Fergie may be stupid - but she's not alone

Here is a family that makes marriage so miserable that the Duchess of York and Diana would rather be Royal outcasts

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There has always been too much of Sarah Ferguson. I'm not talking about her weight but her presence. She was certainly too much for the Royal Family. Fergie we know eats too much, likes her sex too much, likes spending too much. In between all this conspicuous consumption she spins around the world from one ill-conceived interview to the next. No wonder she is thought to be out of control. While it is claimed that her excesses have brought the monarchy into disrepute it strikes me that it is actually the other way around. The Royals need Fergie to be out of control precisely so that they can remain in control.

The more extravagant and daft she is the more self-disciplined they look. How many times do we see lists of what Fergie has spent on psychics or jewellery so we can gasp in amazement at her profligacy, her lack of lustre, her sheer bloody stupidity? Here she comes again in Hello magazine miraculously freckle-free and chastened, whiter than white and willing to slag herself off to save us the bother. Her deranged form of self-flagellation is, of course, typically excessive. If she is to confess her sins she will confess to more sins than anyone else. If she is to be criticised by others then she will demolish herself first. All of this must be done on American chat shows and in magazines. Whatever she has discovered she has not learned to shut up or even to have a semblance of a private life.

Andrew, her ex-husband who she now defends as not being gay, by contrast does have a private life. No one is interested in how much of the Royal purse he spends each year on fripperies. No one asks him to justify his existence. No one even appears to know what this man does all day. Yet we know that in this ultimate soap it is the women, the outsiders married into this supremely dysfunctional family, who must flash their souls at us from time to time.

Diana and Fergie do not even have to resort to kiss-and-tell. The saga of the Royals is played out bizarrely through these women's very flesh. Fergie, Duchess of Pork, came to represent the excesses of this arcane system of rule. All talk was of a trimmer, slim-line monarchy, free of the parasitic minor Royals. When the tide turned against Fergie towards this "lean cuisine" version of heredity privilege, we also started worrying about Fergie's weight. Up and down she went, always struggling to control herself. The very idea that she can now represent Weight Watchers is heart- breaking. If anything, being a bit overweight is far less of a health risk than the yo-yo dieting that Fergie has been through.

Diana, meanwhile, played the patron saint of denial to Fergie's surplus sister. Diana, unlike Fergie, could have no food, no sex, no fun. No potatoes whatsoever. We worried about her weight too. She was thinner than ever. She suffered in silence and when her desires got out of control, she crammed herself with food that she would throw up again. She too knew how to punish herself. This cycle of binge and purge underwrites both these women's sad lives. Fergie is now trying to purge herself in public but she can never undo all that bingeing.

Yet while these two women were in their various states of hysteria, crying themselves to sleep at night, where was the protective arm of the Firm? Where were those who could guide these silly young women into maturity? Fergie has recently been describing her incarceration in Buckingham Palace while Andrew was doing the Navy lark. She saw him not more than 42 nights a year. When she and Andrew asked if they could live in Portland at the married officers' quarters they were refused. The Queen and Prince Philip told them they could not be together for reasons of security. There is no reason to believe that the Duchess is lying here. For all of her faults, she is known to be honest. Her account of her marriage failing not so much because she and Andrew did not love each other but because of the stress she was put under rings true and although the woman is still as clearly mixed-up as her metaphors, one cannot but have some sympathy towards her.

Indeed the Royals should think themselves lucky, for while Fergie is doing the rounds no one is going to look at them too closely. As long as the public can be persuaded to deride and hate this woman then they can maintain their dignified silence behind closed doors. Far from being a disgrace to them she is a convenient side-show that prevents more awkward questions being asked. It is easier to get personal about Fergie than political about the family she married into.

Yet every single glimpse we get of her Royal in-laws reveals them in a harsher light. These are cold, cold people whose sense of duty overrode all human feeling and clouded their relationships with their own children. Their lifestyle, which they seek to preserve at all costs - the ruined lives of two of their sons' wives appear as a minor inconvenience - appears less and less to belong to the twentieth century.

It isn't simply that they have lost their moral authority as the most powerful family in the land because of a spot of martial troubles, rather that many aspects of their family life are deeply troubling and certainly out of step with the average family lives of their subjects. Most people will have relatives who are separated or divorced, most people are fairly liberal about these matters. Here, however, is a family that makes marriage so miserable that the likes of Fergie and Di would rather pay the price of being Royal outcasts than stay.

Both these women, hardly sexual revolutionaries, demanded modern marriages; that is they thought they might spend some time with their husbands. Both were denied this and half-destroyed in the process as the monarchy closed ranks around them, unable to cope with such an everyday demand.

If we are to believe that this institution can modernise and reform itself from the inside out while we sit and gawp, we are about as gullible as Fergie was when she revealed all to Madame Vasso. However, while Fergie begs forgiveness in her crazed, knockabout style, the Firm does no such thing. It merely carries on up the palace, divinely assured that it never has to apologise to any of us, ever.

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