Royals

Back in the firm: How Princess Eugenie's wedding has re-affirmed Sarah Ferguson's place in the royal family

The day was everything Fergie has been dreaming of.

By Judy Kean

The bride was beautiful, her groom couldn't stop grinning and for the most part, the black sheep of the family was on her best behaviour.

When Princess Eugenie married Jack Brooksbank on October 12, there was almost as much attention on her mother Sarah, Duchess of York, as there was on the happy couple.

It was Fergie's first official return to the royal fold after the 1992 toe-sucking scandal that saw her blacklisted from Britain's first family and become persona non grata with her former father-in-law, Prince Philip.

Fergie was postively beaming.
Fergie was postively beaming.

Friends say Fergie (59) had been a "bag of nerves" before the wedding, worried about being in Philip's company again, but by the time she arrived at St George's Chapel for the ceremony she couldn't contain her excitement at her youngest daughter's big day.

Known in the past for her often impetuous behaviour and occasional lack of decorum, the bubbly redhead departed from protocol as soon as she got out of her chauffeur-driven car, rushing over to the crowd gathered behind a barricade and hugging family friend Jessie Huberty (83). Jessie, from New York, says, "She is a lovely woman; she never forgets her friends."

Wearing a custom-made emerald-green dress by Windsor designer Emma Louise Design and a striking hat adorned with an unusual bow, Fergie looked a tad nervous as she made her way up the church steps, accompanied by eldest daughter Princess Beatrice (30).

Beatrice had been named as Eugenie's maid of honour, but unlike Pippa Middleton − who held the same position at her sister Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge's wedding − Beatrice didn't join Eugenie (28), their father Prince Andrew (58) and the bridesmaids and pageboys for the procession into the church.

Instead she walked in with her mother, apparently so that Fergie didn't have to make the long journey to her seat alone.

Body language expert Judi James says Beatrice appeared to be more of a support to her mother than her sister.

"Beatrice did seem to spend the ceremony acting as a companion to her mother to ensure she didn't look too isolated and lonely."

As they made their way past the hundreds of guests, Fergie was seen doing a "fist pump" to Eugenie's good friend Holly Branson, the daughter of Sir Richard Branson.

"It looked as if it was a sign for, 'Yes, I'm doing this!'," says one media commentator.

When she got to her front-row seat near the altar, Fergie gave a big sigh of relief as she sat down, puffing out her cheeks. She pulled animated faces and waved at other guests while waiting for Eugenie to arrive, with the images captured by TV cameras and beamed around the world.

A lip-reader has also revealed that at one stage, Fergie turned to Beatrice and said, "My stomach, can't hold my stomach in."

The official wedding portrait of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank. *Image by Alex Bramall*
The official wedding portrait of Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank. Image by Alex Bramall

However, when the Queen (92) and Philip (97) arrived and took their seats behind her, she seemed a lot more composed, briefly bowing her head.

It is believed to be the first time Fergie and Philip have been in such close proximity since 1992.

While Philip is said to have declared that he can't stand to be in the same room as his ex-daughter-in-law, the Queen hasn't borne a grudge, and in recent years has invited Fergie to stay on the Balmoral estate during the summer holidays, on the proviso that she leave before Philip arrives.

After the service, Fergie stuck by Beatrice and ex-husband Andrew. She did, of course, feature in the official wedding photos, standing between Andrew and a seated Philip.

While Philip appears relaxed, he is leaning slightly away from Fergie, a sign that he still feels uncomfortable in her presence, according to some body language experts.

People have also pointed out that unlike Jack's parents, George and Nicola, and his brother Tom, who are standing close together, Eugenie's royal relatives are spread out.

And although Fergie and Andrew are still close despite ending their marriage more than two decades ago – she spends much of her time living at his Windsor home, Royal Lodge – there is distance between them in the photos. That was a deliberate move, says a source.

"They are, after all, divorced, so it was necessary to have some kind of 'exclusion zone'."

Fergie was delighted she and Andrew could help Eugenie and Jack host two of their three receptions at Royal Lodge, and when she later tweeted photos from the wedding she made a point of saying, "Andrew and I are proud to welcome Jack to the York family."

