Royal row: Fergie takes on Fleet Street's finest in fight over Beatrice

Duchess of York tackles Allison Pearson over jibes at daughter. By Katy Guest

Two very public contests dominated last week. The first was fought out on a pitch in Russia and ended with a grown man crying on his backside. The second has been far more brutal: the rival sides are the Daily Mail columnist Allison Pearson and Fergie, Duchess of York.

With combatants as fierce as these, this was always going to be a bloody battle. One is a former royal and spokeswoman for WeightWatchers, who last week whipped up a coleslaw in Hull. The other is a writer and spokeswoman for Paul Dacre who famously distressed a mince pie. The trouble started when Pearson wrote a column about one of Fergie's daughters. "Can't someone buy the poor girl a sarong? For her sake, as well as ours... I fear that Bea is in danger of combining her mother's toe-curling excesses with her dad's physique. Can someone please have a kindly word with her before it all goes pear-shaped?"

Fergie came out fighting. Launching her TV programme, in which she helped a Hull family on benefits to get healthy, she began the counter-attack. "Don't criticise my daughter. Big mistake," she said on 13 May. "This woman... I would like to go to her family and look at the size of her derriere."

Last Monday, Fergie appeared on the Today programme, where a baffled Evan Davis was no match for her. He asked how Princess Beatrice was taking the insult. "I think that her comment was, 'Will they be happy if I get anorexia?'," she replied. "The press has been absolutely outrageous calling her such horrible names and really being very mean about the size of her figure. I just think they ought to take more responsibility."

Then, crucially, Fern Britton got involved. "I think you could name that journalist," she said, provocatively, on This Morning. "Well yes, her name's Allison Pearson, and I gather she has children. So I'm challenging her to come and meet me and my children and then see if she's going to continue to try and sabotage a person's confidence." Replied Fern: "Yes, but every paper has one female columnist whose position is there to attack and ridicule other people." Fern knows about this.

Perhaps it was this that forced Pearson to defend herself. And, in life as in football, attack is the best form of defence. Fergie is "a sad and rather batty figure who speaks fluent therapy gobbledegook", she wrote, adding: "When I hear on the TV news that I failed to respond to the Duchess's many phone calls, when I have received none... then something has to be said."

Whether or not the Duchess made the call is something that may forever remain between her publicist and the Daily Mail switchboard. While it would be lovely to see the pair sitting down to the suggested "cup of tea" and a slice of lardy cake, we won't hold our breath. But where next for Fergie's crusade? On Today, she told Davis that "no I haven't, no I haven't, no I have not" fallen out with Pearson personally. "A woman... wrote extremely rude articles about my daughter and so we called her up."

If this woman was not Pearson, who was it? Well, it could have been the Mail's Amanda Platell, who put Beatrice's figure down to "the curse of the mummy gene". Or Fiona McIntosh in the Sunday Mirror: "Here's a tip: try putting down the biscuit tin, love." Or maybe it was The Times's Janice Turner: "Heck, she's 19 now, old enough to handle the... bitchery. And if she can't, she'd better... succumb to a fashionable food disorder like her late aunt."

Oh, Lynda Lee Potter, what have you started?