The official notice, attached, as tradition demands, to the wrought-iron railings of Buckingham Palace, couldn’t have been shorter or more to the point if it had been edited by a miser: “Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York was safely delivered of a daughter at 8:18 p.m. today. Her Royal Highness and her child are both well.” Note the tone: dry, decorous, oh-so-dignified—and completely out of whack with what was happening around the country. Putting it mildly, celebration was rampant as England toasted the birth of Fergie and Andy’s new York, the country’s first royal princess to come into the world since Princess Anne made her entrance 38 years ago. There was dancing in the streets, laughter in the air and enough champagne corks popping to drown out Big Ben’s bongs. And this was no one-day wassail. When the babe made her first public appearance four days after her birth, slipping out of the hospital in the arms of her mum, the crowds were still cheering and her foray into the sunlight was broadcast nationwide.
Immediately thereafter, her pink face peeping from the folds of a white shawl, the world’s littlest princess took to the air. She was whisked by plane to an RAF base in Scotland and then on by car to Balmoral Castle, the royals’ summer estate, where she awaited the arrival of her grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. It was more than a courtesy call. The monarch will have to approve any suggested name for the child. Some doubted that the little girl would be called Elizabeth, as that name probably will be reserved for any daughter born to Prince Charles and Princess Di; their daughter would be closer to the throne in line of succession. So, more than a week after her birth, the blue-eyed, ginger-haired baby remained the one infant in the world who had everything except a name. Her parents, however, the Duke and Duchess of York, promptly dubbed her Baby York-let, and that seemed fine. Her tiny hands were described as “beautifully eloquent” by Sarah’s mother, Susan Barrantes. But other details of her personal life were hidden within the gates of Balmoral, the royal family’s last refuge from prying eyes. No matter. Fleet Street was already speculating about the baby’s future husband (top prospects were Prince Philip of Greece, 2, and James Jagger, Mick’s 3-year-old son), and the celebration went on in London.
Perhaps the revelry represented a release of tension as much as an expression of goodwill. During a wet, miserable summer, anticipating the latest princess’s arrival had put a king-size strain on everyone’s nerves. The national mood was deftly captured by Queen Elizabeth, who, while opening a new soap plant in northwest England, remarked about Fergie’s anticipated blessed event, “We hope it is soon. We are fed up with waiting.” The Queen, already a grandmother four times over, sounded even more impatient during a visit to a hospice. “These wretched babies don’t come until they’re ready,” said the mother of four. “They don’t come to order.”
For the former Sarah Ferguson, 28, whose pregnancy was announced in January, the waiting was filled with incident and stress. In May, her father, Maj. Ronald Ferguson, was exposed as a massage parlor client. In July, while Fergie was on her way to visit a friend, her Jaguar was rammed by a Ford Fiesta. As her pregnancy progressed, she was diagnosed as having high blood pressure and excessive water retention—all this while her husband, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, was overseas on H.M.S. Edinburgh.
She refused to give up champagne—which was fine with her gynecologist, Anthony Kenney, although the doctor probably envisioned his patient drinking three or four glasses a week rather than the three or four glasses she sometimes tossed back in a single evening. Her passion for sparkling wine was matched only by her passion for cheeseburgers. Toward the end of the pregnancy, when she had gained over 30 lbs. and struggled mightily to squeeze into her size-16 clothes, the Duchess of York might tastelessly have been dubbed the Duchess of Pork.
The anticipated site of the blessed event was London’s Portland Hospital, and minions of the media began massing there two weeks before B-day. They were quickly joined by dozens of tourists and royal fanatics, all wilting in the uncharacteristically hot English weather. A banner hung outside the hospital expressed everyone’s great expectations: Any Moment Now!
The first sign that the moment was indeed approaching came on Sunday, Aug. 7, when Andrew flew in from Singapore. At 10 a.m. the next morning he and Fergie arrived at the back door of the hospital in their Daimler and proceeded to the duchess’s room on the third floor. During the morning Andy emerged from Portland looking quite grim. Trouble? No. “I was on my way to the dentist,” he later explained.
