Fergie fever over 1986 royal wedding – but the fairytale was not to last

When Princess Eugenie’s parents married, Britain was in the grip of “Fergie Fever”.

A worldwide television of 500 million tuned in to watch Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson say their marriage vows in a lavish ceremony in Westminster Abbey.

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The Duke of York and his bride the Duchess of York wave to crowds as they leave Westminster Abbey (PA)

Thousands of people lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the royal family’s newest lovebirds.

Many staked out their places the day before, making the most of the summer sunshine.

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Crowds staked out their places the day before the royal wedding (PA)

On July 23 1986, on the morning of the wedding, the Queen made her second son the Duke of York – a title previously held by her beloved late father, George VI – and, after saying her vows, Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson became HRH the Duchess of York.

Two thousand guests including 17 foreign royals, US First Lady Nancy Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gathered in the gothic Abbey, which was decorated with 30,000 flowers.

Sarah Ferguson and Major Ronald Ferguson
Sarah Ferguson and her father Major Ronald Ferguson at Westminster Abbey (PA)

During the service, Sarah mistakenly repeated Andrew’s middle name, Christian.

She also pledged to obey her husband.

Her dress was by Lindka Cierach and made of ivory duchesse satin with a scoop neckline and featured a bodice detailed with intricate embroidery and beading and a large bow-adorned bustle.

Her 17ft (5.2m) train incorporated bumblebees, anchors in a nod to Andrew’s naval career, thistles, flowers and the large intertwined initials A and S.

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The Duchess of York in her wedding gown at Buckingham Palace (PA)

The duchess wore her hair down and began the ceremony wearing a floral headdress which was removed after the signing of the register to reveal a diamond tiara.

The duke wore the ceremonial day dress of a naval lieutenant.

Zara Phillips, dressed in peach, was a bridesmaid, and four-year-old Prince William was a pageboy, in boater hat and sailor outfit.

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Laura Fellowes and four-year-old Prince William during the wedding of Sarah Ferguson and the Duke of York (PA)

He fidgeted, yawned, poked out his tongue and pulled faces at the bridesmaids, including his cousin Laura Fellowes, during the service.

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Prince William fidgets at the royal wedding (PA)
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William yawns during the service (PA)

The newlyweds rode back to Buckingham Palace in the open-topped 1902 State Landau and giggled and shared a romantic kiss on the balcony of the Palace.

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The newlywed Yorks in their carriage (PA)

Newspaper headlines declared “Fabulous Fergie” and “The Kiss” and there was royal memorabilia from mugs to postal stamps featuring the bride and groom.

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Wedding guests the Prince and Princess of Wales on their way to Westminster Abbey (PA)

The Yorks held a wedding party for 300 guests at Claridge’s hotel and
honeymooned in the Azores on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.

The New York Times wrote that Britain was in the grip of “Fergie Fever” and said of the duchess: “She likes horses, swimming, tennis, champagne, spinach souffles, Trivial Pursuit, the Rolling Stones, Duran Duran, the high-grade pulp novels of Jilly Cooper, and Philip Morris cigarettes, which she is trying to give up in deference to the British royal family’s aversion to smoking.”

But the fairytale was not to last forever.

Exuberant, fun loving “commoner” Fergie, who was seen at the time as a breath of fresh air, later confessed: “I was hopeless from the start…

“They could never make me the perfect princess.”

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The Duchess of York, with the Duke of York, at a premiere in 1988 (PA)

She even admitted to an American magazine in 2001 that her marriage began to break down within a week of the wedding because of Andrew’s naval duties.

Their first daughter Princess Beatrice was born in 1988, followed by Princess Eugenie in 1990.

The gaffe-prone duchess was criticised in the press for her frequent overseas trips and cruelly attacked for her weight.

The Yorks
The Duchess of York poses for photographers with her daughters, Eugenie and Beatrice in the ski resort of Verbier (Fabrice Coffrini/PA)

Meanwhile, she began to run up enormous debts.

Six years after they wed, in March 1992, it was announced that the duke and duchess were to separate.

Five months later, the Queen’s peaceful annual holiday at Balmoral was
shattered by publication of the “toe sucking” photographs.

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The Duchess of York (right) with her husband the Duke of York and the Queen in 1991 (Martin Keene/PA)

A topless Duchess of York, wearing just bikini bottoms, was pictured cavorting with John Bryan – her “financial adviser” – who was seen kissing the sole of her foot as she reclined on a sun lounger.

Sarah was also staying at Balmoral at the time and the royals came across the pictures as they sat down to read the daily newspapers at the breakfast table.

It paved the way for her exit from life with the Windsors.

“I was a non-person in the Family; any future I might have had there was now irrevocably ended,” she wrote in her autobiography.

The couple eventually divorced in May 1996.

But they have remained close friends and strong supporters of one another amid repeated rumours they might one day even remarry.

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Sarah, Duchess of York and her ex-husband the Duke of York at Ascot in 2015 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The duchess has moved back in to Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park, where Andrew also resides, and has described herself and the duke as being “the happiest divorced couple in the world”.