The entire world’s eyes are currently on the blossoming friendship between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, the better halves of Prince William and Prince Harry.
But before Kate and Meghan, there was Princess Diana of Wales and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York – the ex-wives of royal brothers Prince Charles and Prince Andrew.
From being distant cousins, to in-laws, to best friends and then rivals; it’s safe to say Diana and Fergie’s relationship is definitely a complex one.
Life before the royal family
Unknown to many, Diana and Sarah’s relationship began way before their royal lives started. In fact, the two women are actually distant cousins – fourth cousins to be precise. They’re both descendants of William Cavendish, the Fourth Duke of Devonshire.
The pair also knew each other from childhood, as their mothers went to school together. However, they didn’t become close until adulthood.
In 1980, when Diana was 19 and Fergie was 21, the pair reconnected. According to Town and Country, they shared similar interests and had quite a few mutual friends.
It was a pivotal year for Diana, as she had begun being courted by the heir to the throne of Great Britain, Prince Charles
Royal wedding guest
The following year, in February 1981, it was announced that Prince Charles was set to wed Lady Diana Spencer. The couple wed at St Paul’s Cathedral on 29 July 1981.
Sarah was there to witness the lavish affair as a guest of Diana’s. The bride-to-be reportedly gave Sarah a piece of fabric to make into a dress for the occasion. However, the future Duchess of York later admitted she felt snubbed after not being invited to the post-wedding reception.
Fergie helped Diana adjust into royal life
Sarah became one of Diana’s closest confidantes as she adjusted to life behind the palace doors. The friends met for lunch on a weekly basis.
Years later in her 1996 autobiography My Story: Sarah the Duchess of York, Sarah revealed she saw the new princess as her “younger sister” and wanted to help guide her through her transition into royal life.
“She was two years younger than I, and I strove to support and protect her as I would a younger sister— as I still do today, as a best friend,” she wrote.
Diana plays royal matchmaker
As well as taking on the role as the Princess of Wales, Diana took it upon herself to play the role of cupid with Sarah and Charles’ younger brother, Prince Andrew.
Even though Sarah had known Andrew from a young age, it was Diana who reintroduced the pair to each other, and soon after, romantic sparks began to fly.
At a royal event at Windsor Castle in 1985, Sarah was unexpectedly seated next to Andrew at dinner and things blossomed from there.
Princess Diana guides Fergie into life as a royal
It was Princess Diana’s turn to guide Sarah when she joined the royal family in 1986 after marrying Prince Andrew.
At her first royal appearance, before she married Andrew, the soon-to-be Duchess of York looked to Diana for comfort.
“I looked over at my friend in befuddlement. ‘Just keep smiling’ Diana whispered. And I did, as I would for long years to come,” she said in her 1996 autobiography. “I always felt safe in mimicking Diana.”
A rivalry begins
Although the two women were close, it didn’t take long for a bit of a rivalry to emerge between them both.
In the explosive biography Diana: Her True Story by Andrew Morton, the princess spoke candidly about her turbulent friendship with Fergie.
While Fergie managed to “woo” everyone in the royal family “so well”, Diana felt she was left “looking like dirt”. Even Prince Charles told her, “I wish you be like Fergie – all jolly.”
Difficult times in their marriages
According to Sarah, in her 1996 autobiography, the pair started to lean on each other in the early 1990s.
The year of 1991 was the year both Diana and Sarah announced their formal separations from Charles and Andrew.
“It was the year we first put words to the unspeakable idea that had been nudging us in the ribs for some time: that one or both of us might leave the royal family,” Sarah wrote in her book. “We burned the phone wires into the night, trading secrets and jokes that no-one else would understand.”
No longer friends and out of the royal family
Diana and Sarah struggled to maintain their friendship outside of the confines of the royal family. While the pair were initially close after their separations – and eventual divorces – from the royal brothers, by late 1996 the pair had stopped speaking.
Why? Well, apparently Diana was not happy she was mentioned in Sarah’s biography after the duchess had reportedly promised not to mention her. The princess also reportedly gave Fergie a pair of shoes, which resulted in the duchess in contracting a verruca – a painful wart on the bottom of her foot.
Princess Diana passed away in 1997 after her fatal car crash in Paris. It also marked one year since the falling out of the former sisters-in-law.
The Duchess of York attended her funeral, and later admitted her upset about their falling out.
“Because we were like siblings… we rowed,” she told Harper’s Bazaar in 2011. “And the saddest thing, at the end, we hadn’t spoken for a year.”
“I tried, wrote letters, thinking whatever happened didn’t matter, let’s sort it out,” she added. “And I knew she’d come back.
“In fact, the day before she died she rang a friend of mine and said, ‘Where’s that Red? I want to talk to her.'”
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