Royal vat-en-sit: How Yorks split and lived (together) happily ever after
It's by far the most puzzling relationship in the British royal family. This is how Andrew and Fergie have made it work
Ever since Sarah, Duchess of York moved in with her ex-husband after a fire broke out in her Surrey home a decade ago, it has been suggested the couple might one day remarry.
Prince Andrew and Fergie have been described as “the happiest divorced couple in the world” by their daughter Princess Beatrice, and their postmarital amiability has broken not just the royal mould but also a social taboo.
I was once given short shrift by Queen Elizabeth II’s second son when I dared to question the wisdom of an arrangement that has seen Sarah given permanent lodgings at Royal Lodge, the Windsor home that Andrew leased from the Crown Estate after their divorce in 1996.
“So what?” he replied. “Why can’t you remain friends with your ex-wife?”
With surprising candour, the prince then added: “We were absolutely determined that our two wonderful girls had the best start in life that we could possibly give them, and if that means that’s the way that we have behaved then so be it.
“It may be unconventional in many people’s eyes; it was perhaps unconventional, even to us, but it seems perfectly normal now. We’ve done it.”
This weekend, the couple were spotted putting on a very united front, riding together in Windsor, once again fuelling rumours of remarriage. Yet friends insist the relationship is purely platonic.
“They love each other, but are not in love,” said one insider.
“They are best friends who trust each other implicitly. They both travel a lot, so they are often like passing ships in the night, but it works. With Beatrice and Eugenie, they are a very close family unit.”
While the Duke of Edinburgh reportedly still refuses to speak to his former daughter-in-law – and on Wednesday it was reported he would decide on the morning whether to attend Eugenie's wedding on Friday – in many ways the present-day Yorks are a lot like a previous York family.
Before Edward VIII’s abdication, when George VI was still the Duke of York, he used to refer to his wife and two daughters, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret, as “we four”.
The idea of Andrew, 58, and Fergie, 59, remarrying, though, is “a nonstarter”, say royal insiders.
Both have had other partners since they divorced; Prince Andrew has been linked to a number of beautiful women, including actress Angie Everhart, model Alexandra Escat, former Bond girl Katie Rabett and entrepreneur Amanda Staveley.
Meanwhile, Sarah is believed to have dated Internet entrepreneur Manuel Fernandez between 2014 and 2017, although she has always insisted they were “just friends”, and she had a relationship with the Norwegian frozen food tycoon Geir Frantzen, owner of Findus, in the noughties.
However, seemingly hinting at the prospect of a future rapprochement, she said of her relationship with Prince Andrew last year: “We’re divorced to each other right now. [But] we’ve never really left each other.”
“A cynic might suggest that she doesn’t dispel the myth that they might get back together because it suits her,” says one royal insider. It certainly provides some cover for their unorthodox living arrangements. Sarah was ensconced at Dolphin House in Englefield Green, Surrey, in 2008 when a fire started in the bathroom while she was out. The flames were later linked to a Diptyque candle that she had been using as a lavatory air freshener. With the property in need of renovation, she moved into Royal Lodge, just a mile down the road – and has never moved out.
“What you’ve got to remember is that Sarah has become accustomed to a certain way of living,” said one source.
Having almost been declared bankrupt, with debts of millions of pounds in 2010, Andrew’s second source of income has certainly come in handy – although friends insist Fergie has always endeavoured to pay her way.
Indeed, there have been a series of ventures in recent years, including a stint selling juicers on QVC in the US, as well as other endorsements, book deals and TV appearances.
At the height of her financial troubles, the duchess was caught in a News of the World sting offering access to her husband in return for £500,000. In hidden camera footage filmed by the now-defunct tabloid, she was seen walking off with a briefcase containing £40,000 in cash.
She has since tried to sue News UK for “destroying her career”. A settlement has not been reached yet.
In a sign of the strength of their bond, Andrew supported his ex-wife throughout the ordeal, and is believed to have bailed her out on a number of occasions.
In 2015, it emerged that the couple had bought a £13m ski lodge together in the exclusive Swiss resort of Verbier.
They are understood to have taken out a joint mortgage on the seven-bedroom chalet, which boasts an indoor swimming pool, as an investment for Beatrice and Eugenie.
Those wondering where the money came from would be wise to note that Andrew sold the Yorks’ marital home, Sunninghill Park, for £15m in 2007.
Since Sarah only reportedly received £350,000 cash from the Queen in the divorce settlement, one could easily argue that she was due some of the proceeds of sale.
According to the friend: “People forget that Sarah left the marriage with very little. She’s never said a bad word about the royal family, she’s been very loyal.”
Just as Andrew supported her through her financial woes, so too Sarah has been there for her ex-husband. While questions were raised over the prince’s suitability as a UK trade envoy, Sarah has only ever referred to the naval officer she married in 1986 in glowing terms.
In a 2010 interview in the US, which resurfaced over the summer, she described him as the “greatest gentleman that I know”, adding: “We are the happy ever after, it’s just not about marriage. It’s more about this extraordinary friendship we have. Andrew and I, we have a love which is unfathomable, it’s so great and the two girls love it.
“Should we be married? I don’t think we’re meant to be married. I think I am free, but nothing will take his place in my heart.”
While they’re expected to sit next to each other in St George’s Chapel tomorrow, Fergie’s frosty relationship with her former father-in-law, who still blames her for bringing shame on the monarchy in the 90s, means that Sarah is understandably “nervous” about the big day.
“Of course she is,” said a source. “She’s very proud of her daughter and delighted to be mother of the bride, but she does have to take a deep breath before these occasions.”
She has avoided major royal events in the past, and it wasn’t easy for her to go to Harry and Meghan’s wedding – although it was nonsense that she expected to be invited to the evening do; she knew that was only for nearest and dearest.
“When it comes to their daughter’s own wedding, the duke and his ex-wife remain very much each other’s nearest and dearest.
“They may no longer be married, but it seems they will continue to love and cherish one another till death do them part.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2018)