Sunday 21 April 2019

'I was on the Royal Wedding Diet: there was no time to eat' - Sarah Ferguson's wedding dress story gives an honest insight into the life of the royal bride

'I was inserted into my ivory wedding dress - an exquisite creation I'd lost twenty-six pounds to fit into,' the Duchess of York wrote in her 1997 memoir

Prince Andrew's and Sarah Ferguson's wedding
Prince Andrew's and Sarah Ferguson's wedding
Prince Andrew's former wife Sarah Ferguson (REUTERS/Phil McCarten)

Caroline Leaper

“As my wedding day approached, I lived in a frenzy,” writes Sarah Ferguson, Britain's Duchess of York, in her 1997 memoir My Story, reflecting on her 1986 marriage to Prince Andrew.

“Rising early and late to bed, I buzzed through a whirl of appointments and consultations. I was on the Royal Wedding Diet: there was no time to eat.”

It’s a book that needs the dust blown off of it ahead of Friday, when Fergie will be front-and-centre at the royal wedding of her daughter, Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank (I insist, you can buy copies for a penny on Amazon). But, particularly, it’s worth revisiting for Fergie’s honest, self-deprecating review of what it’s really like to be a royal bride; the pomp, the ceremony, and particularly the pressure that is placed on appearance.

Related: Princess Eugenie's wedding dress: 10 designers in the running for the royal commission

Meghan Markle meets Hannah Belcher, senior exhibitions project co-ordinator at the Royal Collection, as she is reunited with her wedding dress for the first time since her wedding, in a scene from the ITV documentary Queen Of The World, which will be broadcast on Tuesday 25th September 2018 at 9.15pm on ITV. Photo: Oxford Films/PA Wire
Meghan Markle meets Hannah Belcher, senior exhibitions project co-ordinator at the Royal Collection, as she is reunited with her wedding dress for the first time since her wedding, in a scene from the ITV documentary Queen Of The World, which will be broadcast on Tuesday 25th September 2018 at 9.15pm on ITV. Photo: Oxford Films/PA Wire
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York during day four of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and daughter Princess Beatrice of York during day four of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse
Prince Andrew's and Sarah Ferguson's wedding
Sarah Ferguson poses for photographers with daughters, princesses Beatrice (left) and Eugenie in London yesterday. Photo: PA
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York during day four of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse
Beatrice Princess of York (L) and Sarah Ferguson (R), Duchess of York, attends the British Heart Foundation's 'The Beating Hearts Ball' at The Guildhall on February 20, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York (R) and Princess Beatrice of York attend the Fashion for Relief event during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Aeroport Cannes Mandelieu on May 21, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York attends the 'Brilliant Is Beautiful' gala held at Claridge's Hotel on December 1, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, appearing on Oprah Winfrey's talk show. Photo: AP

“My headdress - a fragrant crown of gardenias, Andrew’s favourite flower - was affixed,” she remembers. “My veil was arranged. I was inserted into my ivory wedding dress - an exquisite creation I'd lost twenty-six pounds to fit into.” The pertinent choice of verbs implies, at least, a dressing up from many involved hands. She describes the moment she realised that the love she felt from the thousands of fans who had lined The Mall was a short-term wonder; “It isn’t so hard to enjoy mass adoration: the tricky part is understanding that it has nothing to do with you, and that it rarely outlives an English summer.”

How much has changed since 1986? The process, in many ways, will be largely the same for Princess Eugenie as it was for her mother. There will, forever, be a lot of hands involved. Many of the same people (including the public) will still need to feel pleased with the resulting aesthetic. Sassi Holford, who designed Autumn Kelly’s wedding dress when she married Peter Phillips in 2008, revealed that the Queen likes to see every royal bridal gown before it makes it to the aisle.

A heavily pregnant Diana, who was expecting William arrives at the polo with Fergie in 1982.
A heavily pregnant Diana, who was expecting William arrives at the polo with Fergie in 1982.

Every tiny element is still totally considered; a fact confirmed this year by Clare Waight Keller, the designer of Duchess of Sussex’s wedding gown, when she revealed the lengths of her collaboration and communication with the bride-to-be. The two had spent sessions perusing the Givenchy archives for inspiration, had developed a unique silk cady fabric together, and had painstakingly selected flowers of the Commonwealth to be embroidered into the veil, plus a Californian poppy to nod to Meghan’s heritage.

