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Tuesday 21 November 2017

End of a fairytale: The rise and fall of a modern Princess

When Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew in 1986 she was considered a welcome addition to the conservative ranks of Britain's out-of-touch royals.

But storm clouds were building. The cosy early relationship with the newspapers did not last, especially after the Duchess's appearance in Prince Edward's ill-judged charity gameshow It's a Royal Knockout.

She was criticised when she put on weight and there were damaging stories of high jinks and expensive freebies, culminating in the infamous holiday pictures of her topless and having her toes sucked by her financial adviser, John Bryan.

The royal separation was announced in 1992, the Queen's annus horribilis, when the entire royal fairytale was blown apart by Andrew Morton's biography of Princess Diana, and Windsor Castle was ravaged by fire.

Just six years after her engagement to the Queen's second son, the woman once welcomed as a breath of fresh air was out in the cold, denigrated as a vulgar interloper by the palace old guard.

Andrew and Sarah waited four years before ending their marriage in 1996 and their later closeness gives credence to her claims that they remain the "world's happiest divorced couple". They live on the same estate, holiday together and shared the upbringing of their two daughters.

But, her meagre €17,000-a-year settlement, based on half the Prince's salary as a Royal Navy officer, caused problems. Diana was given €23m from the Queen to walk away in comfort, but the Duchess of York was left, in her own words, "without a pot to piss in".

So she set about re-inventing herself by sorting out her finances and focusing attention on her charity work. In the 1990s, she created Budgie the Helicopter and continued a prolific output of books, combining this with her €2.3m-a-year duties as figurehead of Weight Watchers in the US.

The Duchess was a sought-after public speaker, a regular on the chat-show circuit, featured in TV shows from The Vicar of Dibley to documentaries and was an ambassador for several leading brands, although critics insisted the one which she promoted most was herself.

Rumours of money troubles began to circulate again last year. She had ended her association with Weight Watchers in 2007 and as she prepared to celebrate her 50th birthday in 2009, the New York-based company Hartmoor LLC, set up to manage her portfolio of interests in the US, collapsed with debts of €600,000.

Only last month -- by which time she was already being investigated by the News of the World -- she faced fresh legal action over €115,000 in unpaid bills for work to turn her children's books into an animated TV series.

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