Tragic Details About Sarah Ferguson

The following article includes mentions of disordered eating and allegations of child abuse and sexual abuse. 

It's no secret that the royal family has had their fair share of drama over the years, as anyone who reads British tabloids or has watched the Netflix series "The Crown" can attest. While these days, it appears that it's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle who make the most headlines, years ago, it was another redhead causing controversy: Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson, the Duchess of York. Ferguson had become a royal by marriage in 1986 when she married Queen Elizabeth II's son, Prince Andrew, and the two welcomed their daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, shortly thereafter. 

Although marrying a prince is one of the very things that fairytales are made of, Ferguson (and now Markle) can tell you that isn't actually the case. Ferguson was often not only bullied by the press, but was also shamed by the other royals after she made some very public mistakes. "You don't think about it because you're so in love, but for the rest of your life you will always be scrutinized. You will live your life under a microscope," Ferguson once explained to Parade. Unfortunately, she and Prince Andrew eventually got divorced, which made the duchess' life under that microscope even harder. 

Yet, as Ferguson told People in 2021, "I have to be aware that trying to be perfect is no longer necessary and that actually being Sarah is just enough." While Ferguson has seemingly found peace these days, she had to overcome a lot of obstacles and heartache to get there. So, let's break down those tragic details about Sarah Ferguson.

Sarah Ferguson had a troubled upbringing

You could say that Sarah Ferguson's heartache began at a young age, since she had a troubled upbringing seemingly caused by her mother. Ferguson talked about their difficult relationship on her 2011 reality TV show "Finding Sarah," recalling (via the Daily Mail), "She used to hit me because I didn't sit on my potty or wouldn't eat, a little vein would come up on the center of my head near my red hair." Her mother apparently even taunted those attributes, telling her, "'You've got the sign of the devil. I'm going to beat that devil out!'"

Yet, Ferguson was still completely devastated when her mother moved to Argentina with her new husband after her parents got divorced. She explained to The Guardian, "My whole soul and she went. I believed it was my fault — of course I did. She hardly contacted me at all." Ferguson then turned to eating for comfort, which began her lifelong struggle with food. "I became a compulsive eater from the age of 12 and squashed the feelings," she revealed on Britain's "Shrink Rap" in 2007 (via the Evening Standard). Even before her mother's departure, Ferguson was made to feel bad about how she looked. "I was brought up to believe that I was this monster and that I was given to her by the postman," she said. 

Both of Ferguson's parents have since died, her mother suddenly in a 1998 car crash. Hello! reports that Ferguson expressed how she'd forgiven her mother in a letter written to her decades after her untimely death.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

She was called the 'Duchess of Pork'

Sarah Ferguson not only struggled with disordered eating throughout her life but was even frequently criticized for her weight. As mentioned above, the Duchess of York began emotionally eating as a child, with her recalling in a 2020 op-ed for The Sun, "I started comfort eating at boarding school and I'd pile on the pounds." She continued to use food to cope into adulthood, too, adding, "When my husband was away at sea, the more upset I became at his absence the more I would eat and grow."

What made matters worse, though, was that the media often bullied Ferguson because of it, even giving her cruel nicknames. "It took courage to go out in public in all the years I have been overweight. Every time there was a 'Duchess of Pork' or 'Fat Frumpy Fergie' headline, they didn't have any idea they were reaching to the depths of my soul," she previously told Hello!. That also made Ferguson feel like she was stuck in a hopeless cycle, saying, "I believed I was never going to lose the weight, that I had lost control."

However, Ferguson eventually did lose the weight, after not only becoming an ambassador for Weight Watchers, but also by sticking to a consistent diet and exercise routine. Yet, despite her weight loss, she still struggled with her self-image. She explained to The New York Times in 2003 (via, "I've still got fat lady syndrome. ... Once you have a weight problem, you believe you'll always have a problem."

If you need help with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).

Sarah Ferguson didn't want to divorce Prince Andrew

It seems that Sarah Ferguson never got over having to divorce her former husband, Prince Andrew, despite their ups and downs. The two had tied the knot in 1986, and while she was in love with him, their marriage didn't turn out as she expected. That's because Ferguson rarely saw her husband, telling Harper's Bazaar in 2007 that he was away most of the time for his Naval career. "I loved him — and still do — my only condition being, 'I have to be with you,'" she explained. His absence was especially challenging during Ferguson's first pregnancy, as well as after she gave birth, with her recalling of The Firm, "When he left and I cried, they all said: 'Grow up and get a grip.'"

