Sarah ferguson princess diana

How Did Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana Become Friends?

Princess Diana and Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, Duchess of York, had a history long before they both married into the British royal family and became sisters-in-law. Learn how they became friends ahead.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana were related not just by marriage

Princess Diana and Ferguson knew each other as children. In fact, they were fourth cousins, according to Town & Country.

Both descended from William Cavendish, Fourth Duke of Devonshire. Their connection didn’t stop there. Ferguson and Princess Diana’s mothers went to school together and had known each other since they were kids.

Growing up they weren’t very close, they only became friends in 1980 when Princess Diana was 19 years old and Ferguson, 21 years old.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and Diana, Princess of Wales. | Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

They lunched together every week

As young adults, the Duchess of York or “red” as Princess Diana called her, and the future wife of Prince Charles ran in the same social circles.

They both liked a good laugh — something that would get them into trouble when they became part of the royal family — and soon, began having weekly lunches together.

Although they were close, their friendship had some rough patches. For instance, when Princess Diana and Prince Charles married in 1981, they invited Ferguson to the ceremony but not the reception, which upset her.

Ferguson tried to ‘support and protect’ Princess Diana

Even though Ferguson became a member of the royal family five years after Princess Diana — she married Prince Andrew in 1986 — the Duchess of York acted as a mentor to Princess Diana who was two years her junior.

In her 1996 biography, My Story, following her divorce from Prince Andrew, Ferguson wrote: “She was two years younger than I, and I strove to support and protect her as I would a younger sister—as I still do today, as a best friend.”

Princess Diana facilitated romance between Prince Andrew and Ferguson

In 1985, Princess Diana recommended Queen Elizabeth II invite Ferguson to an event during Ascot week. At dinner, the future Duchess of York sat next to Prince Andrew, whom she had met before but this occasion marked their shift from friends to something more.

As the Duke and Duchess of York’s relationship grew, Princess Diana continued to play matchmaker by inviting the couple to spend time with her and Prince Charles at Highgrove.

Once the couple became official and Ferguson joined the royal family, the women were spotted together often.

They went on a couples ski trip.

Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson, and Prince Andrew. | Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

They attended polo matches together.

Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson. | Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

And they held on to their hats in the wind.

Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson. | Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

Princess Diana died not having talked to Ferguson for a year

Like we said earlier, Princess Diana and Ferguson’s friendship wasn’t perfect. They argued. Ferguson’s autobiography bothered Princess Diana for a number of reasons.

First, there was a comment Ferguson made in the book about her sister-in-law giving her plantar warts. Second, Princess Diana was reportedly unhappy Ferguson didn’t sign the confidentiality agreement in her divorce from Prince Andrew as she did as part of her divorce settlement with Prince Charles.

For a year the two didn’t speak and sadly, the day before her tragic death on Aug. 31, 1997, Ferguson said Princess Diana had reached out to a mutual friend and inquired about her sister-in-law and said she’d like to give her a call.

All eyes are on new royal sisters-in-law Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, but 30 years ago it was Diana, Princess of Wales and Sarah, Duchess of York taking center stage. The two women had a complex relationship, which over the years saw them as rivals, best friends, and everything in between.

How did they meet?

The relationship between Diana and Sarah actually started long before they were both members of the royal family, as the two women were actually fourth cousins. (They were both descended from William Cavendish, Fourth Duke of Devonshire.) Their mothers were also in school together, and they had known each other since adolescence—although they only became close after they reconnected in 1980, when Diana was 19 and Sarah was 21. The two young women shared a lot of the same friends and many of the same interests, and were soon lunching together every week.

A deepening bond

The two women at a polo match just before Diana married Prince Charles. Tim GrahamGetty Images

Diana invited Sarah to her wedding and gave her a piece of fabric to have made into a dress for the event, but Sarah—who attended the historic occasion alone—later said she felt snubbed not to be invited to the post-ceremony reception. After the wedding, the pair continued to meet weekly for lunch, and Sarah was a confidante to Diana as she struggled with her new role in the royal family. Diana would often call her friend, who would visit her at Buckingham Palace to cheer her up, and Sarah recommended her astrologer to Diana. Sarah later wrote in her 1996 autobiography, “She was two years younger than I, and I strove to support and protect her as I would a younger sister—as I still do today, as a best friend.”

Sarah Ferguson and Diana in 1983. Georges De KeerleGetty Images

The matchmaker princess

The Queen often hosts “dine and sleep” events at Windsor Castle during Ascot week, and in 1985 Sarah Ferguson attended one of the glittering occasions after Diana had recommended her to the Queen for an invite. Sarah found herself seated next to Prince Andrew at dinner. The pair had crossed paths socially over the years, but it wasn’t until this point that romance blossomed, and they started dating. Diana further acted as cupid by inviting the couple to stay at Highgrove, the country house she shared with Charles, before the relationship was made public. Later Sarah was brought deeper into the royal fold when she vacationed with Charles and Diana at the Swiss ski resort of Klosters while Andrew was away at sea.

Diana as a royal guide

As Andrew and Sarah’s relationship became more serious, she made her first appearances with the royal family. These caused Fergie much anxiety, but Diana was on-hand to help. The princess loaned her friend a a dress, and accompanied her to the event. Sarah later explained in her autobiography My Story that she was especially nervous of the assembled photographers, recalling: “I looked over at my friend in befuddlement. ‘Just keep smiling’ Diana whispered. And I did, as I would for long years to come. I always felt safe in mimicking Diana.”

