Time has mellowed, but not calmed Sarah Ferguson.
The voice that gushes from beneath her vibrant red hair still betrays her passion, but even that trademark mane is a now more subdued. Worn straight with a side part, glancing the shoulders of a rather conservative suit, the firecracker Fergie seems to have yielded with time to this new Sarah. Her zealous nature is nonetheless apparent, but it is guided now, her energy is focused, and a new, wizened Fergie has come into view. Reflective, contemplative, even philosophical - but certainly not silent.
Tell-tale lines creep from the corners of her eyes, betraying her 41 years, the last 15 or so spent under the harsh spotlight of public scrutiny. Shes a bit more cautious and somewhat guarded, but apt and eager to speak her mind, contorting her face into the punctuating expressions that instantly endear her to all.
Taking a break from touring the United States as the spokeswoman for Wedgewood china, ( a tour which brought her to the Oak Court Mall Goldsmiths) Fergie recently journeyed through India, arriving back in the west with a more relaxed attitude and an eastern-influenced perspective on life which she recently shared with the Flyer.
I think you can make anything different, she says, her shoulders relaxing as she sips a cup of tea. Its just the way you look at it. Its rather like giving someone a rose. If you hand it to them with the thorns, theyll prick themselves, but if you hand it with the petals, its pretty and soft.
This seems to be the approach Fergie has adopted towards promoting herself. Shes still the same English rose, and the thorns are still there, but the years have taught her to show her petals first.
Its honoring the moment, thats what is different in the east, says Ferguson, telling about her trip. At the train station in Delhi, I asked this beggar woman on the platform if I could take a photo with her. She was very beautiful, but she wearing an old, torn, sari - she had nothing. When I asked if I could have a photo with her, she said she was not ready. She fixed her hair, rearranged her sari, and then smiled and said, Now, Im ready. It was an absolutely wonderful moment. She was honoring the moment.
When she affixes her intense-but-tired blue eyes on you, you know that Fergie is connecting, she too, is honoring the moment. Clearly she wrestled with finding relevance in her work while in India; the Duchess of York, spokeswoman for a fine china company, amidst absolute poverty and squalor.
I always try to get back to what is important in life, rather than only talking about china, says Ferguson nodding knowingly. I think, why am I talking about Wedgewood? Why do we rush in our everyday life and have our coffee and tea in Styrofoam instead of having a nice cup and saucer? I go into these poverty stricken areas in India and think, How could you even talk about china? but on the other hand they, themselves, on the street, they give you a cup of tea. We rush around putting our coffee or tea in Styrofoam, and on the street they give you chai in a porcelain cup.
Fergie continues, saying that we should to be grateful and appreciative of what we have. We should enjoy our blessings rather than save them for later.
Thats what I try to bring to Wedgewood. Why do we think of china as something we do not use? We must use it and love it, and appreciate it because we are lucky, we are so very lucky. There are people in this world who do not even have a plate.
But, while Fergie certainly has plenty of plates (Wedgewood, no doubt) she has hardly had a life free from worry. Since she came to international attention as the paramour of Prince Andrew in the mid-1980s, Ferguson has blistered under scathing criticisms. Constant comparisons of the gregarious, boisterous, sometimes reckless Fergie to the dainty, delicate and usually quiet Princess Diana coupled with harsh taunts from the international media about her fluctuating weight have afforded Sarah little solitude. But when others might have slunk into the shadows to avoid any more attention, Fergie faced it head own, seeming to challenge her detractors.
Im glad Ive caught the grief that I have, says Ferguson, softening her face into a casual smile. Its tough but its true. So why do I have to hide? Of course I have regrets. I have lots of regrets. Or I did before going to India, now I think Ive gained some perspective. Im going to just go forward now. Come clean, say it as it is and its much easier than saying well, it could be this or it could be that,. Its tough. Not many people will just say things as they are.
Ferguson says that generally shes more welcomed and accepted in the states than she is the U.K. According to her, Americans tend to appreciate her aggressive attitude where the Brits are polite but usually show disdain for her ways.
Even with her enlightened views, Fergie says she does carry with her one regret:
I would say my one regret would be divorcing Andrew. says Ferguson. We are the most united couple there is. I often say that were the happiest divorced couple in the world. We havent discussed whether we would ever get back together, though.
Her relationship with Prince Andrew plays heavily into Fergies priorities. She lives with hers and Andrews two daughters, Beatrice, 12, and Eugenie, 10, in the home that Prince Andrew also occupies.
The most important thing Ive done through the rumors and everything is that Ive been a really strong mum, Im really proud of that. They are really secure because of it. You hear so many people say, We stayed together just for the sake of the children. Thats a terrible amount of pressure to put on a child. Theyll think its their fault. For the sake of our children, Andrew and I separated and then we united. In some ways it would have been easier for me if Andrew and I were not so close. I would have been able to disappear more.
And at times it seems that Fergie would have liked to disappear. The Duchess never quite seemed in step with Buckingham Palace, a fact belabored by tabloids everywhere. From her own good and bad experiences with the royal family, she offers this advice to any young girls hoping to woo Princes Will and Harry:
First, they could not be interested in nicer boys. Will and Harry are lovely boys. Any girls interested in them should just enjoy the present and not worry about the future. Look around and enjoy it all. But, I wonder if they would ever want to marry Will or Harry. I wonder if anyone would want to take on such a public role. Its a big role to take on. It is definitely a big role when you get married.
The Duchess does think that things might be easier for the next generation of royal wives and she realizes that this is due in no small part to the barriers she and Diana broke down.
Diana and I were the fore runners, says Ferguson. We were very much aware of the demands placed upon us as royalty then and also of the changing role of women in society. But, I dont think we knew how much we were changing things at the time. Things would be much different for someone marrying into the royal family now. Now, there are different expectations.
Sarah stresses that now she is focusing on accepting what life hands her and on looking at certain events as just being part of her destiny.
Maybe if I accept more on destiny... she begins and then fades off. Maybe if I looked back over my life, maybe it is in a graph, maybe it is all mapped out for everybody.
She contemplates the idea that in each of her incarnations - the rebellious duchess, the overweight pariah, the mother, the best selling author, the Today Show journalist, the spokesperson - that she reinvents herself, disappearing from the public eye just long enough to discover a new challenge to embrace. That her life, with its ebbs and flows, creates something a graph of ups and downs.
She wrinkles her face and then simultaneously turns both corners of her mouth down in the same charming befuddled expression that made Hugh Grant famous.
I dont know. Its kind of fun when you accept things. You cant do anything about them anyway. Its feels very nice to take life step by step.
Her expression changes into a knowing look, one befitting a woman wizened by years of falling down and getting back up.
Its your choice how you spend time. We should look at the rose from the petal end, not the thorn end. Why not take an extra moment and pour a cup of tea? We are so lucky we have it. If you change the whole structure of communication and open up the dialogue, everything is different. Thats what Andrew and I do.
And it does appear that things are, in fact, different for Fergie. Seasoned and matured, she has inadvertently adopted the same grace that was so admired in Diana. But she has done so in her own inimitable way, still rocking boats, but just not getting caught as often.
I think Im one of those people who will probably never get her privacy back because Im so red-headed and straight-forward. Whenever I disappear from the public eye, everyone seems to wonder what Im up to.
(You can write Rebekah Gleaves at email@example.com