The domestic economy of the Duchess

Is Fergie's much-hyped poverty merely a tabloid creation, asks Vicky Ward, and, below, we pit the lifestyles of two down-to-earth single mums against the Duchess's
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The Duchess of York is in the headlines again. This time it's for saying to Hello! magazine, albeit via an Italian agency, that financial problems have forced her to cut back on her charity work: "I have to work to earn my living to be able to provide my daughters with a pleasant upbringing." She adds that the fortune (speculated in some papers to be pounds 8m) she confidently expected to make from her Budgie the Helicopter books, films and products has not come about "because of an unfavourable contract".

Alas for the Duchess, the accompanying pictures of the spacious luxury of Kingsbourne, her Surrey mansion(rented at pounds 1,500 a week), show that her idea of a "pleasant upbringing" is substantially more sumptuous than many single mothers would find strictly necessary. The tabloids have not been slow to point out the irony, adding that though the Duchess may have sought to economise last year by sacking her children's nanny, she has kept on a home staff of four: a driver, a cook, a butler and a general assistant. A snip at pounds 3,200 a month. And have we mentioned the staff of five at Buckingham Palace to deal with her press office and other matters? Or the fact that for as long as the Duchess has custody of the Princesses Beatrice, six, and Eugenie, five, she has to have police protection?

Juxtapose this with pleas of impecuniosity and the Duchess, inevitably, appears grasping and extravagant - or quite unbelievably naive. To make matters worse, she and her daughers have this week flown first class to stay with the impresario Robert Stigwood in his mansion in Bermuda. The pictures of his house have been added to the frenzy. There's a ready, infinitely repeatable phrase for all this: "Yet another Fergie gaffe".

But is it? Have the press got the story right? Or is Fergie's seemingly monstrous personality little more than a creation of the tabloids, aided and abetted by biased titbits fed them byBuckingham Palace courtiers?Certainly, it has become all too easy to condemn her, and believe the criticisms and only the criticisms.

Let's look at three years' worth of press cuttings (no mean task - there are at least 15 mentions per tabloid per month). Does the newspaper narrative that is supposedly Fergie's life add up? Not really.

Take last year. In the spring the Mail stated that a recent trip to Cannes by the Duchess to promote her four Budgie the Helicopter books had resulted in worldwide deals (turning the Budgie character into films, chocolate cakes, balloons, underwear, anything) totalling pounds 8m, giving the Duchess profits then and there of pounds 2m.

Yet by the summer some of those same TV companies were stating in the same tabloids that the Duchess's link with the products was much more tenuous than had been realised (of the 13 episodes of the Budgie series that appeared on ITV last year, only one was based on a story by the Duchess). By the autumn the original figures were being quoted again.

It is not clear what income the Duchess reaps from the Budgie character she devised and over which she has, at least, copyright. It is clear that the tabloids have got the figures wrong. Sleepy Kids, the production company which bought the serialisation rights, confirmed yesterday that the figures being bandied around are out of order. "What can you do?" said a spokesman. "We are not allowed to state what the Duchess's percentage is. If someone says to us, 'Is it pounds 1 million?' we are not allowed to deny it. The Duchess's deal is a standard sort of deal and it takes a long time for the actual creator of a character to make money."

Then there were the stories that the Duchess had obtained an extortionate advance of up to pounds 150,000 from the publishing firm Weidenfeld to write a book about the European travels of Queen Victoria. This now seems to have been transformed into a vague "consultancy on a film about Queen Victoria" with no fee cited. This year tales were printed about her appearing on an episode of Baywatch. There was never any Baywatch appearance.

Despite the nebulousness of tabloid reports, they are allunited on one front: Fergie is a very bad thing.

She is coarse, she is grasping, she is an embarrassment; she is an unfaithful Royal wife on the make. She will seize any chance to merge her charity visits with promoting Budgie: they recorded with disdain how she flaunted Budgie books before the cameras in New York, between visiting care centres. Or how, as was reported in the Mail, on her recent visit to Romanian orphanages, she occupied her leisure time by ordering dresses for pounds 50,000 in Denmark. One has reason to be sceptical.

Yesterday the Duchess's press secretary patiently explained that this week's incriminating interview in Hello! magazine was in fact taken from a speech made several months ago in Washington - before even the Duchess had moved to Kingsbourne or gone anywhere near Stigwood's mansion. The tabloids' juxtaposition seems therefore, at the very least, a distortion.

No doubt the Duchess, as she herself has admitted, has played things wrong in the past. She may well be commercially grasping and, who knows, extravagant.

