She’s had as many ups and downs with her finances as she has with her weight, written several books, been in and out of favour with senior royals, survived media witch-hunts – some justified – and somehow keeps bouncing back.
The Duchess of York’s tenacity is down to the one constant in her life – the Duke of York. She still lives at his official home, Royal Lodge in Windsor, and enjoys the closest of relationships with him and their daughters, Beatrice (26) and Eugenie (25). As she puts it, “The York family [has] always been a tight unit.”
So reports that the duchess (55) is in a new relationship with a man eight years her junior should be viewed with some scepticism.
Manuel Fernandez (47), a half-Irish, half-Spanish banking technology expert, has so far been photographed with Fergie three times. He was spotted at a charity gala in Cannes, carrying her evening shawl. A few days earlier, he was seen opening a car door for her in Asturias, Spain. There are even rumours that they have spent time together at the Yorks’ $6 million Swiss ski chalet. One source says Fergie is “besotted” with him, while he is said to be “entranced” with her.
Nonsense, say the duchess’ friends. “She is adamant there is nothing romantic going on,” says one.
Another says Fergie is a family friend, in particular to Manuel’s niece Celia. “Her mother, Manuel’s sister Maria, was murdered by her boyfriend after a catalogue of mistakes by police,” says the second friend. “It took Manuel six years to finally get an inquest into Maria’s death and get the truth. Sarah was there to support Celia. Manuel really appreciated her making the effort to go [to the inquest]. They’ve got on like a house on fire since.”
Both are committed charity campaigners. “Manuel cares about everything from animal welfare to civil rights and, of course, domestic violence,” says the friend. “A tenth of the profits from his new social media venture, vVoosh, are earmarked for charity, including Sarah’s Children in Crisis.”
And there’s another thing that binds them. Sarah has famously battled her relationship with food for most of her life, while Manuel also had problems with eating that were only resolved by seeing renowned Ayurvedic practitioner Thomas Mueller.
“Thomas is, for me, beyond words,” Manuel wrote in a recommendation. “I have had childhood problems with eating, which resulted in poor health. Thomas has helped me change patterns of behaviour. I am now fit and well and, most of all, happy.”
Similarly, Sarah worked with Weight Watchers for a decade and now promotes a juicer she says has turned her weight problems around. “One of my missions in life now is to help people fight their weight challenges,” she insists.
“It’s a mutual admiration society,” says Sarah’s friend. “They think the world of each other. But for Sarah, there’s only one man and there will always be only one.”
The duchess spelled it out earlier in the year when defending Andrew (55) against allegations of sexual impropriety. “It was the finest moment of my life in 1986 when I married him,” she said. “He is a great man – the best in the world.”
And that opinion will never change.