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The Duchess of Debt

July 11th, 2011 by

Will Sarah Ferguson find redemption in Oprah (and in herself)?


Why is it that some people have so much difficulty handling money, while for others, living within their means comes easily? Why is it that no matter how much money some people have, they have a compulsion to rid themselves of it as quickly as possible, whether through profligate spending habits or ill-conceived investment ideas? It seems impossible to separate the issues of trouble with money and trouble with one's own sense of identity. The Duchess of York provides ample evidence of such a correlation.

"Finding Sarah" is a new reality television show on the Oprah Winfrey Network and also the title of Sarah, Duchess of York's latest autobiography. Both the show and the book chronicle Sarah's self-help journey as she struggles out from under a $7 million debt and perhaps more importantly, her deep struggle with self-esteem. Along the way, Sarah receives counsel from all of Oprah's favourite gurus - Dr. Phil, Suze Orman and Martha Beck.

A timeline of the Duchess's woes

While Sarah's financial problems have been well documented in the press, it's interesting to look at the similarity of her reaction each time.

  • Her Royal Times

    Good times: 1986 - Marries the world's most eligible Royal bachelor - "Randy Andy" - and becomes Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of York.

    Bad times: 1992 - Caught by paparazzi while sunbathing topless and having her toes sucked by her American "financial advisor".

    Bad times again: 1996 - Divorces from Prince Andrew. Accepts a relatively small settlement of reportedly $24,000 a year in order to maintain a good relationship with the Royal Family. Meanwhile, tabloids report she owes more than $4 million to a British bank for spending habits during her marriage.

    Reaction: 1996 - Publishes her first memoir, "My Story", in which she writes: "I had been exposed for what I truly was - a national disgrace."

  • Post-Andy

    Good times: 1997 - Becomes a spokeswoman for Weight Watchers, in a dual effort to lose weight and create income. Also engages in projects with the National Geographic channel, writes children's books, engages in public speaking tours, and becomes the international ambassador for Waterford Wedgwood.

    Reaction: 2001 - Sarah tells American television host, Larry King, that there had been a time when she was financially 'out of control' and it took years to earn the money, but she has paid off her debt.

  • Business activity

    Good times: 2006 - Sarah invests in a New York-based company, Hartmoor LLC. The company was designed to manage commercial opportunities on behalf of the Duchess and funnel profits into the Sarah Ferguson Foundation, which grants money primarily to children's' charities around the world.

    Reaction: 2007 - Publishes her second memoir, "What I Know Now: Simple Lessons Learned the Hard Way". In it she writes: "I do not merely rise above old wrongs; I deny them their reality. I sever my connections to darker times and circumstances." (Hmmm, Dr. Phil will probably have something to say about this.)

  • Bankrupt activity

    Bad times: 2009 - Hartmoor declares bankruptcy; Sarah is on the hook for nearly a million dollars.

    Reaction: 2009 - Sarah tells a British journalist: "The only thing I ever succeeded at was failure." The journalist asks her what she imagines her life would be like had she never married into the Royal family. Sarah answers: "I don't know...what would I have done? Maybe I'd be working for a PR agency. I never got many qualifications, so who'd want me?"

  • Bribery activity

    Bad times: 2010 - Meanwhile, back in the UK, legal bills for hundreds of thousands of pounds are piling up. Sarah is filmed while accepting $40,000 as a bribe and negotiating for future payments of roughly $750,000, in return for providing a businessman with access to Prince Andrew.

    Reaction: 2010 - Sarah goes on the Oprah Winfrey show and says: "There aren't really very many words to describe an act of such gross stupidity...I was in the gutter at that moment."

  • Oprah and Andrew save the day

    Good times: 2010 - Sarah makes a deal with Oprah to do a reality television show, giving the television cameras full access through her self-help journey. Oprah pays Sarah an undisclosed sum and it is soon reported that Sarah is debt-free, thanks also in part to good old Andrew.

    Bad times: 2011 - Once again Sarah is caught in the public eye for accepting a loan from an American billionaire and convicted pedophile. The man she borrowed from has a long record of offenses and served jail time for soliciting prostitution from a minor. Reportedly, she was borrowing the money in order to settle a debt she owed to her former personal assistant.

    Reaction: 2011 - Sarah is reported as saying: "Once again my errors have compounded and rebounded and also inadvertently impacted on the man I admire most in the world, the Duke...He has supported me and come to my rescue again and again and there is absolutely nothing that I would not do for him."

(Oh, Sarah, please step off this path of utter self-destruction. The world wants to see you succeed!)

The debt to self-worth ratio

So, what can we learn from Sarah (and, more importantly, what can she learn from herself)?

Quite obviously, Sarah's continued reliance on her ex-husband (she has lived within his home on and off throughout the years since their divorce) and her repeated words of contrition to the world at large are not just humbling, they have clearly eaten away at any ounce of self-worth the Duchess may have had. Her pattern of self-destructive actions followed by proclamations of mea culpa can only have served to further erode her self-esteem.

The question then becomes: how can a person such as Sarah rise above and build up strong and resilient self-esteem?

In Sarah's case, growing up with a distant mother and struggling with weight issues all her life, she clearly started with a low reserve of self-worth on which she could draw. Yet, if she is able to work through some of her inner anxieties and gain confidence and pride in herself, it is quite likely that her relationship with money will begin to improve as well.

Weight Watchers, with its slow and sensible approach, successfully helped Sarah conquer her figure. For the sake of her daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, we can only hope that Oprah's team can similarly help Sarah find a track to healthy self-awareness and self-confidence that she can stick with for life.

Above all else, Sarah needs to recognize that we all struggle with similar issues, though admittedly on a much smaller scale. But it takes a brave person to fess up, and then ensure those mistakes aren't repeated again. It may be a work in progress for the Duchess, but at least she keeps at it.

What we can tell you is this...Sarah, we believe in you. The world wants to cheer you on. We will be rooting for you on your royal-to-rags (to life riches) journey.

Jul 28 2017 1:59am

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