Before Jack and Eugenie, before Harry and Meghan, before William and Kate and, erm, slightly after Charles and Diana, there was Prince Andrew and Fergie, aka Sarah Ferguson – and with the Duke and Duchess of York’s youngest daughter Eugenie set to have her very own royal wedding next week, what better time to chart the relationship timeline of the royal family’s most amicable exes? From their first meeting as children to their 1986 marriage, through to those toe pictures, reconciliation and their somewhat unusual living arrangements, here's everything you need to know...
Let’s start at the beginning. How did Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew meet?
The future Duke and Duchess of York first encountered one another as children: Sarah’s father, Major Ronald Ferguson, was a major player on the royal polo scene, and the youngsters would ‘play tag with like-minded truants’ during games, she would later recall in her autobiography. They then fell out of touch – until 1985, when Princess Diana (yet another royal-adjacent old friend) suggested inviting Fergie along to stay at Windsor Castle during Ascot. Though Andrew, the Queen’s third child, had previously been linked to a string of models and actresses, none of whom were considered to be ‘suitable’ partner material, his new relationship with Sarah was a turning point: the Queen seemed happy, and so did the press. After a very speedy courtship, the pair announced their engagement in March 1986.
Engagement ring details, please.
Prince Andrew proposed with a ring from Garrard’s, the jewelers who also created Princess Diana’s sapphire engagement band. Boasting a Burmese ruby surrounded by 10 diamonds in a floral pattern on a band of yellow gold, it is rumoured to have cost around £25,000. ‘We came to the mutual conclusion that red was probably the best colour for Sarah,’ the Prince explained in his engagement interview. ‘That’s how we came to the choice of the ruby. The extra bits around the outside, we wanted something that was slightly unconventional.’ It seems that her mum’s ring might have set the standard for Princess Eugenie: her pink-orange padparadscha sapphire engagement ring, which also features a cluster of diamonds, is remarkably similar in colour and shape.
And when did Andrew and Sarah get married?
Just four months later, the Duke and Duchess of York tied the knot at Westminster Abbey on 23rd July. Sarah wore a very ‘80s gown by British designer Lindka Cierach, featuring a number of embroidered motifs, including bumblebees and thistles from the Ferguson coat of arms and anchors and waves for Andrew’s naval career. Oh, and the initials ‘A’ and ‘S’ intertwined and stitched in silver beads. The scrollwork York tiara, which she wore with a garland of white flowers (so Coachella), was a custom design from Garrard’s, and is thought to have been specially commissioned by the Queen and Prince Philip to mark the occasion.
But what was the wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson like?
Alas, only the guests at the Westminster Abbey ceremony will be able to provide us with proper intel on that count - and given the royal family’s inner circle have a vested interest in keeping schtum on private matters like this, we’re unlikely to get the sort of fly-on-the-wall account that we truly deserve. What we do have is (god bless her) Fergie’s own autobiography, in which she gives away some secrets of the big day, including the fact that she lost six pounds in the run up to the wedding due to all the ‘rushing around.’ Plus, there’s also the much-discussed footage that shows Fergie apparently ‘winking’ at her husband-to-be during the ‘honour and obey’ section of her wedding vows: if she’s not already your favourite royal-adjacent, she certainly should be now.
What about their daughters?
The couple welcomed their first child, Princess Beatrice Elizabeth Mary, on 8th August at London’s Portland Hospital. Two years later, Eugenie Victoria Helena arrived on 23rd March 1990.
Look back at royal wedding dresses through history - including Fergie's gown - in the gallery below...
Queen Victoria, 1840
Queen Victoria is one of just two British Queens to have married while reigning (the other is Queen Mary). For her wedding to Prince Albert at St James' Palace, the young Queen chose a simple off-the-shoulder style in white satin, with a flounce of Honiton lace at the neckline. Instead of a coronet, she wore a simple orange blossom garland.
Are Prince Andrew and Sarah still married?
