| Sarah Ferguson (Reuters)
Los Angeles, Jan. 13 (Reuters): Even by Hollywood standards, Fergie looks thin.
But the flame-haired commoner, who married into the British royal family and then publicly disgraced herself, still finds it hard to accept a compliment.
Fergie, aka Sarah Ferguson, aka the Duchess of York, aka the divorced wife of Britain’s Prince Andrew, is gazing at a blow-up picture of her slim and radiant self on the February cover of Ladies Home Journal.
The woman, once cruelly dubbed the“Duchess of Pork” by the British press because of her weight and a life of excess, launches into a typically self-deprecating story about a bid five years ago by a different magazine to put her on its front cover.
As Fergie, 43, dressed in a dark pin-striped trouser suit and stylish suede shoes, jokingly tells it, the magazine’s stylists squeezed her into an outfit two sizes too small, despite her protests. Weeks later the editor called saying they had decided instead to put Madonna on the cover because Fergie looked “a bit weighty.”
Down to earth, never standing on ceremony and still game for a laugh, Fergie has instantly put her nervous American luncheon guests at ease. The lunch for advertisers and a small group of journalists was organised by Ladies Home Journal.
Within minutes she is working the room, joking about her life as a“single working mum” with the“self-worth of a newt,” whose pet Dalmatian dog, rescued from an animal centre, is slightly disturbed — “a bit like me.”
Ten years after her humiliating exit from the royal family, after staring bankruptcy in the face, after what she describes as an adulthood in which she “overspent, overdressed, overreacted and most of all overate”, Fergie has reinvented herself — as a human being.
Over the past 15 years, she shed weight and now, at 63.5 kg, she is 36 kg thinner than at her heaviest point.
She has put her finances, her figure and her foibles in order through a plethora of paying and non-paying jobs that range from spokeswoman for Weight Watchers and Wedgwood China, to self-help book author, founder of two children’s charities and a forthcoming job as a US television talk show host.
She had to go to the US to do it — a nation she embraces for welcoming people despite the mistakes they have made, rather than Britain where she is now treated with occasional ridicule or studious silence.
It has been a long and painful journey but Fergie has learned to turn the natural candour and energy which landed her in so much trouble with the British royals into some of her most prized assets. “I am passionate about living. I feel driven to seize every moment, for the clock never stops,” she explains in her self-help book published this month, What I Know Now.
As the founder of two charities, Children in Crisis and Chances for Children, she spends much of her time on the road, dropping the world’s most miserable cities and most intractable conflicts into the conversation in the way that she once name-dropped celebrity friends and exclusive vacation resorts.
She speaks movingly of the woman fleeing rebels in Sierra Leone whose baby fell from her back and who had to choose whether to go back and rescue the child from certain death or keep running ahead to catch up with her young son.
She talks of the Albanian girl born with a tongue defect who was chained and abandoned because villagers feared she was a devil but who was brought to Britain where she now lives happily with adoptive parents.
She proudly shows photos of a boy seriously injured in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, whose care and lengthy rehabilitation she has helped to fund and oversee.
She tells such tales because she knows that heart-rending stories can bring in money for her far-flung charity projects — and maybe along the way provide a form of therapy that allows her to look more positively by comparison on her own misfortunes.
Her new book “is not a book of grand pronouncements or high-flown philosophy. Whatever wisdom I have today is the fruit of my experience and especially my mistakes. They have made me at once stronger and more humble,” Fergie writes.
She is still an inveterate people-pleaser, who has difficulty saying no to anyone. “Only recently have I felt fit and confident enough to grow bolder. At last I know my assets; red hair, large eyes, long legs,” she says in the book.
Surviving her critics, the journalists who dubbed her “Freebie Fergie” and once suggested that “82 per cent would rather sleep with a goat than Fergie”, has proved a daunting challenge.
But she recently came face to face with the author of the Duchess of Pork headline that most haunted her, only to find that her enemy was a jovial, balding, middle-aged man who had no idea of the years of distress he had caused.
Before long she was joking with him, realising suddenly that the writer bore her no malice and never had. “He was paid to be clever, end of story....
“It occurred to me that we survive our critics by knowing that their agendas, at heart, may have little to do with us,” she said.