Now Fergie gets to walk royal plank Party's over: Attorneys in London announce divorce of Prince Andrew and Sarah, ending their nearly 10-year marriage.


LONDON -- The royal family won't have Fergie to kick around anymore.

The Duke and Duchess of York, Prince Andrew and his wife, Sarah, known as Fergie, are to divorce.

Their attorneys made the announcement yesterday, and a hearing will be held today in a stark London court room, a vivid contrast from the couple's glittering 1986 wedding at Westminster Abbey. The divorce could be complete by next month as the royal family sheds its unofficial royal outcast.

Fergie, after all, is the only royal ever photographed sunbathing topless, having her toes sucked by her financial adviser, her children nearby. Queen Elizabeth II, who turned 70 Sunday, was said to be "saddened" by the announcement. But it was no secret that the queen has been dismayed by the collapse of her childrens' marriages, and has put divorce proceedings on a fast track.

The Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana, announced in February that they would seek a divorce to end their 14-year marriage. Negotiations for a divorce settlement continue.

Apparently, it was a lot easier for the Duke and Duchess of York to cut a deal. "The decision by the duke and duchess is a personal one, and theirs alone," their attorneys said.

The couple's children, Beatrice, 7, and Eugenie, 6, will continue to live with their mother. "Both parents will participate fully in their upbringing," the attorneys said.

The duchess will drop the title, "Her Royal Highness." Royal watchers estimate the divorce settlement will include a $3 million payment to the duchess, with the bulk of the money placed in trust for the children.

It's well-known that Sarah has endured financial problems, with news reports last winter estimating her debts at more than $4 million. The bills for designer dresses, drivers, maids and vacations were so ridiculous that the queen even announced she was cutting off the duchess. But Sarah received a quick infusion of cash when she flew to the United States to seal a deal on enhanced rights to her "Budgie" children's books.

In recent years, she has been the most unpopular royal of them all. And last night, after the divorce was announced, politicians practically lined up to ridicule her.

"It is a very sad thing to have happened," Toby Jessel, a Conservative member of Parliament told Britain's Press Association. "But the duchess turned out to be a person of sheer unabashed vulgarity not keeping up with Britain's royal traditions."

John Butcher, another Conservative politician, said: "Fergie would have been more suited married to [pop performer] Bob Geldof rather than to the son of the queen. The sooner she is detached from the royal family, the better."

It all started so differently. When they married, July 23, 1986, Andrew and Sarah appeared to be a perfect match. He was the one-time Playboy Prince who once dated a soft-porn actress, Koo Stark. But Andrew also served as a Royal Navy pilot in the Falkland war.

Fergie was fun-loving and free-spirited, said to be the perfect addition for the somewhat staid royal family. The couple had been childhood playmates. Her father, Maj. Ronald Ferguson, was a polo manager for Prince Charles.

Before her marriage, she told an interviewer: "I do not have a temper. I am quite opinionated. I like to know what's going on."

She proved to be a royal disaster. Some made fun of her weight, others her fashion choices. The royals were infuriated when she mugged for the cameras. The marriage broke down nearly four years ago, said to be done in by bad publicity and the strains brought on by Prince Andrew's extended military tours.

"Make sure you spend a long time before you make a decision and really know your men," she said in an interview after the split.

Fergie appeared to hit bottom later in 1992 when she was caught in those notorious "toe-sucking" pictures with American financier John Bryan, while the couple was in the south of France. The photos astonished Britons and apparently enraged the queen.

Years later, a former royal courtier summed up the duchess with three words: "vulgar, vulgar, vulgar."

Despite the obvious embarrassments, the separated royals apparently enjoyed a warm relationship, and they often kissed and hugged in public.

In recent weeks, she has tried to complete a make over, appearing in an unusual photo spread in a British magazine. Fergie was almost ghost-like, her hair pulled back, her freckles erased. In contrast, Andrew rarely makes public appearances anymore.

Queen Elizabeth's three eldest children now have failed first marriages. Princess Anne is now remarried. Prince Edward, the youngest child, is soon expected to announce his engagement to Sophie Rhys Jones, a commoner who is expected to bring a common-sense touch to the royal household.

The royals don't need anymore fairy-tale weddings. They just need a marriage that lasts.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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