Royal sisters-in-law

Sarah was the first female member of the royal family to have a bachelorette party. Fergie, Diana and a group of their friends dressed as police women, but got themselves into trouble with the authorities for causing a scene outside Buckingham Palace. After the misunderstanding was straightened out, they went on to society club Annabel’s and later locked Prince Andrew out of the Buckingham Palace gates as he returned from his bachelor party.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana at Fergie and Andrew’s wedding. Peter TurnleyGetty Images

Over the years Sarah brought out Diana’s cheeky, fun side—often with disapproval from others, including members of the family. The two women were criticized in the press for poking their friend Lulu Blacker in the backside with their umbrellas at Ascot, and by Prince Charles for mock-fighting in the snow during a photo call at Klosters. One summer night at the Queen’s Scottish home Balmoral the two women rode together on a quad bike across the golf course in the long evening gowns they had worn for dinner, and then took the Queen Mother’s Daimler for a high-speed spin—to the disapproval of Princess Anne.

A fierce rivalry

Prince Andrew, Sarah, and Diana on the Buckingham Palace balcony for Trooping the Colour in 1987. Tim GrahamGetty Images

Though Diana and Sarah were close, but they were also young, sensitive, and insecure in both themselves and their royal positions, which led to a certain amount of rivalry. Sarah impressed the Queen soon after her wedding in 1986 by getting her pilot’s license; won over Prince Philip by taking up open carriage driving, one of his favorite past-times; and excelled at the kind of sports that the royals love but Diana wasn’t good at, including skiing and horseback riding. Diana revealed to her biographer Andrew Morton, that Fergie “wooed everybody in this family and did it so well. She left me looking like dirt.” The princess added that Prince Charles told her “I wish you would be like Fergie—all jolly.”

Falling out of royal favor

As Diana and Sarah became more unhappy in both their marriages and the royal court, they increasingly leaned on each other for support. In her autobiography, Sarah wrote that 1991—the year before their respective marital separations—“It was the year we first put words to the unspeakable idea that had been nudging us in the ribs for some time: that one or both of us might leave the royal family. We burned the phone wires into the night, trading secrets and jokes that no-one else would understand.”

The single life

After they both separated from their husbands in 1992, Diana and Sarah were as close as ever. They would still meet for lunch, or Sarah would bring her daughters for tea with Diana, William, and Harry at Kensington Palace. After Sarah’s divorce was finalized in May and Diana’s in August 1996, they vacationed together in the South of France with their children.

Falling out for good

Sarah Ferguson with her book, My Story. Tim GrahamGetty Images

Sarah said years later that when Diana stopped speaking to her in 1996 that she had no idea why, but it’s thought that Diana was unhappy about the way her former sister-in-law wrote about her in her autobiography, which came out in the November of that year. One of the things to which Diana reportedly objected to is the detail that Diana gave Fergie several pairs of shoes, “and less happily her plantar warts.”

Buy the Book

Diana’s death

When Diana died in August 1997, the pair had not reconciled. Sarah attended her old friend’s funeral and later told Harper’s Bazaar, “Because we were like siblings… we rowed. And the saddest thing, at the end, we hadn’t spoken for a year.”

“I tried, wrote letters, thinking whatever happened didn’t matter, let’s sort it out,” Ferguson continued. “And I knew she’d come back. In fact, the day before she died she rang a friend of mine and said, ‘Where’s that Red? I want to talk to her.'”

The next generation

Sarah Ferguson at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding in May of 2018. WPA PoolGetty Images

Sarah’s relationship with Diana’s sons William and Harry has been mostly distant over the past few decades, but there have been some changes in recent years. It’s thought that William didn’t have a great deal of warmth for his former aunt, as he didn’t invite her to his wedding—a matter which Sarah later said upset her. However Harry has spent time with Sarah in recent year, vacationing in the Swiss ski resort of Verbier in 2013 with his former aunt, uncle Andrew, cousins Beatrice and Eugenie, and then-girlfriend Cressida Bonas. When Harry married Meghan Markle in May 2018, Sarah was invited to see her former nephew take his vows, seating in the quire of the church near the rest of the royal family.

Marcia Moody Marcia Moody has been reporting on the Royal Family for six years, and is the author of Kate: A Biography and Harry: A Biography.

Prince Charles and Prince Andrew failed to give their wives, Princess Diana and Fergie, respectively the support that they need to navigate to their new lives as members of the royal family.

And as such, they were partly to be blamed for the fall out of their marriages. Three years after their divorce, Prince Edward made sure to not follow in his older brothers’ footsteps. The Earl of Wessex wed Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999, and they have been together ever since.

In the book “Prince Edward,” royal author Ingrid Seward said that there was no school for new princesses, and it was Prince Charles and Prince Andrew’s responsibility to teach their wives about the royal rules and regulations.

“ They were manifestly unsuccessful in their task. It was a failure that would cost them their marriages… A failure that Edward had no wish to repeat… Under his guidance, Sophie was set on a more cautious course towards her royal destination,” Seward said.

And since Prince Edward was so focused on his helping Sophie out as a new royal, Princess Diana and Fergie couldn’t help but resent their sister-in-law. And in return, Prince Edward didn’t hold Princess Diana and Fergie in high regard either.

Prince Edward shared a similar mindset with Prince Philip, who blamed the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York for some of the difficulties that the royal family faced. After all, both female royals were so controversial, and their marriages were controversial as well.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana tied the knot in 1981, but their marriage ended in a divorce 15 years later. After their separation, Princess Diana exposed some never-before-heard secrets about the royal family and the future King.

Prince Andrew and Fergie, on the other hand, wed in 1986, but they also divorced in 1996. Ferguson was involved in a toe-sucking scandal shortly after she separated from the Duke of York.