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Royalty, clown come to tea

The Baltimore Sun

Only a charity event could boast such a bizarre assemblage: British and Northeast Baltimore royalty sitting for a proper tea party with a famous corporate clown in the west side of downtown.

Yet there they were yesterday, two of the world's most famous redheads -- Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and Ronald McDonald -- having a spot of tea with Maryland first lady Katie Curran O'Malley.

The occasion: to announce a McDonald's charity program that will place a new item -- a $1 donation -- on the Maryland menus of the chain's 500 restaurants in the Baltimore and Washington region.

All the proceeds will go to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Baltimore on West Lexington Street, which for 25 years has provided a home for seriously ill children undergoing treatments at Baltimore-area hospitals.

Children like 4-year-old Claire Sorkin of Bethesda, who had the honor of being seated between the duchess and first lady.

"We've been here six weeks," said Claire's mother, Linda Sorkin. "She found out about this last week, but we had to bring her down a little bit because she expected the duchess to come in like Cinderella."

Duchess doesn't translate as easily as princess, which is probably why Ferguson told the children the other Cinderella-like aspects of her life: "A long time ago, I married a prince. And I have two princess daughters."

She reminded them that in 1986, she rode to her wedding to Prince Andrew in a "glass coach with six white horses," wearing a tiara and a white dress with a 15-foot train. No mention of how that fairy tale marriage turned into a pumpkin when the two divorced.

Instead, she said, "I decided after that I wanted to go around the world to talk to the real celebrities, the children. I don't really like grownups."

She's more like another Disney character, Peter Pan, yet she compared her world traipsing on behalf of childrens' charities to his sidekick, Tinker Bell. And the children took to her accordingly. The first thing Ferguson did when she arrived was to drop to her knees to look her knee-high greeters in the eyes and to hand out gifts she carried in a black duffel bag.

Fergie has been a global ambassador for Ronald McDonald House for the past two years, but she also has her own charities, Children in Crisis and Chances for Children.

Ronald himself showed up to thank her for her efforts. "I am your prince," he said.

As the children dined on finger sandwiches and treats, Ferguson, who said she keeps an apartment in New York City, also complimented O'Malley for joining in on the charity event.

"I'm thrilled to meet the first lady and a judge," Ferguson said of O'Malley, who serves on the District Court bench. "Are you like Judge Judy?"

The room erupted in laughter.

"I hope not," O'Malley said.

"I've never watched her," Ferguson admitted, referring to the tough-talking television judge.

"Sometimes I'm accused of being Judge Judy," O'Malley said.

But not yesterday.

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