Princess Beatrice was just eight years old when, according to reports, her mother first put her on a diet.
There was, at the time, a lot of strain at home. Her parents, having announced their separation after just six years of marriage, had recently finalised their divorce. Sarah Ferguson, who herself had once been dubbed by the tabloids as the "Duchess of Pork" was now cut off from financial support from the Royal Household, and had recently accepted a contract promoting the slimming brand Weight Watchers. Soon, her attention and scrutiny turned to her own daughter. "I think over-eating sort of runs in the family," she was said to have explained to journalists at the time.
Such are the pressures of a childhood lived out in front of the intense scrutiny of the global media. Now a young woman, Beatrice's every move (and every kilo) have long been a subject for public debate
Since she was small, her close, but gaffe-prone parents have consistently been the black sheep of the royal household. As a result, Beatrice has always had to perform a high-wire act to try to retain the approval of both the public, and her grandmother the Queen, while also remaining loyal to both her parents, who teeter perennially on the edge of a state of disgrace.
Now 26, Beatrice herself seems to be in the grip of a quarter-life crisis. Though officially still a Princess, she has been excluded from Buckingham Palace's payroll as a working royal, as a result of efforts to streamline the institution's finances and it's public image. Out of a job since December, she seems to be struggling to find her own role. She is regularly pilloried in the press for being a "benefit's scrounger," because she does not undertake official royal duties, yet lives in a "grace and favour" home.
Beatrice is said to have been hurt by accusations that she is "work-shy." Up until December, she was employed as a junior producer at Sony, but quit her job after hackers attacked the company's private database, and exposed details of her salary, which was revealed to be just £20,000 a year.
Since then, she has mostly been dealing with the transition by jetting off on a string of luxury holidays. She has taken eleven in the six months since she quit her job, according to the closely-watching media who are only too happy to keep a tally of her every extravagance.
Beatrice's life at the moment is a strange paradox. Though unemployed, she is nonetheless one of the most well-connected young women in Britain. Her friends are a clutch of aristos and financiers with a smattering of celebrities thrown in for good measure. Gifted with both her title and her mother's particular brand of every-woman appeal, she enjoys friendships with a wide cross-section of the great and the good. She mingles easily with heads of state and pop-stars alike and keeps her hand in with London's most glamorous young things. It was Beatrice, after all, who introduced Prince Harry to his most recent girlfriend Cressida Bonas.
When Princess Beatrice first began stepping out in high society in her late teens, she was praised by a gushing media for her poise and self-possession. It was reported that she didn't drink or smoke. Though regularly photographed at prestigious events, she always seemed to demonstrate perfect decorum. Royal correspondents noted approvingly that, despite suffering from dyslexia, she had been named Head Girl at school.
But perhaps more, even, than her cousins William and Harry, Beatrice had grown up around celebrities. Her mother, who always seemed to revel in the "behind the velvet rope" access that her own fame had afforded her claims Robbie Williams as one of her close friends. Her daughter soon began to follow her example. By 19, she was attending the same parties as the infamous Primrose Hill set. Otherwise known as Britain's unofficial royalty, the group, decidedly more rock-and-roll than Beatrice's heretofore more blue-blooded social circle, included Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Jade Jagger and Meg Matthews.
At 21, Beatrice gained access to her estimated personal fortune of 2.5 million pounds, and seemed to revel in the opportunities being young, rich and royal afforded her. "I wouldn't trade my life for anyone else's. I know I'm very lucky," she once said in a rare interview. "A lot of it is quite normal, scooting around the supermarket with a shopping trolley and things like that. With one parent being a prince and the other being an amazing sort of... business woman."
In 2007 she was pictured out partying with Lily Allen and was said to have joined a group of revellers back at Lily's house at the end of a long night. A few days later, another guest at the party spoke to the press about the Princess's behaviour, describing how Beatrice had let her hair down, poking fun at herself by curtseying, apparently shouting out, "I'm not so royal now, am I!"
"Bea was great fun," the guest went on. "Her and Lily were controlling the stereo and putting on the tunes - and leading the dancing. There was a gang back there, including some of Oasis - but not the Gallaghers. Bea was loving being in with the music crowd. . . She was one of the last to leave in the early hours of the morning and she must have had a serious hangover the next day."
This wasn't the only blemish on the Princess's otherwise admirable record of public decorum. In 2006 when she was just 17, her judgement was called into serious question when it was revealed in the tabloids that her first proper boyfriend, an American called Paolo Liuzzo had previously been convicted on an assault and battery charge. To make matters worse, he had originally been accused of manslaughter. The charges related to his involvement in the death of a teenager, which occurred after a drunken brawl while he was a student at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts. Eventually, however, the more serious charge was later dropped, and Liuzzo carried out community service rather than undergo a custodial sentence. Still, her parents expressed concerns at the time about the company she was keeping. But their clear trust in their daughter ultimately won out. She may have many faults, but Sarah Ferguson's (Fergie) instinct to always take her children's side is admirable. At the time, she issued a public statement in her daughter's defence saying, "As any parent will know, the most important element in a relationship with your child is trust. We all have our own journeys and have to learn our way but Beatrice is a sensible girl, soon to be 18, with many friends including Paolo. We must trust her judgement."
She and Andrew went a step further still, when they invited their daughter's new boyfriend along with them on a family skiing trip.
Beatrice's relationships with Liuzzo proved to be rather less stalwart than her parents support, however, and the pair parted ways not long after. For the last seven years she has been in a seemingly stable relationship with Dave Clarke. Beatrice was introduced to Dave, a former head of "Astronaut relations" at Virgin Galactic, who has recently taken a job with taxi app Uber, by Prince Williams. Her parents are said to adore him, and speculation has been steadily building recently about whether the pair will marry. Since the birth of Princess Charlotte in April, Beatrice is free to marry whomever she chooses. As sixth in line to the throne she would have been required to obtain her grandmother's permission before accepting a proposal. But now that she has dropped down to seventh in line to the throne, she can continue her romantic life as she wishes, unburdened by Royal protocol.
