I've always had a soft spot for Sarah Ferguson, aka the Duchess of York, aka Fergie, now strongly rumoured to be about to remarry Prince Andrew, the Queen's third child. Good-natured, jolly, generous-spirited and without airs, Fergie stayed herself and kept on putting her foot in it artlessly and getting into trouble relentlessly, unlike Princess Diana, who became a great manipulator of the media.
I always remember that – after she and Andrew separated and she was humiliated in the Press with embarrassing photographs, she had the ordeal of facing the Royal family at Balmoral, and Diana, instead of staying by the side of a friend in need, opted to visit a hospice very publicly.
Andrew and Fergie had known each other from childhood, and when they re-met as adults, in 1985, both were in their mid-twenties. She was a vivacious redhead and he was a good-looking naval officer who had served in the front line at the Falklands as a pilot. They seemed to enjoy together the kind of events where loud young people throw bread-rolls at each other and shriek with laughter a lot.
After marrying in 1986, they had two daughters quickly, Andrew was away on duty often and apparently on the dull side when at home, and the marriage quickly went on the rocks, aided and abetted by a tabloid Press that had scented trouble. As Diana became more and more elegant and beautiful, Fergie was styled 'The Duchess of Pork', ridiculed in unflattering photographs, and sneered at as vulgar and clumsy.
The separation was announced in 1991, and, in 1992, came the paparazzi photos of her topless on holiday with John Bryan, whom she called her "financial adviser". Famously, the Daily Mirror said he was kissing her toes. She said later it was her instep, but when the world is laughing at you, there's no point in quibbling over details.
Andrew was one of the few to take her side, they amicably shared custody of Beatrice and Eugenie and in sharp distinction to Charles and Diana, they would famously stay loyal to each other throughout the years and scandals that followed. Both the Yorks and the Waleses divorced in 1996. Fergie accepted around £850,000 from the Queen, Diana netted £17m from Charles.
Over the ensuing years, Fergie reinvented herself as best she could in America, but being extravagant, she soon plunged into deep debt, from which she would try to extricate herself by reality TV appearances, writing books (autobiographies, lifestyle and Budgie the Little Helicopter), and pursuing such commercial interests as being a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. Infamously, in 2000, she got drunk during a News of the World sting and was videoed boasting that for £500,000 she could give the undercover reporter access to her ex-husband.
Like Andrew, she had a string of lovers. Like Fergie, Andrew – who had become a global ambassador for British trade – had his share of scandals, mostly about dodgy friends, not least the revelation that the son-in-law of the President of Kazakhstan had given £3m over the asking price for Sunninghill Park, the house the Yorks continued to share until 2004. They lived apart until 2008, when she moved in with him to the Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. Both are enthusiastically involved in charity work.
Although the Queen is reputed to be fond of her, Fergie's embarrassments had her frozen out of the Royal family, both in public and private.
Yet Andrew's and Fergie's devotion to each other remained obvious. Asked in 2009 if they might remarry, he answered: "I can neither confirm nor deny the possibility. We have two great children. We still look after them." A couple of years later, asked the same question on American TV, Fergie said she wished they'd never got divorced.
And now, to much fanfare, she has accompanied her husband and children – both of whom seem to be making a success of their lives – to spend a weekend at Balmoral with the Queen.
The usual sources are saying it's only a matter of time before they have a second wedding.
I'm an old sentimentalist when it comes to seeing sundered hearts reunited.
May they have better luck this time.
SPECIAL BOND WITH DIANA
The pair had been friends for some time and it was thought the new Duchess of York would provide much-needed companionship for Di within the formal confines of the Royal family. Alas, their relationship was to become problematic, with Sarah Ferguson later claiming it was the Press's unkind comparisons between herself and the glamorous Di that led to her binge-eating and piling on weight.
By the time of Diana's death in 1997, the once close friends hadn't spoken for a year, though Sarah maintained she had no idea why they'd fallen out.
"I really miss Diana, I loved her so much," she told an interviewer in 2007.