Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson described royal life as ‘not a fairytale’ in 1996 Oprah interview

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are set to sit down for an interview with Oprah Winfrey on Sunday evening, covering everything from Meghan’s journey becoming a royal to the couple’s historic move to the United States. 

However, Meghan and Harry are not the first members of the royal family to get candid about their experience with Oprah. 

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In 1996, Winfrey interviewed Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson following her split from Prince Andrew, who described royal life as “not a fairytale.”

“You didn’t marry the fairytale, you married a man,” Ferguson said at the time. “You fell in love and married a man, and then you have to come to terms with the fairytale. Now it’s not a fairy tale, it’s real life.” 

Ferguson noted that one of the most difficult adjustments was adhering to all of Buckingham Palace’s rules. 

“The palace from when you look at it from the outside, the windows have to be open in only a certain amount so they are all in line, and I’d come in and throw open all the windows,” she said. “And no, that was wrong.”

In addition, Ferguson opened up about the “utterly cruel” treament she received from the British tabloids, a topic Meghan and Harry will also address in their upcoming interview. 

“I must explain that the British press at the moment is completely and utterly cruel and abusive and so invasive,” the mother of two said, adding that it is “very cruel and very painful when you are going to try and find the feelings within to be on such a public stage.”

Ferguson also addressed why she could no longer continue to just “play the game”.

“You could do that, and if that’s what suits you, then that’s what suits you,” she replied. However, like Harry’s mother, the late Princess Diana, Ferguson said she was like a river. 

“We want to learn more, we want to go around the corner, we are hungry for more,” she said.

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Ferguson went on to speak with Oprah again in 2010 following a video released by British tabloid News of the World, which showed Ferguson accepting a bribe in exchange for offering access to her ex-husband. 

At the end of a meeting with an undercover reporter, Sarah walked out of the room with a black bag stuffed with $40,000 and negotiates a future payment of 500,000 pounds, which is equivalent to about $750,000.

She also spoke with Winfrey in 2011 after not being invited to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding, which Ferguson described as “so difficult.”

“I wanted to be there with my girls and to be getting them dressed and to go as a family,” she said at the time. “And also it was so hard because the last bride up that aisle was me.”

In addition, she did a series with Winfrey called Finding Sarah.

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Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s departure from royal duties began in March 2020. The sit-down with Winfrey is a chance for the couple to explain what led them to quit royal life, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media.

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Prince Harry, left, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. "Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special" airs March 7, 2021. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP, File)

This image provided by Harpo Productions shows Prince Harry, left, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in conversation with Oprah Winfrey. “Oprah with Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special” airs March 7, 2021. (Joe Pugliese/Harpo Productions via AP, File)

Clips released ahead of the airings suggest that at least Meghan will have some pointed criticisms of royal life. In one she describes the royal family as “the firm,” a nickname that is sometimes used affectionately and sometimes critically.

At one point, Winfrey asked Meghan how she felt about Buckingham Palace “hearing you speak your truth today?”

“I don’t know how they could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent if there was an active role that the firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us,” she said. “And if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, there’s been a lot that’s been lost already.”

In another clip, Harry invoked the memory of his late mother, Princess Diana, who had to find her way alone after her divorce from Prince Charles.

“I’m just really relieved and happy to be sitting here talking to you with my wife by my side, because I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for her going through this process by herself all those years ago,” Harry said, adding, “because it’s been unbelievably tough for the two of us.”

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In Britan, the interview is seen as poorly timed. It will air while Harry’s 99-year-old grandfather Prince Philip remains hospitalized in London after undergoing a heart procedure.

Meghan is shown in a clip released Friday contrasting the conversation the two women were able to have now versus in 2018 ahead of her wedding. Meghan described not being able to talk to Winfrey, who was seeking an interview, without royal minders present.

“As an adult who lived a really independent life to then go into this construct that is um.. different than I think what people imagine it to be, it’s really liberating to be able to have the right and the privilege in some ways to be able to say yes,” Meghan told Winfrey.

It is unclear what public reaction, if any, the queen and other royal family members will have to Sunday’s interview. The U.K.’s Sunday Times newspaper, citing an anonymous source, reported that the queen would not watch it.

Queen Elizabeth II stressed the importance of unity and family in a royal address Sunday, which aired just hours before Meghan and Harry’s interview is set to air. 

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As Meghan Markle, the actor starred in the TV legal drama “Suits.” She married Harry at Windsor Castle in May 2018, and their son, Archie, was born a year later.

Harry and Meghan’s departure from royal life was supposed to be reviewed after a year. On Feb. 19, Buckingham Palace confirmed that the couple would not return to royal duties and Harry would relinquish his honorary military titles — a decision that made formal, and final, the couple’s split from the royal family.

Oprah with Meghan and Harry will air Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBS.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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