An engagement would certainly be a welcome piece of good news for her family - a distraction from the litany of bad PR and brushes with scandal which have dogged Beatrice's parents over the last few years.
For Prince Andrew, the worst of it started in 2011, when a mother of three living in Australia came forward with claims that she had been solicited into prostitution at the age of 15 by the Prince's friend and associate Jeffrey Epstein. She claimed she was forced into life as a "sex-slave" and had been co-erced into sexual relations with the Prince himself on three separate occasions when she was just 17 years-of-age. When a damning photograph emerged of Prince Andrew with his arms around the waist of a then 17-year-old girl named Virginia Roberts - the woman widely believed to have lodged the complaint. Andrew was summoned by the Queen to explain, and forced to tackle the reports head on. He released a statement denying any involvement in the affair, saying "any suggestion of impropriety with under-age minors is categorically untrue."
The case has now been thrown out of court, and Andrew has been spared the embarrassment of facing legal enquiries. But some damage has been done. At the very least, the Prince's relationship with Epstein, a convicted paedophile, has called into question his judgement.
Fergie, meanwhile, launched a fierce defence of her ex. "I won't stand by, because I know what it feels like to have salacious lies made up about you, and not support him so publicly because they are just shockingly accusatory allegations which I don't think is right," she said on television in the US. "It's defamation of character and as a great father and a humungously good man and all the work he does for Britain I won't stand by and let him have his character defamed to this level."
She herself has benefited repeatedly from Andrew's loyalty in the face of public disgrace. Not least when she got into hot water in 2010 as part of a cash-for-access scandal. She was caught promising an undercover reporter from the now defunct News Of The World, that she could secure him business-access to her ex-husband, who at the time was Britian's special representative for international trade and development, for a fee of £500,000.
Clearly, for the beleagured Beatrice, relations between the many members of her extended family are a diplomatic nightmare. For a start, Prince Phillip, the Queen's husband, is said to despise Sarah Ferguson because of the embarrassment her "money-grubbing" has brought on the Royal Family. It's a charge her mother only helped to further inflame when she accepted hefty fees for gushing interviews with the media, including Oprah Winfrey and HELLO! Magazine.
Certainly, it must have been awkward for Beatrice and Eugenie when their mother was not invited to the wedding of Princess William and Catherine Middleton. Fergie was transparently disappointed at the snub. "I wanted to be there with my girls-to be getting them dressed and to go as a family," she said at the time.
Still, despite whatever tensions may have arisen over the years Fergie has always spoken proudly of her relationships with her daughters, and once declared that she likes to go "out on the pull" with Beatrice. The latter reportedly laughed the remark off as a joke, but the comment speaks volumes about the way mother and daughter clearly relate to one another - miles away from the remote, cold and rather formal interaction for which the Royal Family is best known.
Though Beatrice is close to her mother, their bond has been repeatedly tested and Beatrice is not immune to feeling ashamed. In the aftermath of the News Of the World sting a friend of Beatrice's confided to Vanity Fair that she was "clearly embarrassed when it was revealed that Fergie took money to introduce an undercover reporter to Prince Andrew. A friend," it was claimed "went to Royal Lodge to comfort Beatrice, who wouldn't leave the house because she was so ashamed and didn't want to have to deal with the press. The friend spent two nights with her while she cried."
Still, if nothing else her parents have been impeccable in leading an example of loyalty under fire. Despite the fact that their marriage failed, they have remained close and firm friends. They regularly go on holidays together, and for many years after the split still lived in different wings of the same house at Royal Lodge, Windsor Castle.
Perhaps it's partly because they have been allies since childhood. Then, Andrew and Sarah used to play together at polo matches. When Sarah Feruguson ran up an eye-watering amount of debt a few years ago, it was Andrew who bailed her out. Divorce or otherwise, the couple have always pulled together, and never expressed acrimony in public. "We know we are fortunate in our circumstances, though we have never claimed to have a perfect divorce - there being no such thing," Sarah once wrote to a newspaper.
Nonetheless, as recently as 2013 rumours were circulating that a reunion or remarriage might be on the cards, and according to a profile of Andrew in Vanity Fair, he and Sarah seriously considered the possibility.
"I was with Andrew and Sarah one day when they discussed getting remarried," a friend of Andrew was quoted as saying in Vanity Fair. "At the time, Sarah didn't want to remarry Andrew, because she thought she had a great career in America with Weight Watchers and books and all that. She thought her career would continue to support her expensive lifestyle, and she didn't want to give all that up to become a boring royal again. Then, after Sarah's American career collapsed, it was Andrew who didn't want to remarry her. He told me, 'Given Sarah's weaknesses, she wouldn't make an appropriate royal anymore.' Also, for the sake of his daughters, Andrew didn't want to cause a commotion at Buckingham Palace."
It's clear that between them, however, their proudest mutual achievement is their daughters.
One friend of her fathers was once quoted as saying. 'When you meet Bea these days you'd think she was the product of the most loving and stable of marriages, not from a broken home where her paternal grandfather refuses to have anything to do with her mother. . . . 'Bea admires the way her mother has beaten off her critics and taken control of her own life and wants to do the same,' says the family friend. 'She and her sister both know that being HRHs no longer means that much and want to make their own way in the world, just like Mummy, as it were.'
Perhaps, having learnt the vital lessons of humility and flexibility from her parents, Beatrice is well placed to figure her way out of this period of uncertainty. Certainly, despite her fondness for luxury, her lack of pretention will be an asset as she figures out the next step.