With her film 'The Young Victoria," Sarah Ferguson reinvents herself yet again

DUCHESS TREAT: Sarah Ferguson's film
DUCHESS TREAT: Sarah Ferguson's film "The Young Victoria" chronicles a torrid royal love affair. (Photos By Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, sits in a quiet corner table at a Georgetown cafe chatting about royals and romance -- two topics with which she has become intimately acquainted.

Britons have known her as a merry bride of Windsor, then a military wife, then a career-minded divorcee. Americans know her best in this latter chapter, when she came here to find her voice, her fortune and herself -- as a children's book author, then a self-help maven. The former Weight Watchers spokeswoman is now a Hollywood producer, and her new movie is a love story set inside Buckingham Palace. "The Young Victoria" fills the big screen with the passionate 19th-century embraces of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Over lunch at Leopold's Kafe, a Georgetown destination for many Europeans, Ferguson brightens when asked if there has ever been another true love inside the stuffy palaces of the British royal family.

Her enthusiastic answer is her own with Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, fourth in line to the British throne, the man she married in full fairy-tale style in Westminster Abbey in 1986, the father of her two daughters, and from whom she was publicly and painfully divorced in 1996. The enthusiasm is telling: Might there be something, behind the palace walls, rekindling?

As she talks about her true and deep romance with Andrew -- "all we wanted to do was be with each other" -- she leaves the clear, lingering impression that her ex-husband is not a man she thinks of in the past tense. She suggests, with her words and the sparkle in her blue eyes, that divorce was not the end of their love story.

"I have never found a better man," says Fergie. "I don't do anything without his blessing."

In fact, she says, she and Andrew live in the same royal residence in Windsor, just outside London. The two are very close to their coming-of-age daughters, Princess Beatrice, 21, and Princess Eugenie, 19.

On these shores, Ferguson is more open than she might be at home about her losses: Her mother was decapitated in a car accident in Argentina in 1998. The year before, Princess Diana, whom she describes as "my best friend," died in a Paris car accident. Ferguson's father, who suffered from melanoma, succumbed to a heart attack in 2003.

Now 50, Ferguson says life has gotten easier with age. And it always helps to get along with the mother-in-law. A sign of Andrew and Sarah's ever-closer relationship was Queen Elizabeth's invitation last year to the family gathering at Balmoral Castle, ending a perceived ban on the duchess's inclusion. Ferguson called the queen "the greatest lady I have ever met in my life."

Her prince is still a prince and, in Ferguson's telling, their life is more modern arrangement than fairy tale -- something approaching a grown-up version of love on their own terms.

"We are the happiest divorced couple in the world," she says.

"If Andrew were sitting here right now he would say, 'If only we had fought harder for our own love . . . ' "

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