But as her secretary points out, her options are limited. She cannot exactly go and get a nine to five job, nor can she bring Beatrice and Eugenie up in a hovel. Besides, as long as the tabloids go on weaving their tricky fictions, can Fergie do anything remotely right?

Eight bedrooms and a swimming pool

Sarah, 35, has two children, Beatrice, 6, and Eugenie, 5. She is separated from her husband, the Duke of York

What is her employment? Founder and president of Children in Crisis; president of the Motor Neurone Disease Association; author of children's books; books promoter and film consultant.

What is her income?

Basic of pounds 25,000 a year, plus a lump separation settlement of circa pounds 500,000-pounds 600,000, and earnings from the Budgie copyright which have yet to reach pounds 1m.

How much does she spend on clothes for herself per month?

Reports vary from pounds 50,000 a month to castigation for old, frumpy clothes.

How much does she spend on her hair per month?

For her wedding she went to Denise McAdam (pounds 75 a blow dry) but normally she goes to Mayfair's Nicky Clarke (pounds 150).

How much does she spend on clothes for her children per month?

Not known. But there is a pounds 1.4m trust for her daughters.

What trainers does she buy her children?

Not known, although the Duchess herself has been seen in Air Jordans.

What was the last present she bought her children?

Not known, but last Christmas WH Smith in Reading refused her pounds 100 credit on her Access card for games, books and tapes.

What is her usual mode of transport?

She had a 1.4 litre Ford Escort worth approximately pounds 9,000 but recently test drove a pounds 53,000 Jaguar convertible.

How many holidays has she been on in the past two years? June 1993 to June 1994: strictly holidays only (no work or charity activities) five: two to Balmoral, one to Ireland, one to Verbier and one to Australia for her sister's wedding. June 1994 to June 1995: three: one to Ireland, one to Klosters and one to Bermuda.

Over the two years there were work-related trips to Cannes, Romania, New York, Mount Everest and Kenya among others.

What does she do on a Saturday night?

Weekends are kept sacrosanct for the children.

How would she describe her social life generally?

A lot of work mixed with play.

How many rooms does she have?

Not stated but her rented house has eight bedrooms, a swimming pool and tennis court.

What is her biggest complaint about being a single mother? Because Prince Andrew is a sailor she is, according to the press, very used to being a single mother. According to her press secretary, she adores being a mother.

I buy him cheap trainers, but leather

Sally, 40, has one son, William, eight. They live in north London.

What is your employment? Journalist.

What is your income?

pounds 23,000 per year.

How much do you spend on clothes for yourself per month? Very little. Maybe pounds 1,000 per year.

How much do you spend on your hair per month?

I have my hair cut about three times a year and spend pounds 25 a time.

How much do you spend on clothes for your child per month?

pounds 200.

What trainers do you buy your child?

The cheapest I can get away with that are leather.

What was the last present you bought your child?

A football.

What is your usual mode of transport?

Buses and tube. I have no car.

How many holidays have you been on in the last two years? Four: four days in Hastings, five days in France, two weeks in Lyme Regis, two weeks in Cornwall.

What do you do on a Saturday night?

Depends if I've got my child or not. He goes to his father every other weekend. When he's with me we stay in or go out for a snack. When he's not, I go out with friends to the cinema or for a meal.

How would you describe your social life generally?

Varied.

How many rooms do you have? Eight rooms in a house which I share and part-own.

What is your biggest complaint about being a single mother? Lack of time and lack of money.

My last Saturday night out was in 1992

Lesley, 35, has two children, Andrew, 12, and Michael, three.

What is your employment?

Unemployed.

What is your income?

pounds 65 a week income support, pounds 25 child benefit, and pounds 10 maintenance from Andrew's father.

How much do you spend on clothes for yourself per month? Up to pounds 5. I go to a lot of jumble sales to find bargains.

How much do you spend on your hair per month?

The last time I had a haircut was three months ago. It cost pounds 1.50.

How much a month do you spend on clothes for your children?

Between pounds 5 and pounds 10.

What trainers do you buy your children?

Kingfisher trainers for Andrew, pounds 20. The youngest has never had trainers.

What was the last present you bought your children?

Birthday present for Michael in April: toy dinosaur. Christmas present for Andrew: trainers and a few small bits and pieces.

What is your usual mode of transport?

If I can walk it, I do. Otherwise I get a bus. I don't drive.

How many holidays have you been on in the last two years? None.

What do you do on a Saturday night?

I watch TV. The last time I went out on Saturday night was 18 April 1992 - the night before my youngest son was born.

How would you describe your social life generally?

Non-existent. I visit relatives occasionally.

How many rooms do you have? I live in a rented flat with six rooms.

What is your biggest complaint about being a single mother? Lack of money.

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