Sign of the times as Fergie saga fails to titillate readers

The foreigners ignored it; the British deplored it. Newsy Bunny gave it the thumbs-up but few others found a kind word.

Hardback copies of Fergie: Her Secret Life hit bookshelves yesterday amid a spectacularly damp-squib author-signing session. "The Book She Tried To Ban" looked set to become The Book He Failed To Sell, as customers turned their backs on Allan Starkie's "sensational" revelations.

"I've got other things to study," said Nerika Pinto, a Portuguese student, as she left Oxford Street's Dillons with a an English dictionary. A passer- by, Peter Mayberry, said: "I'm an Australian and I'm not very interested in the lady."

The book, published by Michael O'Mara, who also bought Andrew Morton's Diana: Her True Story, charts the Duchess of York's relationship with her financial adviser, John Bryan, with descriptions of her sexual preferences.

Marguerite Horner was in two minds. Should she buy a signed copy for a friend's 50th birthday? "It's not so much the money, but whether it's rubbish," mused the mother of four. "It's very simply written. How much is it just a hype job? It's not something you'd want to admit to buying. It's so tacky. You know, it's so destructive, the whole thing."

In minutes, the book had become a symbol of society to Mrs Horner. "It's all part of the moral decay. Everyone thinks they have a right to know what everyone else is doing. No, I won't buy it. I've talked myself out of it." Her friend would be getting a tie instead.

There were, however, two takers. Richard Kay, the Daily Mail's royal reporter, explained: "It's a gift". And Nicole Linay, 25, said she couldn't wait to "get divulged". "Ah, I didn't know they had colour pictures," she said, skimming her copy. "Let's face it, everyone likes a scandal. It intrigues us."

Meanwhile, the 39-year-old New Yorker who was once the Duchess's confidant defended his work. It wasn't money, nor revenge, rather "an act of confession".

"Sometimes you have to bring your own case to the courts of humanity and see what they think. I absolutely don't think I am guilty of grubby conduct. No, I don't feel I've betrayed her. I don't want to say I've done her a great favour either. I think I've given her a fair shot."

Mr Starkie has been mauled from all quarters. His first "fan mail" dropped on his doorstep yesterday. "It was from a woman who said I should be shot," he said cheerily. But he always has his mum. "She's a mother. She's proud of me."

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