He was back well before Fergie’s labor began in the afternoon. Contrary to rumors, the labor was not unusually difficult. According to one Fleet Street tabloid, a fetal distress signal had been detected in the womb, preparations had been made for an emergency cesarean, and Fergie had lost enough blood to warrant fears of anemia. The truth is much less melodramatic. Earlier that day, Kenney had told his patient the baby was ready to be born. If the duchess wanted to wait, labor would start naturally within three to four days. But if she wanted to avoid the delay and speed up the delivery, inducing labor was an option. The duchess elected to do so. The birth proceeded without a cesarean, and there was no unusual loss of blood.
Andy was with Fergie throughout her four-to-five-hour labor, very short for a first pregnancy. Pop also took the first photos of mother and child. The next time he left the hospital, he was all smiles, and not because he wanted to show off his dental work. The couple’s 6-lb., 12-oz. bundle of joy—born Aug. 8, 1988 (8-8-88), a date some numerologists consider the luckiest in the century—had arrived in an uncomplicated delivery with little fuss, no forceps and no fainting. The little girl automatically became fifth in line to the throne (behind her Uncle Charles, cousins William and Harry and her dad), pushing Prince Edward into sixth place.
No reflection on Eddie, but the happy birthday news dominated most of the next day’s papers. Other stories—including the cease-fire between Iraq and Iran, as well as the one declared between Cuba and Angola and South Africa—barely made it to some front pages.
If anticipating the birth of the little Yorkie had sent members of the British press into a sweat and a swivet, waiting for a glimpse of her was almost more than their nervous systems could bear. The photographers, heir-conditioned but overheated, found good use for their film on Wednesday, when Princess Di showed up for a 25-minute visit. Wills and Harry tagged along, the latter sticking out his tongue at the photographers on cue. Next came the maternal grandpop, Major Ferguson, who just managed to squeeze a smile for the assembly; he probably wanted to stick his tongue out, particularly when one photographer shouted, “Off to the Wigmore Club?” referring to the major’s massage parlor of choice.
On Thursday, Fergie’s stepmother, Sue—whom Fergie teasingly calls, “My wicked stepmum”—popped through Portland’s back door as Fergie’s mother left through the front entrance. Talk about careful timing.
It was 12:35 p.m. Friday when Sarah, carrying her daughter, finally exited as 500 well-wishers and 100 photographers looked on. Sarah wore a blue maternity dress and a teddy bear-shaped badge that read I’m a Mum.
Mum will probably not be the word about Fergie’s newly acquired avoirdupois. It was clear to most of the spectators that the duchess will have to call on considerable willpower to get back into shape. Whether it was her own weight or the weight of motherhood, Fergie seemed just a bit subdued as she waved to the throng and posed with her hubby.
However, it took only a few minutes before she rediscovered the joys of celebrity. Handing the princess to Andy and moving toward the waiting car, Fergie spotted an American tourist—Heidi Alasio of Oregon—bearing a bouquet of flowers. Andy’s face went from pink and smiling to red and glowering as he spotted his wife suddenly dashing toward the crowd barrier. Her detective flew after her, but Fergie prevailed. She skidded on the rain-slick road, but she grabbed the flowers, a bunch of pink carnations, and seemed rather rosy as she climbed into the blue Jaguar for the getaway.
From there the new family headed to Balmoral and that visit with the Queen. Fergie is expected to stay on for a month. Between breast-feeding sessions she might continue writing her first children’s book, tentatively titled Budgie Saves the Day. (Following the fortunes of one Budgie, a weakling helicopter who’s trying to capture the affections of Pippa, a cute girl helicopter, the book will be published in America next spring by Simon and Schuster.) Andy is expected to rejoin his ship, which is now docked in Manila, shortly. When he returns on board, a Ministry of Defense spokesman predicts, his fellow officers “will have one hell of a party.” The sailors might try two of the nation’s newest celebration cocktails—the royal baby (champagne and strawberry liqueur) and the new Yorker (dark rum, grenadine and Babycham). Elbow bending has been especially prevalent in Dummer, Hampshire, Fergie’s former home, as has been the marketing of baby souvenirs. Silver-plated teaspoons are selling in the village for approximately $5, and commemorative envelopes, postmarked and signed by Major Ferguson and his wife, are going for approximately $8. It’s all for a good cause, however—raising money for the 12th-century All Saints’ Church, which needs a new floor and roof. Grateful townsfolk have erected a sign outside the Queen’s Inn Pub reading Well Done, Sarah. Well done, indeed.
—By Joanne Kaufman, with Jonathan Cooper and Rosemary Thorpe-Tracey in London