Sarah Ferguson's Royal Life Through The Years

Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson may be most known for her marriage to Prince Andrew and her connections to the royal family, but outside of Buckingham Palace, she has made a name for herself as an author, charity ambassador, and even TV producer.

A descendant of King Charles II, Ferguson spent her childhood frequenting social circles with the royal family, as her father, Major Ronald Ferguson, was the polo manager for both Prince Phillip and King Charles. As a teenager, the duchess flourished socially and became known as a bit of a party girl, though she worked hard in a number of average jobs.

By her mid-20s, however, the path of her life drastically changed when she fell in love with Prince Andrew and officially became a member of the royal family following their marriage in 1986. Their marriage only lasted six years, and over the next several decades, the Duchess of York became embroiled in a number of royal scandals that would impact her reputation and distance her from the family she once embraced. From her early years to her rocky road to redemption, here's Sarah Ferguson's royal life through the years.

She grew up with royal connections

Sarah Ferguson may have become a royal through her marriage to Prince Andrew, but prior to her special union, she grew up with royal connections. Born to Major Ronald Ferguson and Susan Wright, the Duchess of York would spend her childhood in the midst of royalty. As the Los Angeles Times noted in his obituary, her father led the Sovereign's Escort, a group of mounted officers that play a significant role in the monarch's birthday parade. 

Major Ferguson's work captaining the Sovereign's Escort was not his only tie to royalty, however. In the 1960s, he took on the position of polo manager for Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and later, King Charles, per The Guardian. It was through her father's royal connections, in part, that the Duchess of York would eventually pair up with Prince Andrew, but it would take two decades for the two to fall in love.

Outside of her immediate royal connections, Ferguson also has noble lineage that traces back to the 1600s. According to Express, the duchess is a descendant of King Charles II, and thus is also related to other prominent royal figures throughout history, such as King Henry VIII and James I.

Sarah Ferguson enjoyed the outdoors as a kid

Despite not being born a royal, Sarah Ferguson nonetheless grew up comfortably. When her parents divorced in 1974, she went to live with her father, Major Ronald Ferguson, at Dummer Down House, an estate in Hampshire with 800 acres of land, per Express.

As a child, the Duchess of York was fascinated with horses, and enjoyed spending time outdoors with her sister and father. In her 1996 book, "My Story: Sarah the Duchess of York," she described herself as being a "tough little monkey" growing up, and furthermore noted that her father was pivotal in molding her love for the outdoors. "Dads raised me to get outside, get muddy, and — most of all — to get on with it," she wrote. Apart from her love for nature and spending time outside, Ferguson also was involved in sports. Per The Washington Post, the Royal Wedding Souvenir Program noted she "excelled at swimming and tennis, and rather less so at academic achievement." The Duchess's personality was equally noteworthy, and she was once described as being extroverted, personable, and bubbly during her younger years.

As a teenager, she worked average jobs

Unlike many members of the royal family, Sarah Ferguson worked a number of pretty relatable jobs in her teens and early 20s to make ends meet. When she was a teenager, the duchess landed one particularly unglamorous gig. In an interview with the Swedish TV show "Skavlan," Ferguson revealed (via The Mirror), "You won't believe it but when I was 18, I cleaned very good mirrors. I cleaned lavatories when I was 18 and graduates' bedrooms; they all left it very messy." Additionally, she held a job as a waitress at a strudel house, with some of her responsibilities consisting of reheating frozen pastries in an oven.

Following graduation from Queen's Secretarial College when she was 18, Ferguson went on to work at a Covent Garden art gallery, two PR agencies, and BCK, a Swiss-based graphic design company, as a director, according to UPI. While working at BCK, the duchess would reconnect with and subsequently start dating Prince Andrew.

Princess Diana set her up with Prince Andrew

Growing up close to the royal family, Sarah Ferguson met Prince Andrew when the two were both children. Over the years, they would cross paths occasionally, but it wasn't until the mid-1980s through the help of Ferguson's friend, Princess Diana, that the pair would connect again.

According to Vanity Fair, the princess suggested to Queen Elizabeth that Ferguson be invited to Ascot Week, a prominent event amongst royals and aristocrats, in June of 1985. Upon arriving at a special dinner, the duchess was paired with Prince Andrew, an eligible bachelor at the time. The two hit it off right away and not long after their formal meeting, the prince and Ferguson started dating that summer. Princess Diana helped arrange their get-togethers.

Per Town and Country, while the lovebirds were dating but before they wanted to bring their relationship to the public eye, Princess Diana frequently hosted them at her Highgrove home, where she lived with King Charles. Less than a year after the pair started dating, Prince Andrew proposed to Ferguson a couple months into 1986, at Scotland's Floor's Castle, where they were said to have shared their first kiss, as reported by Hello! magazine.

Her royal marriage fell apart

Just four months after Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew were engaged, the couple married in a traditional ceremony at Westminster Abbey on July 23, 1986, in the presence of the royal family, 500 million television watchers, and thousands of supporters throughout London. 

Despite being fiercely in love with one another, the newlywed couple started to experience rough patches in their relationship not long after they said "I do." Ferguson explained the extent of their early marital problems in a 2011 interview with Harper's Bazaar, saying, "He went to sea [with the Royal Navy] and I saw him 40 days a year for the first five years of our marriage."

The prince's naval career put a significant strain on their relationship, and even got in the way of the duchess's first pregnancy. She recalled to Harper's Bazaar in a 2007 interview that she lacked companionship from her husband when she was pregnant with Princess Beatrice. "I spent my entire first pregnancy alone; when Beatrice was born, Andrew got 10 days of shore leave, and when he left and I cried," she said. For the pair, who spent the early years of their marriage apart, it was difficult to maintain the level of closeness and connection they once had. In March 1992, the two announced their separation, with their divorce following four years later in April 1996, as reported by The Chicago Tribune.

