Canada Markets closed

Laugh if you will, but Sarah, Duchess of York’s new book will be a hit

Melanie McDonagh
·5 min read
<p>The Duchess of York said: “I am proud to bring my personal brand of historical fiction to the publishing world”</p> (Handout)

The Duchess of York said: “I am proud to bring my personal brand of historical fiction to the publishing world”

(Handout)

What a busy bee Sarah, Duchess of York, is.

Her very first novel for Mills & Boon, A Heart for a Compass, based partly on the life of a distant relative - with prose so ripe a colleague honestly thought it was a cruel parody by Craig Brown - will appear in August and already she's starting work on the next.

"I have long held a passion for historical research and telling the stories of strong women in history through film and television,' she declared this week. "I am proud to bring my personal brand of historical fiction to the publishing world." She does however make clear her debt to her "collaborator and mentor", Marguerite Kay, author of no fewer than 50 books for the imprint, who helped with the work and can, perhaps take credit for Lord Rufus Ponsonby's distinctive diction:

“Perhaps you are fretting about your attire... Allow me to reassure you. Your gown is neither too simple nor too ornate for the occasion. All young ladies in their first Season wear white.”

A pity then that the work by such a stickler for form gets her title wrong on the cover: it's billed as by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and as any former Londoner's Diary contributor will tell you, post divorce from the Duke, she's actually Sarah, Duchess of York. But then the couple's divorce never really seemed to amount to much in practice, though it doubtless continues to cheer up Prince Philip... she and Prince Andrew cohabit - now, reportedly, joined by their pregnant daughter, Princess Eugenie, and her husband.

Of course this isn't the Duchess's first book. She has written her memoirs: Finding Sarah. And her passion for historical research no doubt helped when she was executive producer for the 2009 film, The Young Victoria. She has written any number of children's books, most famously her Budgie the Little Helicopter series - there's another one of those on the way - and the Little Red. This year there she has several other books coming out: The Enchanted Oak (shades of Enid Blyton?), Arthur Fantastic and Genie Gems. She cracked the self help genre long ago (What I Know Now; simple lessons learned the hard way), much of her output milking her title for all it was worth. Dining with the Duchess was followed by the companion volume, Dieting with the Duchess, not to mention Reinventing Yourself with the Duchess of York, something she's actually very good at.

Laugh if you will, but her books to date have sold more than 1.5 million copies; Mills and Boon will shift more.

A Heart for a Compass is based  partly on the life of a distant relativeHandout
A Heart for a Compass is based partly on the life of a distant relativeHandout

The last 12 months, most of them in lockdown, were of course blighted by the fallout of Prince Andrew's friendship with Jeffrey Epstein. But she didn't let it get her down. She issued a series of YouTube videos of her reading children's books, including Peepo by Allan Ahlberg (actually a lovely book) and The Dinky Donkey which I think involves a girl donkey and her mother who has a prosthetic leg; she did that one in a headband with a toy donkey; on another video, she wore a red riding hood. She may be 61 (she admits to cosmetic work) but she is young at heart.

Some of the sessions featured guest contributors, including the perennial royal favourite, Stephen Fry, and Prince Harry's former girlfriend, Cressida Bonas. The series had 4,500 subscribers, and some 480,000 people watched some of her videos... which makes you think.

Princess Eugenie, her sister Beatrice and Sarah, Duchess of York, all bottom row, carrying out a virtual call with the Teenage Cancer Trust for its 30th anniversaryTeenage Cancer Trust/PA
Princess Eugenie, her sister Beatrice and Sarah, Duchess of York, all bottom row, carrying out a virtual call with the Teenage Cancer Trust for its 30th anniversaryTeenage Cancer Trust/PA

Like every former royal she's enthusiastic about her charity work and has set up a new venture, Sarah's Trust (following the collapse of an earlier charity foundation) to make a "long lasting difference to vulnerable communities". She says it made 150,000 donations to frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic and said hundreds were 'personally funded' by Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice.

On New Year's Eve she revealed via Instagram that she had "personally donated" more than 250 sleeping bags, rucksacks and supplies to a homeless charity, many of them personally signed with a note saying Love Sarah. Doing good by stealth isn't really her thing.

And, very much with the contemporary vibe, not entirely dissimilar from Prince Harry's efforts to drum up compassion, she sent a message to her 308,000 Instagram followers for Christmas (or the holidays as she calls it). She told them: 'Today just give everyone a smile and so much love, every day of every moment just so much love, so much gratitude'.

The Duchess of York opening Teenage Cancer Trust’s first unit in 1990PA
The Duchess of York opening Teenage Cancer Trust’s first unit in 1990PA

She posed for a striking shot for the new book, with a hunting stock and a trim riding jacket, all set to ride side-saddle. And the poignant thing about it is that it conjures up the woman she might have been a couple of generations earlier: a jolly, strong-featured county lady, a brave rider to hounds, a kindly landowner's wife (actually, she's related to the owners of what was once one of the finest estates in Ireland), a good person at a fete, a feisty society redhead. She'd have been good at that. Instead she's been corralled by social change and an ill advised divorce into becoming that tragic figure: a minor royal celebrity who milks her status for money.

But she does it with such cheerful goodwill, such incessant activity, it's almost impossible to dislike her - and I've tried for years. I'll pass on A Heart for a Compass though.

Read More

Fergie to have new book published by Mills & Boon

Meet The Crown’s new cast of characters: From Princess Diana to Fergie

Duchess of York speaks of pride after Princess Beatrice's wedding