1986, at Westminster Abbey, before 2,000 guests, streets full of adoring Britons, and an estimated worldwide television audience of 300 million. Last week, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, Andrew, the Duke of York, and his wife, Sarah, were again the subjects of intense worldwide scrutiny. But this time, public interest in relations between the Duke and Duchess of York was aroused by a set of photographs depicting a topless, bikini-bottomed duchess who was seen kissing, caressing and embracing a handsome, balding Texas millionaire named John Bryan, who previously depicted himself as a financial adviser to the royal couple. An Italian freelance photographer took the pictures while the 32-year-old duchess, popularly known as Fergie, vacationed with her daughters, Princess Beatrice,
4, and Princess Eugenie, 2, at a private villa in the south of France. The photographs were published in two London tabloid newspapers under blazing headlines that trumpeted “Fergie’s stolen kisses” and “Fergie’s final boob.”
Britons were electrified by the pictures—and many said that they were scandalized by the affront to British standards of public morality. Because the British monarch is also the head of the Church of England, the Royal Family traditionally has been expected to exemplify and uphold the moral teachings and values of the church. Some experts on the Royal Family predicted that the affair would lead to the divorce of the Duke and Duchess who, five months after announcing that they were legally separated, were rumored to be considering a reconciliation. The repercussions could spread beyond the beleaguered Yorks and their already-fractured marriage. The duchess’s behavior renewed the debate over the $23-million annual allowance that the Queen and her family receive from the British treasury. For many Britons, the inci-
dent was a devastating blow to an institution that they admire and respect. Said Harold Brooks-Baker, who publishes Burke’s Peerage, an authoritative guide to the British aristocracy: “This is not just a nail in the coffin. It’s a whole handful of nails.”
Problems: While royal-watchers speculated on the long-term ftnpact of the scandal, the immediate effect was abundantly clear. Members of the Royal Family had just gathered at Balmoral Castle in Scotland for their annual late-summer vacation. Groups of reporters and photographers from around the world hovered outside the grounds, hoping for glimpses or photos of family members, and shattering the
normal air of calm and tranquillity surrounding the royal holiday. At the time that the photographs were published, the Yorks were both at Balmoral, and were reportedly attempting to deal with their marital problems. According to one report, the duchess subsequently moved out of the castle, but remained on the grounds at a former gamekeeper’s lodge with her children after the pictures appeared.
The scandal was the latest, and probably the most serious, in a series of embarrassing marital reversals that have damaged the royal aura of invincibility that once surrounded the Queen and her family. The Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret, divorced her husband, Lord Snowdon, in 1978, and in 1989 the Queen’s daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal, formally separated from her husband, Mark Phillips. They were finally divorced last April, one month after the Duke and Duchess of York announced their separation. The royal woes became even more acute and painful with the publication u, of three books last spring, each g depicting the marriage of g Prince Charles, the heir to the 2 throne, and Diana, Princess of I Wales, as bleak and loveless. But none of the previous disclosures had quite the impact of the so-called Fergie photos, one of which the mass-circulation London tabloid newspaper The Sun described as “the most sensational picture of a royal ever taken.” Last Thursday, over nine pages, the Daily Mirror published 18 color photos and five black-and-white pictures of the duchess and the 37-year-old Bryan, a business executive based in Frankfurt, Germany. Most of the photographs showed the couple engaging in a variety of compromising poolside activities. One photo captured the couple lying together and embracing on a lounge chair. Another showed Bryan nibbling playfully on the duchess’s foot. In another, the duchess, apparently topless, is reclining on one elbow and leaning over Bryan. One photograph showed
Bryan kissing the duchess while her younger daughter, Eugenie, looked on. As well, the Sun published photographs from a Spanish magazine showing a scantily dressed duchess.