Interestingly, the photos and her accompanying messages of congratulations were posted three days after the wedding, but just minutes after it was announced that Eugenie's cousin Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are expecting their first baby.

The social media messages were Fergie's way of trying to keep the spotlight on her daughter, say royal experts.

But nobody – not even her mother – could have upstaged Eugenie on her big day. She looked radiant from the moment she stepped out of the wedding car. It was a blustery autumn day, with a strong wind that had already sent several guests' hats flying, but Eugenie appeared composed as she made her way into the church with her father.

"This was her chance to shine," says a royal commentator, "and there may not be many more of these opportunities, given the way members of the royal family considered less important are being sidelined in favour of Prince Charles' sons and their families.

"Eugenie and her sister Beatrice often only get attention when they are being criticised for what they wear or accused of spending too much time on holiday. At least she has had this day in the spotlight."

The York family – in particular, father of the bride Andrew – copped flak for organising a large and lavish wedding at the same venue where Harry married Meghan in May, and were accused to trying to compete with that occasion. Many people were unhappy about the fact that while the royals paid for the actual wedding, taxpayers had to stump up for the $4 million security bill, which included paying police to line the route of the newlyweds' carriage journey after the ceremony.

Princess Eugenie's scoliosis scar was proudly on display during her nuptials to Jack Brooksbank
Princess Eugenie's scoliosis scar was proudly on display during her nuptials to Jack Brooksbank

Andrew was also mocked for a TV interview in which he seemed to suggest that Jack and Eugenie have more friends than Harry and Meghan.

"There will be a few more guests here today than Harry and Meghan had," he told the interviewer on the morning of the wedding, "but that is the nature of Eugenie and Jack – they have so many friends."

He certainly looked like a proud dad as he walked his daughter up the aisle. Before entering the church, he helped Eugenie with the train of her Peter Pilotto dress, which was being blown about by the wind. It was probably just as well that Eugenie chose not to wear a veil – it would have been whipped around by the gusts.

She had a very good reason for not wearing a veil, and opting to wear a dress with a low-cut back, wanting to show off a prominent scar from surgery she had at the age of 12 to correct the spinal condition scoliosis.

The fabric of the dress was also significant, featuring symbols woven into a jacquard of silk and cotton. A thistle represented the couple's shared love of Balmoral in Scotland, a shamrock paid tribute to Fergie's Irish relatives and the York rose signified her father's title.

Eugenie asked the children of her cousins to be her attendants. Savannah (7) and Isla (6) Phillips, Mia Tindall (4), and Prince George (5) and Princess Charlotte (3) were joined by Louis de Givenchy (6), the son of a family friend, Eugenie's goddaughter Maud Windsor (5) and Theodora Williams (6), daughter of pop star Robbie Williams. Helped by Eugenie's cousins Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn, Louis and Charlotte tripped while going up the steps into the church, but there were no further mishaps.

The service went off without a hitch, although Jack (32) struggled to get Eugenie's ring on her finger. As she arrived at the altar, he said, "Oh, my heart. Break my heart."

Afterwards, the newlyweds kissed twice on the steps of St George's before boarding the Scottish state coach for a carriage trip through the streets of Windsor. Crowds were noticeably much smaller than those who gathered for Harry and Meghan's wedding.

The nuptials were celebrated with three receptions. The first, in the afternoon, was hosted by the Queen at St George's Hall in Windsor Castle and included a touching speech from Andrew, which he ended by giving his new son-in-law a hug. One guest says it was an unusual thing for the prince to do as "he isn't a very tactile person."

Meanwhile, in his speech, tequila brand ambassador Jack said his bride looked utterly stunning and talked about how Eugenie "lights up my life".

The pair left Windsor Castle in a rare Aston Martin DB10, made specially for the James Bond film Spectre, and later were the guests of honour at the evening reception at Royal Lodge. Eugenie changed into a dress by designer Zac Posen for the occasion and wore a hair slide belonging to the Queen.

The following day there was a third party with a fairground theme, including a carousel and sideshow games, also held in the grounds of Royal Lodge.

Socialite Tamara Beckwith says Fergie was responsible for the event, posting on social media, "Thanks to @sarahferguson15 for having no boundaries when it comes to letting your incredible imagination run riot… lucky girls having you as a mumma."

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