Royal commentators have noted some interesting similarities between Meghan Markle and Prince Andrew’s former partner Sarah Ferguson (known as Fergie), which hint that Meghan’s impact on the Royal Family has not been as unusual as it perhaps appears.
Fergie joined the Royal Family in 1986, when she married the Duke of York at a ceremony held in Westminster Abbey, but has since been divorced from the prince for more than 25 years.
Former actress Meghan joined the Firm 32 years later after marrying Prince Harry. The couple have since stepped back as senior royals and are forging a new future in the US.
Now, new Channel 5 documentary, ‘Fergie & Meghan: Inconvenient Royals’, has delved into some of the similarities that have made the pair such revolutionary figures.
Lives before royalty
One similarity shared by both Meghan and Sarah is the considerable life experience they had already accumulated before they opted to sacrifice their work for royal duties.
When she started dating Prince Andrew, Fergie was working in public relations and flat-sharing in South London. As journalist Tiwa Adebayo explained: “She did definitely bring a lot of experience; certainly more than Diana who was barely older than a teenager when she got married.”
And while it was her father’s royal connections that set her up with Prince Andrew, the Londoner’s working life remained largely uninterrupted at first by her new-found royal romance.
Although Meghan didn’t share the same level of direct access to the monarchy, the networking opportunities that she received from a starring role in popular series ‘Suits’, meant she attended the same celebrity circles as her future husband Prince Harry, who she met while on a promotional trip to London.
Lizzie Cundy, a friend of Sarah Ferguson’s who also befriended Meghan during her trips to the UK, noted the pair’s similar determination for work success, suggesting: “they both aren’t scared of hard work, they will go in and really go for it.”
They ‘have their own opinions’
As well as their dispositions for hard work, it was suggested that the two women are well-known for their strong opinions, an unusual trait for outsiders joining the Royal Family.
Lizzie Cundy claimed the pair,“have their own opinions, and will say what they feel and think”.
Royal Historian Dr Anna Whitelock noted how confident Fergie was in one of her first interviews, “teasing” Andrew and interjecting with her own opinions on how their new relationship would work.
Similarly, when Meghan’s engagement to Harry was announced in November 2017, she was happy to take the spotlight.
Anna recalled: “She was very very confident. And not just confident of the relationship, but also in the way that she felt what this marriage would be, and how she could retain some sense of control over her destiny. I remember thinking ‘this is a woman with a plan’.”
Enjoying early international tours
The commentators acknowledged that when Fergie joined the Royal Family, she was hugely popular on the international royal tours that she embarked on with Andrew, and this was also reflected in the success Meghan drew from her ability to charm the public.
Reflecting on Sarah’s early touring years, Anna Whitelock remembered: “People just couldn't believe how much fun and energy this fiery redhead seemed to bring, and just how different she was.”
Similarly, Meghan’s capability of interacting smoothly with the public was argued to be crucial to her early popularity.
Editor-at-Large for the Daily Mail Richard Kay suggested: “They went down an absolute storm. She put people at ease, particularly young people… and in parts of the world – particularly Australia and New Zealand – where there has been a lot of flirting with the idea of them becoming republics, she was a massive injection of support for the Crown and for the monarchy’s longevity.”
Victims of their own success
While the excitement both women brought to their roles as royals was initially well-received, the commentators suggested that both Meghan and Fergie fell victim to these characteristics being turned against them.
Journalist Tiwa Adebayore noted that for Fergie, “the very qualities of independence, of outspoken-ness that were enjoyed by the press before were the reason that they began to turn on her”.
Indeed, Richard Kay suggested that people began to wonder whether Fergie was “respecting the decorum of being a royal duchess” on tour of America.
He continued: “They started nit-picking about her appearance; Fergie was unfortunately criticised for the fluctuating of her weight.”
It was acknowledged that Meghan has not managed to avoid similar forms of criticism either.
Tiwa suggested: “Very very tiny things about Meghan’s appearance seemed to stir up huge reactions in the British press”.
When Meghan and Fergie married their partners, the commentators noted that they both needed to develop relationships with other women who had already joined the Royal Family.
Dr Anna Whitelock claimed: “Fergie and Meghan are marked by the fact that they are both always going to be compared to their sister-in-law.
It was suggested that just as Fergie struggled with critical comparisons to Princess Diana, Meghan became unstuck by being set against Prince William’s wife Kate Middleton.
Richard Kay noted that questions began to emerge around the real relationship between the pair. But, he claimed: “The truth was, they really had very little in common, except that they’d married two brothers.”
And the obviousness of the two women’s differences became apparent, according to Anna Whitelock.
She suggested: “Whereas Kate used to be seen as really plain and boring, suddenly she is seen as very dutiful and very committed, and Meghan in fact is seen as much more of a disruptor.”
The documentary’s contributors were quick to spot the parallels with Fergie that had taken place 20 years earlier.
Sarah’s friend Lizzie Cundy noted: “Sarah always said it was very tough being next to Diana, because Princess Diana looked like a supermodel, did it with such charm, such grace, could just waltz into a room, whereas Sarah said, ‘I was a bit of a calamity’.”
Revealing Oprah Winfrey Interviews
When Meghan and Harry sat down with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, it seemed an unprecedented move. However, commentators have been quick to note the similarities with Fergie’s decision to do the same some 25 years earlier.
In 1996, Fergie took part in an historic interview with Oprah Winfrey where she explained that Royal Family life is “not a fairytale”.
Julie Montagu, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke , explained that this was revolutionary, noting that normally in the Royal Family, these feelings aren't explored in public.
She claimed: “You don’t share your feelings, you don’t share your hurt, or your pain or any difficulty that you’re going through. You just carry on.”
But Meghan also went on to do just that 25 years later when she and her husband sat down with the famous US host in March 2021, and revealed the impact the royal lifestyle had had on her mental health.
Journalist Tiwa Adebayo agreed that the similarities were striking, claiming: “I think these interviews really were a moment of taking back control and reframing the narrative.”
Looking to the US for a new life
Following their Oprah interviews, both Fergie and Meghan attempted to re-invent themselves by exploiting opportunities in the US.
Richard Kay noted that by appearing in adverts and exploiting commercial opportunities, Fergie made a new name for herself in America.
He recalled: “She was very successful in America for quite a few years; she became dubbed the Duchess of New York rather than the Duchess of York.”
Meanwhile, Harry and Meghan have both established a number of new ventures under the arms of their Archewell Foundation, having moved to the US when they stepped down from royal duties in March last year.
These new exploits, Viscountess Hinchingbrooke suggested, meant that, “just like Fergie, Meghan is using her status as the Duchess of Sussex and cashing in on that”.
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