Duchess Sarah Ferguson: A royal interview
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, dishes to SheKnows for our exclusive interview about producing The Young Victoria, a film about control and rebellion with which the duchess can identify. "Fergie" married gorgeous Andrew the Duke of York in 1986 and soon found that life with the Royals could stifle this fun-loving friend of Princess Diana.
Soon Ferguson learned that -- not only was she expected to hide her exuberance -- but she wasn't to have a part in Prince Andrew's regal life in the least. This may be why "Fergie" was so attracted to the story of The Young Victoria and made a 15-year quest to see it come to the screen in a new film starring Emily Blunt as Victoria and Rupert Friend as her soulmate Albert.
Duchess Sarah's story mirrors Victoria's
When Victoria was a teen, the adults around her, both royal and their cohorts, decided that she was too young to rule and should turn her power over to them. Feisty "Vickie" wasn't having it!
Queen Victoria kept her throne, picked her own husband; the handsome and good-hearted German Albert (Friend), had nine children and, when she lost her soul mate to typhus when he was only 42, Victoria spent the rest of her reign (until she was 81) mourning him.
The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, wanted to tell this extraordinary love story and focus upon The Young Victoria, the determined young woman at its core, with whom she strongly identifies.
So, after writing two excellent books on Victoria, the Duchess started "pitching" the tale finally succeeding in co-producing the Jean-Marc Vallee-directed film with Martin Scorsese, Graham King (producer of The Departed) and his partner Tim Headington. Sarah's 21-year-old daughter Beatrice appears in the movie as a lady in waiting.
SheKnows was delighted to both meet and have a relaxed chat with the dynamic yet humble Duchess at a boutique hotel in Beverly Hills recently. Since Ferguson and this reporter and both red-heads, we hit it off right away. At our interview, the Duchess looked very stylish in a classy dark navy dress with matching military-influence jacket accented with red piping and shiny gold buttons.
An assistant handed us the two, beautifully-illustrated coffee table books "Fergie" had written about Victoria which we admired before getting into a very candid and heartfelt chat about the film. The Duchess revealed that the first script she read for the project was more Victoria's Secret than Young Victoria, why she feels like a "closet American," how deeply hurt she was by the British press and why she feels that Weight Watchers and the American People saved her life!
A Duchess dishes
SheKnows: You are the catalyst on this entire project. First, how did you become so interested in Victoria to the degree that you wrote two books about her?
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: The first book I ever read was The Highland Journals given to me as a wedding present, and I dipped into it and it seemed so fabulous, those little lodges Victoria had made up in the mountains so that, when Albert was out shooting, he didn't have to go all the way back to the castle, he could be warm and cozy and you can still go to see them now, they're on Balmoral. I just thought it was so romantic that she loved him so much she would do anything to make him happy. And when I read that I thought, "I need to know more." So I then went to the library and I met all the wonderful people that helped me do that, and in getting more engrossed I realized that she was 18-years-old and fell in love, and everything you see on the big screen (in this film) it was there. It's like if Victoria were here right now, she'd be proud.
SheKnows: What made you know that you had to bring this story to film no matter how long it took or despite the fact that you knew little about film production?
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: If ever anyone asks me, if I do ever make a success of my life, I would say 'never let anyone stand in your way, follow what you believe is true and passionate from your heart, no matter what', because everyone will say, "Oh you can't, you shouldn't, why should you? You've never produced a Hollywood film. Why do you think you can?" And everybody did, and I went, "Oh, it doesn't matter, she matters to me." For 65 years she wound (Albert's) watch, she put out his clothes and she begged the universe to bring him back to her. And she never slept on his side of the bed, she only slept on her little side, and she mourned him and she said when he died, on the 14th of December, 1861, "How am I going to live, and how am I going to do this with half my soul missing?"
Ferguson finds her way as author
SheKnows: Now that is true love. But back up a bit, why would you say "if you ever make a success of your life?" You've written children's books. You've written the books on Victoria and started many wonderful charities. You're a tremendous success.
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: You're very kind to say that. I feel very lucky, very privileged and I'm very humble, that is for sure, but I have taken all of the terrible press from Britain and I believed it so to get the confidence to come back is very hard.
SheKnows: I think that's why you're an amazing example especially for young teens and your own daughters. I feel that the film is timeless but tell us why you think modern women, especially teens, will relate to the movie; why it's inspirational for them?
