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British dismayed by Fergie the 'rent-a-royal'

Fergie

'How Low Can Fergie Stoop?'

February 7, 1997
Web posted at: 11:00 p.m. EST (0400 GMT)

LONDON (CNN) - A British newspaper reported Friday that the Duchess of York, popularly known as Fergie, has paid off $6.89 million in debts, but she's going to have to go some to clear her name the British people.

The former Sarah Ferguson, the woman who has been called the Duchess of Pork for her excess poundage, is now "the Duchess of Tackiness" in Britain's tabloids for what they see as shameless huckstering.

And they are not alone. "I wouldn't invite her 'round for a cup of tea," is a typical reaction to her exploits.

Fergie books

The duchess recently signed a string of promotional deals, including one with Weight Watchers and another to advertise cranberry juice on television.

But the latest thing to set them off is her decision to accept $45,000 from Austrian millionaire Richard Lugner to attend a ball earlier this week in Vienna.

Dressed in a black sequined gown matched with black gloves, Queen Elizabeth II's former daughter-in-law was the main attraction at The Opernball, an event that once was the toast of Europe.

It was snubbed this year by scores of glitterati for whom it has lost its sparkle, perhaps after learning that singer-actress Grace Jones was paid $100,000 to attend last year.

'How Low Can Fergie Stoop?'

"I wanted a fairytale princess for this ball, and a fairytale atmosphere," says Lugner.

What he got was an oompah band to serenade the duchess with "God Save the Queen" while phony palace guards stood by. Nevertheless, the duchess looked subdued and joyless in the box with Lugner's family and friends, and left without setting foot on the ballroom floor.

She seemed in better spirits the next day while making an appearance at his shopping center for a book signing, however.

The reaction at home was immediate and unforgiving. She was called an "escort girl," and a "rent-a-royal," and a headline asked "How Low Can Fergie Stoop?"

But Fergie says she doesn't care what the folks back home think.

"If they want to think I'm royal or not royal, I'm still the same person," she said. "I've got two very healthy children, but now I'm on the road to find out more about myself."

"The royal family has cut Fergie loose," says Ross Benson of The Daily Express. "If she swims, then good luck to her. If she drowns, even better."

Judging from what she told The Sun when asked about paying off her debts, she has no intention of drowning.

"This does not mean I can sit back and relax," she said. "I've got to continue to work hard to pay my way."

Correspondent Siobhan Darrow contributed to this report.  
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