Sarah: Royal Outcast

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Sarah: Royal Outcast

Over the Christmas holiday, the Duchess of York walked the grounds of the Queen’s Sandringham estate. Could the Royal Family’s insistence on declaring Sarah persona non grata lose them the sympathy of many of their subjects?  It’s no surprise that part of the Royal tradition on Christmas Day is for the House of Windsor to sit in comfort in Sandringham House and watch the “Boss” of the ‘Family Firm’ give her annual message to the world via television. Fewer of her subjects are wont to leave the dinner table to look and listen these days, but among those who do there was a disturbing thought. How and when will the House of Windsor explain to the two youngest in the Royal Family gathering that their mother wasn’t there, but two miles away in a six-bedroom Edwardian farmhouse on the Sandringham estate? Who can tell what crosses the mind of the little Princesses Beatrice, now ten, and Eugenie, now eight, as they are waited on hand and foot for that Christmas dinner? Who can explain to them why – and for all the world to see – their mother the Duchess of York has achieved the status of Royal outcast?

On Christmas morning, Prince Andrew picked up his daughters from Wood Farm, the six-bedroom Edwardian farmhouse where they were staying with their mother and took them the two miles to Sandringham House. The little Princesses then joined the rest of the Royal Family for the walk to the local church for the 11 a.m. service, and walked back for the traditional Royal Christmas lunch. After watching their grandmother’s Christmas broadcast, their father takes them back those two miles to be reunited with their mother. He stays with his former wife and their children but Royal duty still calls and he has to be back in Sandringham House to get all dressed up for the Royal Christmas supper. Sarah’s feelings over the behaviour of her former in-laws in this manner for seven years really must have plumbed the depths of depression this Christmas.

If 1992 was the Queen’s annus horribilis, then there’s no doubt that 1998 was Sarah Ferguson’s. There was the tragic death of her mother, Susan Barrantes, in an horrific car crash in Argentina and the news that her father was suffering from cancer. Add this to her continuing struggle to maintain her lifestyle and whittle away the mountain of debts she almost disappeared under, and it’s easy to see why the Duchess would have been glad to see the back of the Old Year. Although this pantomime has been a regular feature of the Royal Christmas ever since Andrew and Sarah separated in 1992, on this occasion it did draw fire from some of the British tabloid press. Ironically, much of that element of the press have never been too kind to Sarah in the past, but her plight and those of the two little Princesses moved even those hearts. The popular conception, both among newspaper editors and the British public is that the reason for this sad charade every Christmas is the little girls’ grandfather, Prince Philip. Despite the very obvious fact that, unlike Charles and Diana, Andrew and Sarah have managed to maintain a close and – some say – still loving relationship, the Duchess has been declared persona non grata as far as the House of Windsor is concerned.

This would seem to have been underlined by the non-appearance of most Royals­ at the memorial service for her mother in London before Christmas. Those whose pastime is telling us how many Royal angels can dance on the head of a pin will tell us that this is a matter of protocol and that there is no precedent for Sarah’s dilemma. So what? We’re now in the last breaths of the 20th century and, more than anyone, the Royal House of Windsor has had to look to its merits, ever since the traumatic shock of the world’s reaction to the death of another former daughter-in-law, when it comes to catching up with the times, never mind keeping up with them. A relaxation of the ultra-Victorian attitude that keeps Sarah Ferguson languishing in Wood Farm every Christmas would do more for the Royal Family’s prestige with the man and woman in the street than the PR shenanigans of an army of the country’s best “spin doctors” could ever achieve. But, do I hear that man/woman in the street say “But if the Queen doesn’t agree with all this, why doesn’t she just tell Prince Philip to jump in the lake?” Yes, but . . . she is the Queen, but it seems that when it comes to family matters, in the very best Victorian traditions, Philip rules the roost and what he says, goes. Remember the revelations that it was paternal pressure that had much to do with the marriage of Charles and Diana. Any other family in the land could, quite rightly, tell us all to disappear and mind our own business. But this is not just any family – this is our Royal Family. And I feel that most of Her Majesty’s suubjects will judge the House of Windsor’s future chances as much by how they handle this problem and its solution. It is not a Royal problem. It’s something we’re all much more familiar with – a human problem. (Royalty Magazine Vol. 15/09)