Related: One key royal will miss Princess Eugenie's wedding later this week - here's why

Princess Eugenie with her mum Sarah Ferguson, dad Prince Andrew and sister Beatrice
Princess Eugenie with her mum Sarah Ferguson, dad Prince Andrew and sister Beatrice

Royal wedding dresses are expected, still, to be works of art, pieces that will stand the test of time and attract crowds in museums for decades to come. They should symbolise the finest craftsmanship that was available in that era.

Who’s making the dress is as important as what it looks and fits like; Fergie chose Lindka Cierach, a young British couturier who had founded her label in 1979, in an attempt to make a statement about the of-the-moment, modern fashion bride she was. Cierach, like every other royal wedding dress designer in history, was not allowed to tell a soul what she was working on until the bride had arrived at the altar.

Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) with Sarah Ferguson at the Guard's Polo Club, Windsor, June 1983. The Princess is wearing a jumper with a sheep motif from the London shop, Warm And Wonderful. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 - 1997) with Sarah Ferguson at the Guard's Polo Club, Windsor, June 1983. The Princess is wearing a jumper with a sheep motif from the London shop, Warm And Wonderful. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
The Duchess of Sussex meets the locals at The Joff, Peacehaven Youth Centre, East Sussex, as part of her and the Duke of Sussex's first joint official visit to Sussex
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York (L) and Princess Beatrice of York attend the Fashion for Relief event during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Aeroport Cannes Mandelieu on May 21, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Antony Jones/Getty Images)
A ROMANTIC MOMENT: While the world watched, the couple kept some things secret...

“Lindka was a genius; I knew she could make the most flattering gown ever, and she had,” the Duchess wrote in her memoir. “It was amazingly boned, like a corset. We’d chosen duchess satin because it is the creamiest material in the world. It never creases. It is smooth as glass and hangs beautifully, without a single bulge; it made my reduced figure look even better.”

The finer details, for her, too, were as important as the overall impact. Emblems from Fergie’s new coat of arms were embroidered into the dress - a black and yellow bumble bee, an anchor and a rose - and the couple’s initials were sewn in silver beading onto a 17 foot long train that trailed through Westminster Abbey.

Princess Eugenie and her fiance Jack Brooksbank outside St Mary the Virgin Church in Frensham, Surrey, after attending the wedding of Charlie van Straubenzee and Daisy Jenks (Joe Giddens/PA)
Princess Eugenie and her fiance Jack Brooksbank outside St Mary the Virgin Church in Frensham, Surrey, after attending the wedding of Charlie van Straubenzee and Daisy Jenks (Joe Giddens/PA)
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew’s two daughters, Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice. Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images for Ascot Racecourse

Related: Royal wedding: Eugenie's big day to be broadcast live on ITV's This Morning - after BBC turned it down

Excess, of course, was in vogue in the mid-Eighties - that meringue of skirt fabric and those extraordinary shoulder puffs were copied over and over by brides in the years that followed.

But Fergie wasn’t the first to do it. If you Google the phrase ‘Eighties wedding dress’ you’ll prompt reams of pictures of Lady Diana Spencer’s enormous 1981 David and Elizabeth Emanuel gown to appear on screen before you may eventually scroll far enough to come across a Fergie snap in her Cierach creation.

It was bad luck, really, that her big royal moment in a big royal dress came after someone who was higher up the line to the throne and, in hindsight, she could have used the opportunity to move the bridal conversation on from Diana's look.

But at 26, how could she ever have known that? And does it really matter? “All I knew or cared about was that Fergie was in glorious vogue,” the Duchess would write later. That is surely the most important job of the royal wedding dress; to give the bride, whoever she may be, her moment.

Fergie was a unique royal bride; one who revelled in the experience of being the most glamorous woman in the world for the day, but who equally understood afterwards that the day, while important, was just a day.

Perhaps she will, with that knowledge, be able to advise her daughter how to best enjoy the ride without taking herself too seriously. That, and, according to the memoir, she’s got some phenomenal tips on how best to catalogue the 2,000 gifts that the royal bride can expect to receive. She signed the thank you letters herself, you know.

Telegraph.co.uk

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