EXCLUSIVE: Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York talks to The Weekly about media criticism and embracing her authentic self

The 61-year-old opens up after her exciting career change.
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This week Sarah, Duchess of York releases her first ever adult novel Her Heart for a Compass, published by Mills & Boon.

Here in a frank and heartfelt zoom interview she talks to The Australian Women’s Weekly’s Editor-at-Large Juliet Rieden about her inspiration for the central character, how she has learned to deal with constant media criticism, her inner battle to embrace her authentic self, the joy of becoming a grandparent and her plans for the future.

Fifteen years ago, while researching her ancestry, Sarah Ferguson stumbled upon a distant relative she just had to get to know.

Her name was Margaret – Sarah’s middle name – and she had flaming red hair and a refreshingly feisty disposition.

Sarah, Duchess of York has shared her thoughts in a heartfelt Zoom interview.

(Credit: Debbie Hare)

As she delved more into the archives, the Duchess of York felt an uncanny affinity with this woman – actually her great-great aunt. She was the daughter of the very aristocratic Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch, who mingled with the court of Queen Victoria, and was evidently quite a live wire.

But the records proved scant and could only tell her so much, which is where Sarah’s fertile imagination and passion for storytelling kicked in.

Her Heart for a Compass is the result, the Duchess’s first attempt at novel writing.

It’s a sweeping saga about family rifts, female empowerment, finding a new life away from the stuffiness and claustrophobia of the court in the brave new world of America’s Gilded Age and the power of true love. Sound familiar?

“People will spot some of the parallels between me and my heroine, my great-great aunt Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott.

“She’s a redhead, she’s strong-willed and stands up for what she believes in, she makes a career in writing.

“I think inevitably all writers draw on their own experiences: I certainly did,” explains Sarah.

“I’m so proud of this book and the fact that I have become a first-time novelist at the age of 61, and the fact that I’m feeling more authentically and confidently myself than ever is reflected in the end of Margaret’s story.”

Sarah dedicates the book to her daughters; “my beautiful girls, who have all the strength and courage of Lady Margaret. They too have followed their hearts and live life on their own terms.”

And while there’s no question we are in a glittering and long-lost world of society balls, debutantes and maidens whose hearts long to pound with unbridled passion, there’s a contemporary depth to the Duchess’s neatly choreographed historical romance.

Her Heart for a Compass is the Duchess’ new novel, published by Mills & Boon.

(Credit: Supplied)

In themes such as battling the sting of vicious gossip, refusing to conform to the status quo and being cast out from family and society to rely on your own business nous, you can’t help but glimpse echoes of Sarah Ferguson’s own life experience.

In our zoom chat, Sarah talks to The Weekly about the lessons she has learned from the tougher turns in her life to date.

“I always think of that great quote from Edison – that if he hadn’t stamped on 10,000 broken lightbulbs he’d never find the one lightbulb… and if those were his failings then thank goodness he failed in order to find the lightbulb!”

“And I think my lightbulb has been because I’ve gone down various different roads and through my experiences and experimenting with my experiences, I’ve probably made some rash decisions which were incorrect or the ramifications of my actions perhaps weren’t thought through…”

“But then it’s quite hard if you’re a redhead, and very Irish and very resilient and very strong, sometimes you don’t and you just go in with both feet and it’s done and it’s out of the mouth and then you think…Oh…retreat!” she says.

“But the thing is that the British press are not so forgiving when you do get it wrong… I’m quite pleased that my lightbulb has started with a new career as a novelist.”

Read the full interview with Sarah, Duchess of York who is also photographed at home in Windsor’s Royal Lodge, in the September issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly, on sale from August 12.

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