When he learned of the explosive nature of the photographs, Bryan tried to obtain a court injunction blocking publication on the grounds that the photographer had invaded his privacy. But a judge of Britain’s high court rejected Bryan’s application, saying that his lawyer had not made a persuasive case. The photographs were taken from public pathways close to the villa where the Duchess was staying with Bryan and several friends. Newspapers carrying the pictures were snapped up eagerly. The Daily Mirror sold its entire press run of 3.6 million papers by 9 a.m. last Thursday, and printed an additional 400,000 copies. One Fleet Street newsstand operator said that many curious customers were offering to pay the equivalent of $2 per copy, four times the standard price, for a copy of the Mirror. The paper published another 18 color photos in its Friday editions, including a picture of the duchess sitting on Bryan’s shoulders while frolicking in the swimming pool.
Hostility: The appearance of the photographs unleashed an outpouring of anger, hostility and critical comments, almost all directed at the duchess. The London Evening Standard declared: “There is about her a slack-jawed crassness and arrogance which has earned her today’s exposure.” Andrew Hunter, a Conservative member of Parliament who attended the Yorks’ wedding, described her actions as “deplorable,” and another Conservative MP, Dame Jill Knight, said of Fergie: “I think it’s a very great pity she ever decided to become a member of the Royal Family.”
Ordinary Britons flooded radio and television talk shows with telephone calls, and vented their feelings in neighborhood taverns. At a pub called The Queen’s Arms in London’s Battersea district, Lisa Jenkins, a 24-year-old sales clerk, was indignant. “God almighty, how
dare she carry on with her fancy man like that in front of the kiddies?” she said. “Heaven help them if they grow up just like her.” Her friend, Jim Peters, a 27-year-old mechanic, agreed. “If you ask me, it would serve her right if those kids were taken away from her,” he said.
The British press aimed some of its fury at Bryan, who had for several months repeatedly denied any involvement with the duchess, even while accompanying her on vacations to Thailand and Argentina. Indeed, some London journalists reported that Bryan had given off-the-
record interviews in which he said that the Yorks were considering a reconciliation. And he had consistently claimed that he was only acting as the couple’s financial adviser. As he left his London apartment on the day the scandal broke, Bryan had to fight through a mob of reporters to reach his car, which had
been ticketed and had one of its wheels clamped by the police for being parked illegally overnight. When reporters asked him if he had seen the photographs, and whether he was in love with the duchess, Bryan remained silent.
For the duchess, publication of the sensational photographs was merely the latest controversy in what has been a tumultuous transition from commoner to royal. After the Yorks’ engagement and marriage in 1986, the British public and the press initially embraced the attractive, red-headed duchess as a fresh and wholesome addition to the Royal Family. But the public infatuation with the duchess quickly faded. At various times, the news media criticized her for being overweight, for taking too many vacations, for leaving a newborn baby behind when she went abroad and for not working hard enough on royal causes. By last month, a Harris Research Centre poll in Britain revealed that 46 per cent of those questioned believed that the duchess had done more damage to the reputation of the Royal Family than any other member.
Fortune: The uproar over the photographs occurred at a time when the British public has become increasingly critical of the annual allowances to the Royal Family, and the tax-free status of its members. Earlier this year, many members of the public reacted angrily to news that the Queen has an estimated personal fortune of $12.7 billion, but still does not pay income tax. The Yorks share an annual stipend of $585,000 in funds from the so-called Civil List, which supports the royals. Experts on royal affairs said that publication of the photographs could well increase public resentment towards the Yorks, and the money spent to support them. (In one photograph, a police bodyguard could be seen reading a paperback book while the duchess frolicked with Bryan.)
Even as the shock from the photos continued to reverberate, the British papers had begun to argue that some reforms were necessary if the monarchy is to survive. Simon Jenkins, editor of the influential newspaper The Times, said that steps must be taken “to separate the monarchy as an institution from the Royal Family.” He added: “I think there will be a lot of talk about them paying taxes, and of some of the members of the Royal Family dropping off the Civil List.” For .his part, BrooksBaker added a more sombre warning, predicting that “If the monarchy fails to reform itself, it will last no longer than the Queen’s life.” In a year of shocks to the beleaguered Royal Family, that dim forecast seemed distinctly possible amid the uproar over the sensational “Fergie Photos.”
British newspaper coverage: further damage to a fading aura of invincibility
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