Sarah Ferguson on How She 'Made Friends with Past Mistakes'

"I have to be aware that trying to be perfect is no longer necessary," the Duchess of York tells PEOPLE

Sarah "Fergie" Ferguson has weathered countless ups and downs during her nearly 40 years in the spotlight, and today she says she is at peace with her past.

"Someone asked me, 'If you were an astronaut and you could take all the pressure off you, would you leave behind Fergie and Sarah and the Duchess and your past mistakes and failings?'" the Duchess of York, 61 — who became popularly known as "Fergie" in the 1980s after she married the Queen's second son, Prince Andrewtells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's cover story.

"And I said, 'What are you talking about? They're all my friends.' I made friends with past mistakes. I made friends with Fergie. She didn't know any better. And then Sarah. That's why we experiment. How is it that we're meant to be knowledgeable when we don't know? My Fergie, my Duchess, my Sarah: They're all good people."

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Sarah Ferguson in PEOPLE Magazine. David Burton

For the full exclusive interview with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

Much of her self-discovery came as she wrote her debut novel, Her Heart for a Compass, a sweeping coming-of-age story due August 3 about one of her ancestors, Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott.

her heart for a compass by sarah ferguson
Sarah Ferguson's new novel, Her Heart for a Compass.

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"In researching her, I found out more about my own DNA, and I found that resilience and courage and sense of hope and optimism," says the Duchess, who is mom to Princess Eugenie, 31, and Princess Beatrice, 32, and a new grandmother to Eugenie's 5-month-old son August. "I am a full-blown Celtic redhead, and that comes with a great enthusiasm for life, great spontaneity, and also — you just fight on."

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From left: Princess Beatrice, the Duchess of York, Prince Andrew and Princess Eugenie in a family photo shared on Instagram. Sarah Ferguson/Instagram

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Sarah Ferguson on or on the PeopleTV app.

Now, as she steps out for the release of Her Heart for a Compass amid her ongoing charity work with Sarah's Trust, she is embracing her new chapter — and her authentic self.

"I have to be aware that trying to be perfect is no longer necessary," says the Duchess, "and that actually being Sarah is just enough."

Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on PEOPLE's cover story interview with Sarah 'Fergie' Ferguson.

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