It seems their time apart and the infidelity rumors, particularly on Ferguson's end, resulted in them separating in 1992. However, they didn't officially divorce until 1996, with Ferguson admitting, "I didn't want a divorce but had to because of circumstances." She added, "[It was] the most painful time of my life." The mother-of-two had apparently felt she had no choice, because she wanted to work, and it was against royal protocol for her to do so.

Ferguson appears to still struggle with that, even telling the Daily Mail in 2018, "We're divorced to each other, not from each other." It's clear she may still love him, as well, considering how she added, "July 23, 1986 [their wedding date] was the happiest day of my life. Andrew is the best man I know."

This duchess misses her friend Princess Diana

Like the rest of the world, Sarah Ferguson suffered a great loss when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, but for the Duchess of York, Diana's death was much more personal. That's because the two women had always been close, even before they became royals. "We were best friends from when she was 14 and I was 15. ... We used to have the most incredible time together," Ferguson recalled to People. They also famously stuck by each other through their respective divorces, which shook up the rest of the royal family. "I miss her humor and her wit, and the fact that she was an ex-wife, too," Ferguson told Parade

Unfortunately, Ferguson and Diana ended up having a falling out shortly before Diana's death, which Ferguson seemingly regrets to this day. She explained to Harper's Bazaar, "Because we were like siblings ... we rowed. And the saddest thing, at the end, we hadn't spoken for a year, though I never knew the reason."

Ferguson said she tried to reach out to Diana, which probably would have ended it if things turned out differently. "I knew she'd come back. In fact, the day before she died she rang a friend of mine and said, 'Where's that Red? I want to talk to her,'" Ferguson revealed. Despite how things were left, Ferguson insisted it didn't take away from their special bond, telling People, "We promised each other we would always be together — there was never any daylight between us."

Sarah Ferguson was criticized by the press and royal family

It's evident that Sarah Ferguson was heavily criticized by the British press, yet it was one incident in particular that was especially humiliating and seemingly cost her the support of most of the royal family. In 1992, when Ferguson was on holiday in St. Tropez, photos of her were taken as she laid topless by a pool while Texas millionaire John Bryan sucked her toes. The pictures were plastered all over the news, and although Ferguson was separated from Prince Andrew at the time, rumors of her having an affair followed. According to Radar, a friend of the duchess dished, "She was beside herself. She said, '... I feel totally humiliated.'"

If that wasn't bad enough, Ferguson was basically disowned by some of the other royals, including Prince Andrew's father, Prince Philip, who reportedly refused to speak to her after that. A friend of the royal family told the Daily Mail that he had said, "I am not vindictive, but I don't see the point." Andrew's aunt, Princess Margaret, was much more brutal, having reportedly sent Ferguson a nasty letter in response to flowers she sent her. Per The Telegraph, Margaret allegedly wrote, "You have done more to bring shame on the family than could ever have been imagined."

Ferguson didn't address the scandal until years later. She told Piers Morgan, "I remember seeing it and just going, 'Oh no, Sarah.' And that's when Caroline, my best friend ... she said to me, 'Now you need help, Sarah.'"

The Duchess of York had money problems

Despite marrying into the royal family, Sarah Ferguson was in debt for years, at one point even close to declaring bankruptcy. According to ABC News, her money problems began in the mid-'90s after she found herself $4 million in debt following her divorce from Prince Andrew. Queen Elizabeth II was reportedly over the duchess' splurging by then and refused to help pay it off, so Ferguson moved to New York City to make money on her own. She managed to do that, too, by partnering with Weight Watchers and writing a children's book series.

However, it was when Ferguson launched her lifestyle brand, Hartmoor, that things took another turn for the worse after that business went under. She explained to Hello! in 2009 (via Royal Musings), "I put all my money into Hartmoor ... everything I earned from the 'Young Victoria' film and my 'Little Red' books and I lost it all." That investment left Ferguson in financial ruin, but she wasn't ready to resort to bankruptcy. "You only go bankrupt when you have lost all hope," she dished.

According to The Telegraph, Prince Andrew didn't like that option either and, to avoid being embarrassed, he allegedly turned to his friend, Jeffrey Epstein, for help, who then gave them over $20,000. Of course, that backfired because Epstein was a convicted sex offender. In 2011, Ferguson publicly apologized for their dealings, telling the Evening Standard, "I abhor pedophilia and any sexual abuse of children and know that this was a gigantic error of judgment on my behalf."

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Sarah Ferguson was involved in another media scandal

If the toe-sucking incident wasn't mortifying enough, Sarah Ferguson was involved in another media scandal in 2010 that further tarnished her reputation. That was her notorious pay-for-access scandal, where she was caught on hidden camera offering access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, in exchange for money to someone she thought was a businessman. It actually was an undercover reporter for News of the World, who recorded her saying to him (via Us Weekly), "Five hundred thousand pounds when you can, to me ... [to] open doors. ... If you want to meet him in your business, look after me and he'll look after you."

