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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK


From outcast to US princess: Fergie at 40

Fergie: "I've never felt happier"

Sarah, Duchess of York, is telling anyone who asks her that life begins at 40.

The one-time publishing executive, turned Royal, turned near-bankrupt establishment outcast, has certainly been at pains to create a new niche for herself in the three years since her divorce from Prince Andrew.

She claims to be happier than at any other time in her life, and has a fledgling career as a TV personality and presenter.

Most recently she signed a £400,000 deal with America's NBC TV network to report for its top-rated breakfast programme Today.

It isn't her first foray into TV world. She fronted her own talk show in the US, called Sarah _ Surviving Life, which ran in 10 instalments in the UK on Sky, and she has also made several TV commercials there.

[ image: A total
A total "family unit"
It hasn't been plain sailing - she had to learn to tone down her "Air, hair, lair," accent after a commercial for cranberry juice confused many viewers, who simply couldn't understand what she was saying.

And while many applauded the brave efforts of the duchess on Sky, the show also attracted a great deal of criticism.

But Today's executive producer Jeff Zucker has warmly complimented her TV skills, saying: "From the first time she appeared on Today, Sarah struck me as someone with a natural ease in front of the camera and the ability to tell a good story - two key components in the job of a television correspondent."

Clearing her debts

Her TV CV also includes a cameo part in Friends, starring alongside Matt LeBlanc - and she allowed interviewer Ruby Wax into her home.

The duchess has also been promoting the likes of Weight Watchers and Wedgwood in the USA, which has helped to clear her debts.

On Wednesday - two days before her birthday, she told The Mirror newspaper: "Life at 40 is great. I've never felt happier. I've spent all my life wanting to be loved."

But her planned birthday celebrations have been greatly toned down following the death of her best friend, Carolyn Cotterell, who had been suffering from skin cancer.

[ image: Stepping out with the Count at the Venice Film Festival]
Stepping out with the Count at the Venice Film Festival
The pair had been friends since childhood and had shared a flat at the time that the duchess married Prince Andrew. The duchess will now spend her birthday, on Friday, at her friend's funeral.

The bereavement is compounded by the relatively recent loss of her mother, Susan Barrantas, who was killed in a car crash in September last year.

The Mirror newspaper also reported on a celebrity birthday dinner held for her on Monday night, which she attended with her ex-husband.

Under the same roof - but not together

Though divorced, the pair now live in the same house with their two daughters, the princesses, Eugenie, 9, and Beatrice, 10.

Her move back to her former marital home came as her teetering affairs finally gasped their last and collapsed around her.

She was widely criticised in the British press for bemoaning the fact that in order to spend a lot of cash, one also has to have a lot coming in as well. "That's the rub," she said.

She also told The Mirror on Wednesday that she and Prince Andrew were "the happiest divorced couple" in the world.

[ image: The Mirror heaped shame on the Duchess]
The Mirror heaped shame on the Duchess
She said: "I know everyone wants the fairytale of Andrew and I getting back together. But just as I can't make plans for the millennium, I can't make plans about what's going to happen with us.

"There's no question Andrew and I are 100% with each other. We're a unit for the children and we have group unity totally.

"We're the happiest divorced couple in the world, definitely. Some people are happily married. Well, we're happily divorced. It might sound strange, but we believe very strongly in what we've got."

According to her father, Major Ronald Ferguson, Prince Andrew would "love" to get back with his former wife. But she is widely acknowledged to be dating Italian millionaire, Count Gaddo della Gherardesca.

The irony of her revelations in The Mirror is that is was the tabloid's revelations about her which badly hit her credibilty in the UK.

The infamous toe-sucking incident, which came while the duchess was still married to Prince Andrew, outraged the British public, large parts of which were becoming contemptuous of her lifestyle of holidays and partying.

[ image: Her life story is seen as one of triumph over adversity in the US]
Her life story is seen as one of triumph over adversity in the US
Her many attempts to get back on to a right footing, including patronising charities and worthy causes, were scorned as imitations of Diana, Princess of Wales.

And further tabloid allegations about her personal life - including love affairs and trips to a pyschic healer, who then spilled the beans on the duchess' couch confessions - did not endear her to the British.

In recent interviews, she appears to have become philosophical about her ostracism from the Royal Family, and the continued disdain with which she is regarded in Britain.

But in the USA, where her life story is regarded as a triumph over adversity, rather than one long party that ought to have stopped when she married into the Royal Family, she has an army of fans.

And she looks set to continue to reward their loyalty with exposure on their TV screens.

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