Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York

Sarah was born in London in 1959 to parents Major Ronald Ferguson and his wife Susan. As a child she loved horse riding and won many cups and shows. In 1972, her parents separated and her mother married for the second time to an Argentinian, Hector Barrantes, then moved to South America.

After graduating from Queen's Secretarial College at the age of 18, Sarah went to work in a public relations firm in London. In 1985 she was invited to a house party at Windsor Castle to celebrate Royal Ascot, and although she already knew Prince Andrew from childhood, it was here that a romance developed out of their friendship. After she accepted Prince Andrew's proposal in a Scottish stately home, the couple were married on July 23, 1986, at Westminster Abbey, with a billion people tuning in to watch the televised nuptials. Sarah and Andrew have two children, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, born in 1988 and 1990 respectively.

At first, the exuberant Sarah was popular in the press and was frequently seen out with her sister-in-law Princess Diana. However, she soon started to receive criticism and, with a husband in the Navy whom she saw infrequently, life became increasingly miserable.

She turned to writing, and published a series of children's books about Budgie The Helicopter. Despite their success, the Duchess found herself heavily in debt as a result of her jet-set lifestyle. In 1992, she separated from the Duke, just five months after photographs were published showing her caught in a 'compromising position' with financial advisor John Bryan. Although Sarah and Andrew divorced in 1996, they continue to share a house together near Ascot and Sarah, who has been linked to Italian aristocrat Count Gaddo della Gherardesca, describes her ex-husband as her "bestest friend".

A decade ago, the Duchess' stock could not have fallen any lower. Pilloried by the press, she was forced to cope with a very public banishment from the royal family, on top of debts of £4 million. But she has survived it all – and come back stronger. She is the US spokesman for WeightWatchers, has stood in for CNN's Larry King when he goes on holiday, and fronts a publicity campaign for a financial advisory company – no mean feat by any standards.

It's possible that Fergie is well aware of the extent to which her image has been rehabilitated, since she recently brought out a book called Reinventing Yourself With The Duchess Of York. Now that's what you'd call a fairytale with a happy ending.


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