Even duchesses have debts

Click to follow
The Independent Online
When I read that the Duchess of York had an overdraft of pounds 3m, thanks to excessive spending, it took me back to the days in the Sixties when I won pounds 152,000 on the pools - equivalent to pounds 3m in today's money - and vowed to "spend, spend spend". Four years later, I had spent it all.

Of course, the Duchess is in a different position. I am sure that if I had married into a wealthy family I would have expected them always to back me for ever, and have no qualms about it. She must think that she can go on spending and spending and the Queen will always pick up her bills. Well, the Queen has said no and I think she was right. We all have to learn responsibility and to stand on our own two feet.

The Duchess has to remember now that dealing with debts needs courage and brazenness - just the same qualities it takes to spend the money in the first place. You have to pay off your debts little by little, and blame no one but yourself. I knew I had no rich parents to help me out; she must face up to the fact that she has no one, either.

The friends that surround her now may well turn out to be like the "friends" who helped me to spend my money. All my old friends, the people I grew up with, faded away when I won - they did not want to be accused of going after my money. In their place came hangers-on, people who were great fun and great friends - as long as I paid the piper. It is hard to live around people who think you are clever for coming into a lot of money fast - and it sounds as if the Duchess has been spending hard to impress the people around her.

I wonder if she will find, as I did, that her friends will disappear very quickly now she is in difficulties. No one phoned, no one apologised, no one offered to lend me any money. I was left alone with four children to bring up.

For a while I am sure she has been denying that she is really in trouble. I used to go out and spend pounds 700 in a day, then the bank would phone up and say they were going to bounce the cheque. It is so hard to let go of that fantastic feeling of freedom - you can buy 10 pairs of shoes and 10 outfits all at once. Then you come home and you have got all these shoes and clothes, and you think, what was that about? Or you give a party - which would cost pounds 2,000 in those days - all to impress other people.

The humiliation of losing all your money is terrible. But you have to take stock of what you have, face up to your responsibilities and live through it. You swap the big house for a small one, and you sell the car. In the process you discover who really values you, even when you have nothing to give.

The people I am close to now really want me, not what I have to give - in fact, I am more likely to be sponging off them. I will phone them up and say, "I'm a bit short, can I come over to tea?"

My children have never reproached me for what happened, and I hope Beatrice and Eugenie will be just as understanding.

I now have a job at a duty-free shop selling perfume, and I live in a small terraced house. But it is a happy house, and there is a room here for the Duchess of York if she needs it.