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BEYOND HOLLYWOOD: Sarah and Victoria
Question of the Day
“Hallelujah!” Sarah, Duchess of York, exclaims to this reporter in a car en route from Washington to Alexandria on her recent whirlwind visit to the area.
All I’ve said is that I’d like to talk about the new film she has produced, “The Young Victoria.” Apparently, she’s had trouble getting reporters to talk about it.
“It’s grueling if somebody comes to talk to you who hasn’t wanted to know you’re not that person,” she says, alluding to her alter ego, Tabloid Sarah.
Sarah Ferguson, an opinionated but well-mannered redhead, first caught the world’s eye around 1986, when she married Prince Andrew, Duke of York, second son of Queen Elizabeth II. They were married for just 10 years, but 13 years after their divorce, she still has trouble getting reporters to realize there’s more to her than her love life.
“It’s not just a junket, it’s my life. I really take it seriously,” she says of interviews that are supposed to focus on the film. She’s frustrated that one reporter she talked to here didn’t seem to agree. “So why did you choose this period?” the reporter asked, and Miss Ferguson says, with a bit of a rueful laugh, “What do you mean? I didn’t. She’s born then.”
“The Young Victoria” stars Emily Blunt as the legendary British monarch, who gained the throne at age 18 after winning a power struggle with her own mother, who hoped to be regent. She then fought to maintain that independence as she fell for Prince Albert (Rupert Friend) in one of history’s greatest love stories.
Some might think Miss Ferguson’s name was simply attached to the film to give it a royal connection, but the idea to make it was her own. Its genesis can be traced back decades, to when she was first married.
“When I was in the royal family, I thought the most important thing was to learn about what it all meant, and how important it was to know the rule book about it, and how Queen Victoria did it and what she stood for,” she recalls. “And so I went to research in the royal library.”
She became so fascinated by the monarch, who remains Britain’s longest-reigning, that with historian Benita Stoney she wrote two books about her: “Victoria and Albert: Life at Osborne House” and “Travels With Queen Victoria.” In the latter, she retraced the footsteps of the queen, traveling where she had traveled.
“And then I decided it should be made into a movie” she says. “It’s such a beautiful love story; why has no one done it? They were completely and utterly in love.”
Miss Ferguson found the queen a good role model for someone struggling to fit into a group known as “the Institution.”
“I think that I’ve taken a lot of strength from Victoria, because she spoke her mind,” she reflects. “She went against all these men who all told her to do something, and she did the other. And I believe very strongly that she’s completely focused and steadfast to what she believed is true. She is, for me, one of the most inspirational women I’ve ever looked into.”
Strange as it might sound, it seems she actually related even more to the male half of this partnership, the German Prince Albert. “He’s an outsider; he came in, he’s misunderstood,” she explains.
Miss Ferguson clearly knows her stuff. She talks animatedly about the reams of research she and her team have done on the couple and their time. Yet it’s the personal side of the story to which she seems really to feel a connection.
“When I got married to Andrew and he got taken away and I saw him 40 days a year for the first five years of my marriage, I think I lived the love through Victoria and Albert,” she says. “I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t marry the Institution, I married him.’ But I got the Institution and not him.”
“It’s been a dream of mine,” she says about the film. Yet she has faced difficulties promoting it. We were supposed to talk in a local restaurant, but another interview went way over time.
“You know, I sat in that cafe, and I was more lonely in that cafe,” she says. “Because it was everybody’s eyes devouring and judging you. And then I had to stand up and be photographed, and I was feeling so shy. I am very shy.”
The British tabloids can be “brutal,” she notes, and they were hard on her during and after her divorce. She gained weight and was photographed on vacation with a lover. She went on to remake herself — first through a contract with Weight Watchers — in America. “My second home,” she calls the U.S. “I love it.”
But all these years later, she’s still feeling the effects of her treatment in Britain.
She recalls how Simon Cowell, on “Britain’s Got Talent,” apologized to singer Susan Boyle when the frumpy spinster shocked the world with her talent.
“Why should we judge anybody just from the size of their bottom or their shape or anything?” she says, a note of anger creeping into her polished voice.
She says she feels she’s still judged. She had an interview in New York and found out later that the interviewer called Jean-Marc Vallee, the director, and asked him to admit she hadn’t really done any work on the film. “I thought I’d done really well and it had been really nice,” she says of the interview.
It’s funny the interviewer thought she’d done no work on the film, because it’s clear it’s closer to her heart than nearly anything else she has done.
“When the front pages have said ‘Duchess of Pork’ and ‘82 percent would rather sleep with a goat than Fergie’ and then you’re sitting there … I’m so sensitive, I still live in that. I’m a very fragile, gentle person,” she says. “I’ve had to be strong, like Victoria. So in all of this I’ve related to her because I thought if she can do it, I can do it.”
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