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Poor little rich girl with no common sense gene

Poor Fergie, Duchess of York - in the soup again! It's been revealed that 'Greedy Sarah Ferguson' was filmed taking a $40,000 cash payment from a News of the World reporter as a promise to 'fix' a lucrative deal with her ex-husband, Prince Andrew.

The 50-year-old duchess was filmed in an undercover sting operation at a New York hotel, saying: "Look after me and he'll look after you . . . you'll get it back tenfold. I can open any door you want."

Her gaffe became the first item, subsequently, on the BBC national news headlines.

Along with all the sordid details of how she tried to set up a business deal for £500,000 involving Andrew. Andrew himself - nicknamed 'Air Miles Andy' because he seems to spend so much time (and taxpayers' money) travelling - has denied having anything to do with the proposed deal.

This was a setup to catch out the 'grasping' duchess, who seems to be broke once again - her lucrative contract with WeightWatchers in the United States having come to an end.

Boasting that she and Andrew were "the happiest divorced couple in the world", she claimed she could deliver the prince's co-operation - and his contacts - on any business deal in the offing.

Poor Fergie, indeed.

She said: "I haven't got a bean to my name."

She said she had "zero" for a divorce settlement - she left the Royal family with nothing, while Diana left it with £20m (omitting the context that Diana was to have been the future queen, and, incidentally, is now dead, so her £20m availed her little).

Poor Fergie in other ways, too. We will not sit in judgment of her for trying to do business 'deals', or cashing in on her contacts: not long ago, Labour ex-ministers Geoff Hoon, Patricia Hewitt and Stephen Byers were caught on camera doing something very similar - trying to 'pitch' a business deal, using the political connections they had garnered when in power. Is Sarah Ferguson morally any worse?

But Fergie is surely to be pitied, and perhaps censured, for being so naive. Surely, at the age of 50, she should know that lucrative 'business' offers should be viewed with care and caution, especially in an era when electronic intrusion into confidentiality is so easily monitored?

Born into an upper-middle-class family, Sarah Ferguson seems to be devoid of that streak of commonsense that is part of most people's DNA survival package: or that is taught by the transmitted wisdom of old folk sayings - 'All that glisters is not gold,' 'Beware of Greeks bearing gifts', and that glum, Yorkshire caveat, 'Nowt for nowt in this world'.

Scorn by the bucketful, condemnation by the ton and blistering satire by the deluge will be poured on Sarah Ferguson for this blunder, which is by no means her first.

Her daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie (fourth and fifth in line to the throne) will feel the brunt of contumely as they flit about the balls, race meetings, regattas and soirees of the London season, now well under way.

And Prince Andrew will hardly welcome the fallout. He has not been involved in this matter, but as Duke of York, he did choose Sarah as his duchess, and in that sense, he is responsible for her position.

For these reasons, we may feel a certain compassion for her.

She was naive, and perhaps indeed grasping, and yet she was only trying to earn a dollar, a practice she must see around her in so many different dimensions.

Haven't Tony and Cherie Blair made in excess of £20m since Mr Blair left office? Doesn't Lord Mandelson hobnob with all manner of Indian and Russian billionaires, advancing his social status, connections and business potential?

Fergie seems to have been born without the gene that signals an amber light when something seems too good to be true. Her mother left home when she was 12, which is a very bad time to be deserted by a parent.

She was also not provided with something that every young woman should have - an education which fits her to earn her living. Fergie will be condemned once again for bringing the monarchy into disrepute and we can imagine that there will be a few almighty rows between "the happiest divorced couple in the world".

Yet, look at it this way: every family, it seems, has to have a black sheep, or a scapegoat member on which the rest of the kinfolk can turn their ire.

The narrative of family life always involves conflicts, blunders, gaffes and above all quarrels over money. And time in the doghouse when things go wrong.

Sarah Ferguson's errors might even be said to make people identify more vividly with this everyday story of dynastic folk. But for herself, the most compelling question is not the blunder itself, but can she learn from it? If she wasn't gifted with the gene for self-preserving prudence, can she pick it up by experience? Poor Fergie - we must hope she can.