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The extraordinary history of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew’s relationship

The former royal couple have been divorced for 28 years but still share a lasting bond - here we look back at their relationship

Joe Middleton
Tuesday 23 January 2024 09:48 GMT
Sarah, Duchess of York diagnosed with skin cancer

Sarah Ferguson’s family have been rallying around the royal as she recovers from the shock at being diagnosed with skin cancer - and the one person likely providing support to the Duchess of York is her ex-husband Prince Andrew.

The former royal couple have been divorced for 28 years but still share a lasting bond despite both having endured a series of scandals that would have driven others apart.

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew at their wedding day in 1986 (Getty Images)

Fergie has stood by Prince Andrew during the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, providing soothing words to her former lover as he was forced to step back from royal duties in 2019.

She described him as a “very good and kind man” and gushingly described their wedding day on July 23 1986 as “extraordinary” and an “exceptional day”.

Andrew for his part, rushed to be at Fergie’s side following her treatment for breast cancer last summer at the Royal Lodge in Windsor, Berkshire, where they live together.

They share two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, but suffered a difficult romance that was often stymied by Andrew’s Royal Navy service that meant he was away for long periods of times.

Prior to their courtship, Andrew was considered one of the country’s most eligible bachelors and earned himself the nickname “Randy Andy” after being linked to a string of women.

Prince Andrew, Duke of York (L), Sarah, Duchess of York (2L) Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi (2R) and Britain's Princess Beatrice of York (R) arrive for the Royal Family's traditional Christmas Day service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham in eastern England (AFP via Getty Images)

He was widely respected for his exploits during the Falklands War as a Sea King helicopter pilot and speculation was often rife as to who he would end up marrying.

And it was the bubbly, flame-haired Fergie, the daughter of Major Ronald Ferguson, King Charles’s polo manager, who stole his heart. The duo had met as children but didn’t see each other as adults until 1985 at Royal Ascot, in a meeting reportedly orchestrated by Princess Diana.

Less than a year after they met Andrew proposed on 19 February 1986 at Floors Castle in Scotland on his 26th birthday. He gifted Fergie a bespoke ring designed by himself that featured an oval-cut Burmese ruby that reminded him of her hair.

At the opulent wedding ceremony they shared a passionate embrace on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in front of hundreds of thousands of wellwishers and appeared set for a life of royal service.

However, despite having two wonderful children, cracks started to appear in the marriage due to Andrew’s commitment to his naval career leaving out of the country.

Prince Andrew, Princess Beatrice, The Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson and her sister Jane Luedeckee at All Saints Church, Odiham, Hampshire, England for a Thanksgiving Service (Getty Images)

The duchess told US TV host Ernie Manouse in 2010: “My deal was that I was marrying my man, who happened to be a prince and a naval officer.

“But what I got was not the man, I got the palace and didn’t get him... and the courtiers told me I had to go to Buckingham Palace and he had to go to sea. For our marriage, I saw him 40 days a year.”

The royal couple separated in January 1992 and later divorced in 1996.

The duchess became embroiled in one of the most notorious royal scandals ever after being pictured having her toes sucked by multimillionaire businessman John Bryan while she sunbathed topless in the south of France.

Her tabloid scandals led to a swift banishment from the royal family, but Andrew and the duchess remained close friends.

BBC handout file photo showing the Duke of York speaking about his links to Jeffrey Epstein in an interview with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis (Mark Harrison/BBC/PA)

Andrew’s love life however became overshadowed by a string of more serious controversies that would lead to him becoming a figure of worldwide ridicule.

After leaving the Royal Navy after 22 years service he became the UK’s special representative for international trade and investment, but his 10 years in the role generated a great deal of controversy.

He faced questions over his connections to politicians in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Tunisia, Libya and Turkmenistan.

And his judgment was further questioned after he held meetings with Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s son Saif, and when he entertained the son-in-law of Tunisia’s ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali at Buckingham Palace.

His relations with Timur Kulibayev, son-in-law of the then-president of Kazakhstan, were also scrutinised after Mr Kulibayev purchased the duke’s Sunninghill Park home for £3 million more than its £12 million asking price in 2007.

Simon Wilson – Britain’s deputy head of mission in Bahrain from 2001 to 2005 – wrote in the Daily Mail that the duke was “more commonly known among the British diplomatic community in the Gulf as HBH: His Buffoon Highness”.

However it was his relationship with American financier and convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein that shattered his reputation and led to his banishment from front line royal duties [Andrew has always fiercely denied any wrongdoing].

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma (Joe Giddens/PA)

Andrew paid millions to settle a civil sexual assault lawsuit to a woman he claimed never to have met, Virginia Guiffre. He denied the claims and attempted to clear his name in an infamous Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis that heaped further humiliation on the duke.

Despite each of their respective controversies and problems, they could each rely on each other, despite splitting up almost three decades ago.

As well as continuing to live together at the Royal Lodge, they have also been on holiday numerous times, and met up for a royal engagement in Bahrain in 2019.

They also co-owned a Swiss ski chalet that was reportedly sold to a British family for £19million so the duke could cover the legal costs arising from the fallout of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.

There were even rumours the two were considering remarrying. In 2013, during a promotional event for her children’s book, Ferguson was asked if she and Andrew would remarry.

She said: “He’s still my handsome prince, he’ll always be my handsome prince. It’s lovely that we are such a family and the story has a happy ending all the time.”

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