Windsors are impressively functional
Despite the global scrutiny, most of the royals' relationships are successful, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
I say frankly and fearlessly that not only do I hope that the rumours that Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, might remarry Sarah Ferguson, better known as Fergie, are true, but I think that when it comes to marriage, the British royal family are impressively functional.
Before I roll up my sleeves and get to the meat of this, here's the story so far on the Yorkies. The dashing naval lieutenant and the big-hearted, jolly-hockeysticks redhead who were delighted with each other when they married in 1986, drifted apart because his work kept him away 10 months of the year. Following their formal separation in 1992, the Duchess was cast out of the family after she appeared in tabloid photos having her toes sucked (or as she claimed later, her instep kissed) by her financial adviser and began a high-profile transatlantic career, during which her various indiscretions caused much wincing in Buckingham Palace.
Fergie never did anything mean-spirited. Indeed, her reluctance to blackmail her in-laws led her to accept a modest divorce settlement in 1996, but she could be foolish and vulgar, her brain was often disconnected from her mouth and in her desperate anxiety to pay off mammoth debts incurred through extravagance, she tried everything from reality TV to promoting Weight Watchers. Among the terrible books she inflicted on the world (having to read Tea for Ruby – in which a little girl tries to acquire enough good manners to have tea with the Queen – over and over to her grandchildren is driving a friend of mine to the edge of reason) was My Story: by Sarah, the Duchess of York.
Fergie was so anxious to be nice about her ex and his family that she had to work hard to enliven what was otherwise pure saccharine, so artlessly she made the revelation that she once caught a verruca from shoes she borrowed from Princess Diana. True to form and despite Fergie's grovelling apologies, Diana refused ever to speak to her again.
Fergie's greatest disaster was being secretly filmed by an undercover reporter posing as an Indian businessman as she drunkenly promised that for £500,000 she could introduce him to Andrew, who by then had an international role as a trade ambassador for Britain. Since then, Andrew's taken charge and sorted out her finances and she's learned to keep her head down.
During these turbulent years, the Yorks have remained fiercely loyal to each other and have shared houses and custody of Beatrice and Eugenie, both of whom are nice girls who earned good degrees. The parents have both said publicly that remarriage was a possibility, so when Fergie was included this month in a family weekend at Balmoral, the rumour factory went wild. Had the Queen lived up to Fergie's assessment of her as "the most wonderful, forgiving, nonjudgmental person I know" and prevailed on Prince Philip – who thinks indiscretion a moral sin – to let bygones be bygones?
Experts have read the royal runes and conclude that Philip's absence from Balmoral means that there will be no remarriage in his lifetime. What there seems to be, however, is a partial rehabilitation of Fergie pending the engagement of Beatrice to Dave Clark, her boyfriend of seven years. Clark is Richard Branson's Director of Astronaut Relations at Virgin Galactic, so watch out for Beatrice to be the first royal in space. He certainly has an instinct for PR. When the bizarre Philip Tracey creation Beatrice wore at William and Kate's wedding made her a galactic figure of fun, on Clark's advice she took charge of the story by selling the hat on eBay for charity and raising £81,000.
As for my belief that the Windsors are a functional family? Well, consider that the royals and those they marry are under permanent global scrutiny, with all the appalling stress that involves, yet the Queen and Philip have been happily married for 65 years, Charles, after making a catastrophic error because he was told Diana was his duty, is blissfully happy with the woman he has loved for more than four decades, Anne is contentedly remarried and gets on fine with her ex, see above for Andrew, Edward's 14-year-old marriage seems solid, and all their various children seem to be turning out just fine. These days, isn't that a remarkable achievement?