If we Brits still have any vestigial idea of what a duchess is or should be, Sarah Ferguson certainly isn’t it. The flame-haired, gung-ho, clod-hopping Sarah may be as affable as a pub drunk and as friendly as a labrador, but she’s got a solid brass neck and the hide of a well-baked rhino.
Fergie’s always been seen, by many Brits, as vulgar and greedy.
Her latest breathless escapade – “How I Tried to Get Hundreds of Thousands of Dollars for Access to Prince Andrew!” – has had British newspaper readers shaking their heads wearily: “There goes Fergie again. Always making a mess of things.”
And it doesn’t really wash with Brits that immediately after being caught trying to sell the influence of her trade ambassador ex-husband she followed the tired old celebrity route of apologising for “a lapse of judgement”.
Hugh Grant was the first celeb in recent times to discover the power of “I’m sorry”. Remember his sheepish appearance on the Jay Leno show after being caught getting oral sex from the (weirdly masculine-looking) prostitute Divine Brown? The first thing Leno asked Grant was “What WERE you thinking?” Grant declined to explain what he was thinking (presumably “I’d like to get oral sex from a weirdly masculine-looking prostitute”) but he did say he was sorry. Not sure to whom but anyway it sounded reasonably good. What are you going to say to someone who’s sorry after all? Or to someone who says “Forgive me?” You have to at least consider it don’t you?
Since Hugh Grant’s apology, the world has heard lots of “I’m sorries”. “It worked for him” celebs and politicians say. “I’ll just go on Oprah” (most recently Sandra Bullock’s cheating husband Jesse James) “or give the press an interview and I’ll say I’m sorry. Easy.” Sorry became very popular. Politicians started saying sorry for all kinds of things that happened centuries before they were even born – slavery and the Irish famine, for example.
And then sorry morphed into something a little different. Somewhere along the line, a celeb must have been asked “What exactly are you sorry for?” Are you sorry, for example, that you were caught out? If you’re Tiger Woods are you sorry that you lost gazillions in sponsorship? What?
And then the celeb, or politician, apology employed another little trick. He or she found it was hard to say “I’m sorry I left my wife looking after my kids while I had sex with two dozen gold-digging slappers” or “I’m sorry I slept with another woman’s husband when she was ill with cancer”. But quite easy to say I’m sorry for “a laspe of judgement” or “an error of judgement”.
No surprise then that Fergie, with her not very subtle intelligence, leapt immediately into print to say she was indeed sorry for the “lapse of judgement” which saw her greedily stuffing 40,000 dollars into a bag in a London hotel room while instructing the phoney Sheik to wire 500,000 pounds to an unidentified bank account.
Many British commentators rolled their eyes at this classic piece of Fergiana. “She’s sorry she got caught!” people said. And many pointed out that doing something WRONG is not an error of judgement. She was trying to skew business deals engineered by the UK’s Trade Ambassador and OK, though Andrew’s ambassadorial role and it’s efficacity is another matter, it was straightforward corruption to try and profit from selling his influence. And as she stressed this ‘deal’ had to be secret, one has to assume she would have hidden the payment from the UK taxman and dodged her tax liability.
An error of judgement is not, inherently, about right and wrong. An error of judgement is thinking the paella could do with six grams of salt when actually it’ll turn out to be inedible. An error of judgement is taking the corner a bit too fast in the jeep and finding yourself in the ditch. Everyone knows what an error of judgement is and what Fergie did wasn’t it.
A collective sigh of relief seemed to go round the British isles in late May 2010 when Sarah Ferguson announced to the press that she was going to quit the UK for good and go to live in America. “Hurry up!” one commentator said. “Don’t forget to close the door after you when you go!” said another. The many comments posted on internet sites were lighthearted for the most part because Brits view Fergie as clumsy and daft rather than wicked.
Whether or not the States would have her, most Brits think in reality she’ll hang on for dear life to her free royal home and the financial support Prince Andrew and her daughters Eugenie and Beatrice all give her.
Who knows where she’ll end up – at the time of writing, she’s back in New York after kicking up her heels at Naomi Campbell’s holiday bash on France’s Cote d’ Azur. But if she were really sorry about her dodgy deal with a phoney Sheik she could show it by saying that what she did was wrong, and not an error of judgement.
**This is just a footnote but anyone who looks at the video footage of Sarah Ferguson talking with the journalist from the News of the World will be astounded, apart from anything else, that she seems hardly able to string a sentence together. You really wouldn’t think English was her first language. And perhaps not even her second!**