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: Actually I'm very interested that you brought that up, because I think that I am the bridge between the mothers and the teens, and I think this film is an example, because Victoria was 17 and 18, and she had to be strong enough to say, "I am going to do this. I will champion on, it is my sense of duty and I must honor what I feel." I personally want to do a lot in the teen market, that's where my brand will be going forward, because I think it's a forgotten market. I think a lot of people go to look after the grown ups and the young ones, but what about the teens?
SheKnows: I'm sure they would agree with you in masses. What are you planning?
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: We have around about eighteen teenage cancer units in Britain where we build units onto already existing hospitals. When my friend Mellie was 16, she got diagnosed with cancer and she didn't have anywhere to go (in the hospital). She had granny on the right with her false teeth in a jar and little baby on the left with a diaper change every two hours. There was no respect, and why shouldn't she have respect? So that's why we started the unit, so we've been going 20 years now, and Roger Daltry of The Who and I want to bring these units to America. We might start in Detroit with the children's hospital there.
Young women and Young Victoria
SheKnows: That would be wonderful, because teens feel misplaced anyway. They don't feel like there's anything like them out there.
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: Well that's why young women; anyone really, should go and see The Young Victoria. It's a contemporary love story, actually. It just happens to be in beautiful costumes with very good looking people and everybody's fabulous. And I wish I had met and married Albert, but, on the other hand my Albert was very good looking. I did have the best looking "Albert," didn't I? (we laugh and agree that Andrew was pretty hot).
SheKnows: It was a 15-year process for you to get this to the screen. At what point did you feel that it was actually going to happen? Who was on board, or what was happening that made you think "okay now we're finally moving here?"
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: Fifteen years ago the Hollywood script I read wasn't Queen Victoria, it was Victoria's Secret. (We laugh) I did tear that script up actually, and then it was my friend Tim Headington, who you see as a producer (who made it happen). I said to Tim, "I've always wanted to do this, Tim," and he said, "You know, let's make your movie." So he introduced me to Graham King and Graham King said to me, "I'll make your movie and I'll make it in Britain and let's do it properly." And he, to this day, has kept his promise, filmed in Britain, British cast, beautifully done and I always said to him, 'If we win an Oscar it will be The King and I.
SheKnows: Your daughter Beatrice is in this. I just wondered if you're worried that she night catch the acting bug? Or, do you just trust her to do what's best for her?
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: As a role model, as a mother, I'm one of those people who have tried everything and all the mistakes that I've made they won't make, because it's all written down. And every time I say, "You shouldn't do that." They go, 'Yeah, mum, because you know." (pause) Yeah, I do (laughs). But I think that Beatrice and Eugenie will do exactly what they would like to do because I've brought them up, and so has Andrew, with so much strength, security and confidence of knowing what's right and wrong. And Beatrice for sure, she's born a princess, she's very responsible and she's got a sense of duty. She is definitely someone to be watched in the future, because if she's not royal then I don't know who is. It's in her blood.
SheKnows: What did you personally take away from the experience of seeing your dream come to fruition with this film?
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: I worked for Weight Watchers for 12 years and when I first started working for them I was so broken by the British press actually, that I came to America and I thought everyone was looking at me. I was very paranoid really about everything, and it was the leaders of Weight Watchers and the American people who saved my life. It was Oklahoma, it was the middle-America, it was people saying, "It's okay, come on, it's okay Fergie, we know you've made mistakes, it doesn't matter, we all have, come on."
SheKnows: That's such a wonderful thing for you to say.
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: Well, that's why the compassion of the American people is a big subject we need to get on to (at another time). I am a closet American because of what you've done for me, and you've certainly given my children their mummy back (she has the slightest tear in her eye). I just can't thank you enough, and that's why I started my foundation to thank the American children. Sarah Ferguson's Foundation supports American children, in order to say "thank you," I don't know how else to do it.
SheKnows: But, didn't producing this film give you a sense of great accomplishment?
Duchess Sarah Ferguson: When anyone pays me a compliment now, I say, "Oh, it's a good hairdresser," or if they say, "You're looking nice." I say, "Oh, this old thing." I never ever take it, because I can't -- because I'm still frightened and yet when I stood in London on the pavement and the red double-decker bus went by with Young Victoria on it, and I looked around, I couldn't say, "Oh well." It was my idea! So that was great.