce from Lord Snowdon, then by Anne, because of her alleged rudeness and lack of royal graces, and then by Princess Michael of Kent, who was considered to be arrogant and was disliked by some Britons because of her father’s past association with the Nazi SS. Said Evans: “Fergie has become the bad girl because the British press has to have one.”

The criticism levelled against the duchess has tended to obscure some of her accomplishments. She is the only female member of the Royal Family to hold a private pilot’s licence as well as a special helicopter licence, which she achieved after logging 41 hours of flying time—half the number Andrew had to fly before he qualified as a Royal Navy helicopter pilot. Now, in an effort to be taken more seriously, Sarah has actively sought out additional jobs. This year, she became official patron of Britain’s Museums Year, promising to visit the local museum in every town on her royal itineraries. As well, she is president of an organization called Action Research for the Crippled Child and is a patron of a dozen other organizations, including London’s Tate Gallery Foundation and a group dedicated to the treatment of drug addicts.

Still, despite Sarah’s efforts to win favor with the British public, one close observer of the royal scene said that there was a risk of the duchess becoming so hardened by endless criticism that she may no longer care what the public thinks. That prediction appeared to be supported by the duchess herself in a recent television interview. Declared Sarah: “My clothes and what I look like, really that is entirely up to me because, quite frankly, Andrew likes it, and I like it and if no one else does, well, that’s their problem.”

Role: But by week’s end in Charlottetown, the duchess had entered engagingly into the role of the traditional royal visitor. After a city hall reception, she moved among the crowds and climbed over a rope barrier in front of a group of senior citizens. “What are these ropes for?” asked the duchess. “I can’t believe you’re penned in.” When she encountered a 10-year-old boy, Draper Bulger, crying from the heat, she said consolingly, “You should have a hat.” The duchess apparently was even in a mood to forgive the Canadian mosquitoes and black flies that had descended on the couple in the Northwest Territories during their 1987 visit. According to one insider of the tour, the duchess said that she was grateful to the bugs for keeping away reporters covering the visit. Despite the Yorks’ apparent determination to put their best foot forward during the Canadian visit, their serious breach with the press was obviously far from healed.