Shortly after Eugenie’s birth, reports about ‘irreconcilable differences’ between the couple – including rumours of infidelities - began to spiral, and on 19th March 1992, exactly six years after they had announced their engagement, the Palace confirmed a separation. The official statement revealed that the Queen found ‘media speculation’ on the topic ‘especially undesirable during the general election campaign,’ and that she hoped ‘that the media [would] spare the Duke and Duchess of York and their children any intrusion.’ This was not to be the case: months later, Fergie was photographed having her toes sucked (yes, you read that correctly) by Texan financier John Bryan while holidaying in St Tropez. Naturally, the pictures made a front page splash – and the Duchess, then still on good terms with her in-laws, was staying at Balmoral when the story broke. The Queen’s private secretary is said to have strongly advised Fergie to leave for London immediately.
And yet Sarah and Andrew still live together?
Correct. Everything that Chris and Gwyneth know about consciously uncoupling, they learnt from Sarah and Andrew (or so we like to think). Despite having been divorced for the best part of two decades, the Yorks still live together at the Royal Lodge in Windsor (a stone’s throw from their daughter’s wedding venue). It’s thought that Sarah moved back in with her ex in 2008 and has never left. Speaking about the arrangement to radio host Kyle Sandilands a few years ago, she explained ‘I’m in and out all the time and he’s in and out all the time. We’re not married – we are very happy the way things are.’ The couple also share a skiing chalet in Verbier, which, incidentally, is the Swiss resort where Eugenie first met her fiancé.
So, things are pretty amicable between these exes, then? Are Prince Andrew and Fergie friends?
We're touched by your interest, and can happily report that the Duke and Duchess of York are a model divorced couple. Indeed, back in 1999, Sarah described her and the Prince as ‘the happiest divorced couple in the world, definitely,’ a sentiment which their daughter Eugenie later echoed when she called her parents ‘the best divorced couple I know.’ When Beatrice and Eugenie were growing up, they continued to be pictured together at important family events, and have attended Royal Ascot together for the past few years.
Does Sarah Ferguson still have a royal title?
Yes… and no. When her divorce was finalized in May 1996, it was confirmed that she would simply lose the ‘the’ from her title, like other divorced peeresses, making her HRH Sarah, Duchess of York. Two months later, though, the Queen announced via letters patent that royals by marriage would lose the style of ‘His/Her Royal Highness’ upon their divorce, making Fergie’s official title Sarah, Duchess of York. Should she marry someone else, she would lose that title.
Will they ever re-marry?
Aside from the heart-eyed #TBT posts to Andrew in ‘80s heart throb mode which Fergie posts with alarming regularity on Instagram, the Duchess has made it clear that she’s pretty happy with the way things are. Should she and Andrew wish to re-marry, though, they’d now be free to do so – thanks to the birth of Prince Louis. While the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 dictates that the first six in line to the British throne must seek the monarch’s consent before marrying (just as Prince Harry did, ahead of his wedding to Meghan Markle), Louis’ arrival pushed Prince Andrew into seventh place, meaning he is now free to marry whoever he pleases.
Let’s talk about Sarah Ferguson at Prince Harry’s wedding...
But of course. Cast your minds back to 2011, when poor Fergie famously did not receive a golden ticket to Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding - and took herself off to Thailand to cheer herself up. It's this high profile snub that made the Duchess's appearance at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding - complete with one, inexplicably singular glove - this year all the more triumphant. Though Harry's aunt reportedly did not receive an invite to the exclusive after-party at Frogmore House, we don't think that should take the shine off what one Twitter user described as 'the best arrival since Maleficent at the christening.'
But where will Fergie sit at Eugenie's royal wedding?
In May, Sarah arrived at St George’s Chapel alone, with her ex-husband, Beatrice, Eugenie and fiancé Jack arriving in a group shortly after. While we can expect the mother of the bride to arrive either solo or with her other daughter next week, it’s thought that Prince Andrew will sit next to his ex-wife after walking Eugenie down the aisle - and as they'll be in close proximity to the other royals, there's plenty of potential for an awkward family reunion broadcast to millions...