The mother of two princesses

Prior to her divorce, Sarah Ferguson had two children with Prince Andrew: Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. The first of the two girls, Princess Beatrice, was born on August 8, 1988, while Princess Eugenie arrived two years after her older sister, on March 23, 1990, per Us Weekly.

In their younger years, the sisters grew up at Sunninghill Park with their parents, then later moved to Royal Windsor Lodge in 2004, as reported by Hello! magazine. For Ferguson, motherhood has and always will be one of her greatest accomplishments. In a "love letter" to her daughters published by Good Housekeeping in 2021, the duchess wrote, "Every day I thank the universe for allowing me to be your mother. You have always been the blood in my veins. From the time you were wee tots, you made my life complete. ... I marvel at you both."

Despite their divorce, Ferguson and Prince Andrew have consistently maintained a close relationship for the betterment of their family, which has withstood a number of humiliating public scandals and hiccups. Touching on their unique family dynamic, the duchess once told Hello! magazine, "A table goes best with four legs. A table can't stand on three legs, really, so you have the Duke and I, and the two girls. We're a family unit and we lead by example."

Her personal life became tabloid fodder

When Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew divorced in the mid-1990s, marriages ending in divorce were becoming a bit more common within in the royal family — look no further than King Charles and Princess Diana — though they were still very much frowned upon. Leading up to their 1996 divorce, Ferguson experienced not one, but two public scandals that would place her at the center of a media spectacle and ruin her reputation.

In January 1992, photos of the duchess and Texas businessman Steve Wyatt were leaked to the media, in which Wyatt was seen embracing Ferguson while on a vacation to Morocco with a young Princess Beatrice, per Yahoo! News. Just two months later, Buckingham Palace announced the official separation of Prince Andrew and Ferguson, but scandal would continue to follow her that summer.

Shortly after the couple's public separation, Ferguson was pictured with her financial advisor and business manager, John Bryan, while vacationing in St. Tropez, as reported by The Mirror. The scandalous pictures not only showed her topless, but the two putting on various public displays of affection, according to The Washington Post. At one point, photos of Bryan kissing her foot were snapped, adding more fuel to the duchess's damaged image.

Her lifestyle led to serious debt

During her marriage to Prince Andrew, Sarah Ferguson enjoyed the luxuries of being a royal, which included traveling around the world among other activities. The duchess's expensive taste eventually led her to be in severe financial trouble and millions of dollars in debt after her divorce, which, according to The Chicago Tribune, Queen Elizabeth refused to be responsible for. While the actions of the queen might've seemed harsh, Ferguson was granted a divorce settlement in 1996 worth £3 million. According to The Telegraph, about £2 million of that settlement was to go to her children and their home. 

Despite what seemed like a comfortable financial situation, the duchess was on the brink of bankruptcy by 2010. Her heft debt was a result of her lifestyle company Hartmoor going under in 2008, among other financial woes, per The Guardian. Nonetheless, she told Hello! magazine at the time, "I'm not broke, I'm not going bankrupt, nor am I giving up."

Unfortunately for Ferguson, her personal debt would lead her to another scandal involving Prince Andrew.

The bribery scandal with Prince Andrew

At the height of Sarah Ferguson's financial troubles, Prince Andrew was working on a plan to help his ex-wife avoid the shame of bankruptcy, though the duchess had her sights on settling her debt in a far different manner.

On May 23, 2010, News of the World, a British tabloid, released footage of Ferguson making an arrangement with an undercover reporter posing as a businessman to give access to Prince Andrew, Britain's special representative for international trade and investment at the time, as reported by The Guardian. The arrangement was supposed to have a payout of £500,000, but instead, dragged Ferguson's reputation further through the mud.

Despite not being an official member of the royal family at the time, the scandal once again brought a heaping amount of negative press to Buckingham Palace. Upon the footage leaking to the media, the duchess released a statement taking responsibility for her actions while also establishing that Prince Andrew had zero involvement in the matter. "It is true that my financial situation is under stress however, that is no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment and I am very sorry that this has happened. I can confirm that The Duke of York was not aware or involved in any of the discussions that occurred," she shared, per ABC News.

Sarah Ferguson's legacy outside the royal family

Like a handful of other royals entangled in public humiliations and scandals, Sarah Ferguson has worked hard to build her reputation back over the years and to be of service to those who need it. For over 30 years, the Duchess of York has been deeply committed and dedicated to work with a number of charities, with the Teenage Cancer Trust being at the core of her work.

The charity hits close to home for Ferguson, who's own stepfather, Héctor Barrantes Sansoni, died of cancer in 1990. "When I started to work with the Teenage Cancer Trust over 30 years ago, it was because my stepfather had died of cancer and I wanted to do something for cancer patients," she told Hello! magazine.

Outside of her work with the Teenage Cancer Trust, the duchess has also founded two organizations: Children in Crisis and Sarah's Trust. As per People, Children in Crisis advocates for better education in Afghanistan, Libya, and Sierra Leone through teacher training programs and construction of new schools. Sarah's Trust, which Ferguson established during the Coronavirus Pandemic in 2020, addresses a number of important causes under one foundation. "It's something I have wanted to do for a long time. We will focus on a whole range of causes, all across the world, but at this terrible time it's right that our first projects should be to help to contend with the impact of coronavirus both at home and abroad," she wrote in the official announcement on Instagram.