Duchess of York exhibits onstage warmth and backstage chilliness

The Queen of England doesn't care for her, but close to 800 commoners couldn't get enough of Sarah, Duchess of York, when she held court at the Weight Watchers Super Meeting at the Oregon Convention Center last week.

The Portland visit was a first for the duchess, aka Sarah 'Fergie' Ferguson, who is the U.S. spokeswoman for Weight Watchers.

Making her entrance to Roy Orbison's upbeat tune 'Pretty Woman,' the duchess was met with a thunderous standing ovation from the audience, who also heard from local group leaders and testimonials from fellow Weight Watchers at the thin-spirational meeting Sept. 16.

During a 20-minute talk marked by easy wit and surprising candor, the Duchess shared stories of her lifelong weight problem, beginning with the event that she says triggered it (her parents' divorce), as well as the time the British press dubbed her the 'Duchess of Pork.'

'They obliterated me,' she said of the press's treatment of her during her 10-year marriage to Prince Andrew and her subsequent fall from grace, a self-proclaimed 'downward spiral' marked by divorce, debt, weight gain and the infamous toe-sucking scandal.

It wasn't all gloom and doom from the duchess. Funny and uplifting moments during the presentation came when she admitted her food weaknesses (sausages, mayonnaise and egg-salad sandwiches) and described her divorce as 'the happiest in the world.' The audience applauded in appreciation as the duchess thanked the Weight Watchers organization for 'saving me É they gave the girls their mommy back.' (She and Prince Andrew are the parents of Princesses Beatrice, 14, and Eugenie, 12).

The duchess allowed press interviews after the event, where it became clear that unlike Princess Diana, who met turmoil with a downcast gaze and coy demeanor, Fergie didn't survive recent trials by being a pushover.

Wearing a black Dolce & Gabbana suit that revealed trim legs and with her signature red mane straightened, the 43-year-old Duchess sat in a leather club chair and sipped tea from a delicate Wedgwood cup. She wore a gold band on the ring finger of her left hand and diamond and sapphire earrings of the same design as Princess Diana's famous engagement ring. (Alas, pointed-toe sling backs concealed the notorious digits).

In marked contrast to the warmth she had shown onstage, the duchess was steely and unsmiling during the interview, pausing occasionally to ask one of several assistants for another 'cuppa' or to remind them to put a call through 'now, because it's getting late in England.'

Sticking to the publicist's dictate that the interview pertain only to the issues of weight loss and healthy eating, the duchess duly noted the importance of being a good role model for her daughters by eating properly and exercising. She allowed that she keeps her tiny figure taut with yoga, Pilates and bicycling.

She was critical, however, of what she sees as a uniquely American belief that involving children in sports eliminates a need for a balanced diet.

'An emphasis on sports isn't enough,' she said. 'Parents need to educate their children about nutrition and give them the tools they need to eat properly, because at the end of the day their body is their responsibility.'

The duchess finally revealed a chink in her armor when she said that despite the rough road she's traveled, she would change none of it.

'All of the endless mistakes I've made have made me who I am today,' she said. 'I have learned to live with regret.'

And, apparently, without sausages.

Contact Jill Spitznass at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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