Sarah, Duchess of York is radiantly happy and excited on the day of our exclusive HELLO! photoshoot shot in the grounds of luxury hotel Coworth Park in Berkshire. Proofs for her debut novel, Her Heart for a Compass, an immersive, romantic historical saga that she co-wrote during the last lockdown with Mills & Boon author Marguerite Kaye, have just landed.
The protagonist, Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott, is inspired by the life of the Duchess's great-great-aunt.
"I think everyone will see the parallels [with Lady Margaret]: she's a redhead, she makes her own way in life, she rides horses, she's headstrong," Sarah tells HELLO! "But ultimately this is a work of fiction: I hope people won't read too much into it. It has been an opportunity to tell a story of self-discovery and a chance to feel closer to my past. I did Who Do You Think You Are? on myself."
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Sarah, the proud mother to Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, has dedicated her novel to "my beautiful girls, who have all the strength and courage of Lady Margaret, and so much more, and who have not waited until they are 61 years old to follow their hearts and to live life on their own terms".
"What I meant by that was that I was very deeply scarred and insecure," Sarah says. "For a period of time, I had no idea who I was. I got married to the most wonderful man – it was happiest day of my life, I adored getting married, and it was such a love story and he's such a good man. But then in about September 1988, it started to change.
Sarah poses for our exclusive photoshoot at Coworth Park
"'Bad Fergie' sold a lot of papers, but the worst thing about that was I believed every word of it. So every time somebody said something nasty, I believed it, because I was so sensitive and insecure and so I couldn't come to terms with who this person was."
Her debut novel, Her Heart for a Compass, is out this week
The past 18 months of living through the pandemic have given her time to reflect, although Sarah began a process of healing many years ago. She reveals how dealing with childhood abandonment issues, coupled with years of enduring vile and hurtful headlines from sections of the tabloid press, led her to seek therapy, something she has continued for over two decades.
"I did have and still have mental health issues, which I work at literally every day, I really do, and I have been in therapy for 24 years," she says. "Sometimes I talk to my therapist on a weekly basis, and then sometimes, when it gets really tough, I jump in and get a quick hit of trying to understand the negativity of the demons of my mind.
"There are shadows, of course, for anyone that is as creative as I am. The shadow is very dark, because the light is very light. But that's the whole package of Sarah – and it's what made me write the book and talk to you today."
When she was a teenager, her mother Susan, who was married for 18 years to Sarah's father Major Ronald Ferguson, left him and their two daughters and married a professional Argentinian polo player, Héctor Barrantes. Barrantes was to die of cancer in 1990 and the Duchess's estranged mother was tragically killed in a car accident in Argentina in 1998.
Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, £11.99, Amazon
"It was a long time ago and I love, I love my mum," says Sarah. "She was brought up in a way where she had no understanding of what she was doing and it wasn't her fault, so I forgave her.
"But as I grew up and had my girls, every time I'd look at them, from 12 to 18, I'd think: 'How can my mother have left me?' And that is where the rot set in with feeling that I was not good enough. But, with them, I believe they're very strong because I broke a pattern."
Now, when her critics go low, Sarah goes high and encourages her daughters to do the same. "We are a tripod, and I'm so proud that we talk to each other about taking altitude and the higher ground. I say to them: 'Choose the hill that you're going to have a battle on,' and if you think it's worth it, then full steam ahead. If you don't, then work out the ramifications. I say to my girls: 'Learn from your mother's mistakes.'"
For the full exclusive interview and more photos, pick up this week's issue of HELLO! magazine on sale now.
Her Heart for a Compass by Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York is published by Mills & Boon on the 3rd August in Hardback, eBook and audiobook.
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