Fergie is trying to reinvent herself – and the experiment isn’t going well.
Her latest venture is a podcast, Tea Talks with the Duchess and Sarah, broadcast with her friend and entrepreneur Sarah Jane Thomson. It comes after decades of bad headlines for her and even more catastrophic ones for her ex-husband, Prince Andrew.
The podcast doesn’t mention Andrew’s disastrous Newsnight interview or his shameful association with the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Instead, Fergie tries to present herself as a humble, misunderstood, charitable icon – “deeply sensitive” and “very shy” – who only comes across as too loud because she overcompensates.
The reinvention won’t work. The podcast is desperately short on revelations and won’t help her if she’s trying to escape the shadow of her ex-husband’s scandals. Among the non-scoops we hear is that Fergie doesn’t have a boyfriend, but wants one. She likes being called “Fergs”, “sweetypie” and “honeychops”. And in her own emetic brand of humble-bragging, she declares that she “trusts too much” and “too many people”. She doesn’t like milk in her tea – hold the front page.
Confucius and Proust can rest easy tonight. Here are some of Fergie’s wise words: “We are two Sarahs that are just bringing the truth of our own conversations”; “Kindness is a superpower”; “I’m deeply sensitive and I mind terribly”; “I love the word ‘resonate’.”
This latest offering follows a never-ending series of Budgie the Little Helicopter children’s books and cartoons as well as a slushy and Boon romance, Her Heart for a Compass, about a distant relation. That was shortly after gauche, amateurish readings of children’s books on YouTube. In gaps in between her writing, she has put her name to Weight Watchers endorsements – one of her few brainwaves to make money.
More often than not, her business ventures have come to nothing. This year, the media investment company Gate Ventures she was a director of, with the impresario Michael Grade, went bust.
I interviewed her in 2005, when she was launching her ‘Duchess of York Sandwich’ at Stage Deli, a New York delicatessen that closed in 2012. She was promoting GourMayo wasabi horseradish-flavoured light mayo.
I’m afraid she wasn’t the Shakespeare of the grilled chicken breast on rye sandwich. “That’s humongous,” she declared of the two-inch-thick sarnie. “The portion sizes here are enormous. You’ve got to take the edge off with things like light mayonnaise.”
In the flesh, she has a winning charm and a touching desperation to be liked. But I’m afraid her intellect just can’t keep up with her energy to create disastrous ideas – worst of all the one in 2010, during a News of the World sting, she offered to sell access to Prince Andrew for £500,000. She couldn’t give away that sort of access these days.
You can almost sympathise with an ex-duchess who is running out of options. Her revenue streams are ever more limited. Once she could have relied on her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, as a landlord who doesn’t charge rent. But his years of living high on the hog have come to an end. His job as the UK special representative for trade and investment is no more, thanks to his association with Epstein. Prince Andrew is alleged to have paid £12m, given to him by the late Queen, to Virginia Giuffre to stop her lawsuit against him. She accused him of sexually abusing her when she was a minor as part of a sex-trafficking ring set up by Epstein: an allegation he has always strongly denied.
Said to be the favourite of the late Queen, Prince Andrew has been marginalised by his brother, King Charles III. He is alleged to have been threatened with eviction from Royal Lodge, his 30-room mansion at Windsor, and a move to the much smaller Frogmore Cottage, recently renovated by its evicted previous residents, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Fergie, too, has been living at Royal Lodge with her ex-husband. Could they stomach living together in a much smaller cottage?
Fergie’s other option is the £4.3m Belgravia flat she has recently acquired, said to have been bought for her by her daughters. But that won’t be suitable for her last great royal trump card – the Queen’s corgis, who the late monarch bequeathed to Fergie. It’s hard to imagine Fergie trudging through the back streets of Victoria, taking the dogs for walkies.
Staying by Andrew’s side in the closest relationship between divorced couples in royal history seems like the only option.
Prince Andrew has wisely given up trying to defend himself in public after the Newsnight interview. If one of them is going to push out the York PR message, only Fergie can do it. Sadly, she appears to lack the media savvy to do so effectively.
Harry Mount is author of Et Tu, Brute? The Best Latin Lines Ever (Bloomsbury)