Of course, that situation wasn't a good look for Ferguson, in that it made her seem desperate for money. It also presumably further damaged her relationship with the royal family, who were reportedly already not happy with her by that point. However, the duchess did own up to her mistakes and publicly apologized to them, stating (via Page Six), "It is true that my financial situation is under stress, however that is no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment."

While it was another headline-making scandal to Ferguson's name, she later told Parade that she was actually grateful it happened. "I think it saved me, because now I feel," she explained. "Before, I was just on auto-drive, running at huge speed in order to make sure everybody else was looked after ... and now I feel as if I've got my life back."

She faced jail time in Turkey

Sarah Ferguson is clearly no stranger to scandal — yet in 2012, she found herself in more serious trouble. The Duchess of York was facing a maximum of 22 years in prison in Turkey because of her 2008 documentary "Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission." According to the Mirror, Ferguson was charged with violating the privacy of orphans and illegally obtaining footage of them when she secretly filmed at an orphanage.

Ferguson had been in the U.K. when the charges were filed. While she wouldn't have been extradited to Turkey from there, other countries — including the U.S. — with an extradition treaty with them could have been sent her back to Turkey to face her arrest. Because of that, Ferguson reportedly canceled all her travel plans at the time, grounding herself in Britain. "Sarah is in shock," an unnamed pal cited by the Mirror claimed. "... She didn't expect charges to be brought so long after her trip to Turkey and certainly didn't expect that she would be unable to go abroad."

While Turkish officials apparently felt that Ferguson was trying to smear their country's reputation by showcasing the horrible conditions in orphanages, she stood by the documentary. "I stand strong in the face of the rights of children," she stated, per CNN, "and I remain steadfast." However, Reuters reported that Ferguson did apologize for her work embarrassing the country. Turkish prosecutors eventually gave Ferguson the chance to settle out of court, but it appears that the whole incident left her shaken.

The father of her children was accused of sexual abuse

While Sarah Ferguson was usually the one causing controversy, it was her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, who found himself in hot water in 2011 after his friendship with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was revealed. One of Epstein's victims, Virginia Giuffre, then accused Andrew of sexually abusing her when she was 17. When he tried to defend himself during an infamous BBC interview in 2019, it just made things worse, leading him to step back from his royal duties. Giuffre sued Andrew in a civil case, which was settled out of court in February 2022, and he was stripped of his military titles and royal patronages.

If you're wondering what this has to do with Ferguson, well, she's stood by her ex through it all. According to Page Six, she may have even secretly helped with the lawsuit, as a source dished, "It's really just the Duke of York, Fergie and his lawyers." She publicly supported him, too, telling People, "Whatever challenges he has, I will stand firm to the co-parenters that we are together. ... I believe that he's a kind, good man."

Not only is standing by Prince Andrew presumedly harmful for Ferguson's own reputation, but it also had to be hard to watch another humiliating scandal impact her daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. They understandably found the situation very distressing, as a source cited by the Daily Beast claimed. However, the insider added of the family-of-four, "They have been through a hell of a lot and they have never turned on each other."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Sarah Ferguson was 'heartbroken' over the queen's death

Sarah Ferguson has suffered a lot of loss over the years, but it seems that she took the September 2022 death of Queen Elizabeth II particularly hard because of their close relationship. The Duchess of York had gushed about the queen just months before she died, telling the "Tea with Twiggy" podcast in 2021, "Honestly, my mother-in-law has been more of a mother to me than my mother." As mentioned, Ferguson had a troubled relationship with her mother and lost her tragically in a car crash, which probably made the queen's death all the harder. 

Ferguson was also apparently thankful for Elizabeth's support through her media scandals, believing that they even grew closer after her divorce from her son, Prince Andrew. She previously explained to Harper's Bazaar, "When I met with Her Majesty about it, she asked, 'What do you require, Sarah?' and I said, 'Your friendship,' which I think amazed her because everyone said I would demand a big settlement."

Therefore, Ferguson was understandably devastated to lose not only her queen, but her friend. In a series of tweets, she shared, "I am heartbroken by the passing of Her Majesty the Queen." Noting in another post, "I will always be grateful to her for the generosity she showed me in remaining close to me even after my divorce," Ferguson added, "I will miss her more than words can express." All in all, Ferguson's seemingly grateful for how far she's come following these many tragedies, and for the people who have helped her along the way.