In defence of (the possibly drunk) Fergie

Having been seen on worldwide TV scooping up an alleged $40,000, Prince Andrew’s ex-wife has found herself in muck

Photo by Picture Perfect / Rex Features

I’d like to say a word in favour of poor old Fergie, by which I do mean the relatively poor and relatively old (50) Sarah, duchess of York. She just got caught  accepting money from a reporter in exchange for an intro to her ex-husband Prince Andrew, now the unpaid special ambassador for British trade and industry. In saying anything favourable, I can hear the (imaginary) voice of Nancy Grace: “Barbara, is anyone here thinking of those children?” And yes, having a mummy like Sarah can be embarrassing, and while princesses Beatrice and Eugenie are as devoted to their mother as she is to them, mummy filmed selling meetings with daddy must be unnerving.

Having now been seen on worldwide television scooping up an alleged $40,000, Sarah Ferguson is in muck. Mazher Mahmood, a specialist in entrapment journalism, whose earlier stings included Prince Andrew’s sister-in-law the countess of Wessex, passed himself off again as a wealthy businessman keen on making a royal connection. His down payment was on Sarah’s alleged asking price of $750,000. (Sorry about the repetition. We know it’s alleged and that the duchess has apologized for her alleged crime but allegedly it’s the rule around here to keep repeating it.)

Sarah Ferguson would retort that the very reason she was with a relative stranger (in this story all things are relative including its value) in a Mayfair flat last week—poorly furnished I thought for a Mayfair flat and a dead giveaway really that it was a set-up—with a bottle of wine and News of the World reporter Mazher Mahmood, was her children. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and HRH princesses need lotsa frocks. Sarah’s $22,500 annual divorce allowance from Prince Andrew can’t buy very many dresses even with discounts and comps, not to mention that with Sarah’s fluctuating weight, they can’t really share outfits.

I couldn’t see on the film how much of the wine had been drunk, but from the sound of Sarah’s voice she was three sheets to the wind. Sarah downs her drinks better than holds them but no matter—on her social circuit no one drives when drunk because they have chauffeurs and no one is bored with drunken drivel because that’s the lingua franca. I speak from experience: hours of agony as a non-drinker myself stranded at those dinners talking to people whose alcohol blood count would kill any Breathalyzer and did kill any intelligent conversation. Those of you who drink, just about everyone it seems, have no idea how awful it is to go through life stone cold sober, though I can well imagine how equally boring it makes me to you. The only thing worse is the sick headache one drink gives me.

Enter Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch loathes royalty and I often suspected he loathes Brits in general. I’m not sure what it stems from but Aussies would be hard-pressed to forget the battle of Gallipoli, the ill-conceived (as a British commission later dubbed it) First World War battle with the Turks in which Australians suffered 8,700 dead and 19,000 wounded. Murdoch’s father, later Sir Keith Murdoch but a journalist at the time of Gallipoli, took part in a scheme to circumvent the censors and deliver a letter to British prime minister Asquith detailing the campaign’s horrors. The letter, confiscated and rewritten from memory by Keith Murdoch, became a cause célèbre.

Murdoch’s dislike of the monarchy doesn’t affect his London Times but it does bubble up in his tabloids, including the News of the World. Which raises a side issue: Murdoch is an American citizen but that’s a business flag of convenience. As an Australian, he was born a subject of the Queen. A monarchy is a peculiar institution. The largest political party out of power is called Her Majesty’s loyal opposition to indicate that no matter how opposed you are to the government of the day, your loyalty to the monarch remains. Quite a few of Her Majesty’s subjects don’t approve of the monarchy and it’s fine to get up on a soapbox and say so. But it is quite another thing to plot to bring the monarchy into scandal and disrepute. You can’t lose your head for it and treason is scarcely the word, but to have a British newspaper sending out reporters to deliberately entrap royals in a tabloid equivalent of Guy Fawkes seems as non comme il faut as Sarah’s actions.

The centi-millionaire Queen is not blameless. She’s under the thumb of advisers cautioning her to save the monarchy by a show of scrimping. Only the late queen mother could withstand her daughter’s “Oh mummy, not another new outfit surely . . . ” and carry on with a $9-million overdraft. Today’s royals are expected to behave “grandly” on relatively (there’s that word again) skimpy amounts of money.

Both Sarah and Andrew philandered but Sarah got caught. Now she works hard but her debts as a self-confessed spendthrift will always pile up. Her tart-with-a-heart naïveté results in disasters like her self-described “friend,” countess de Lesseps of The Real Housewives of New York City (pure Connecticut Eurotrash), on CNN this week suggesting that surely Andrew knew what his wife was doing? Nothing could make things worse for Sarah than “alleged’ friends like that. And this time I use the word advisedly.