A Slimmer, More Serene Sarah


I prepared for lunch and my interview with Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, in the usual way: I packed my spare tape recorder and tapes, note pads and pens--and one teddy bear, Oatmeal.

Weight Watchers was hosting a luncheon for journalists at Rockefeller Center to tout its 1-2-3 Success program. The draw, though, was the duchess, a spokeswoman for the diet company. During our 15-point lunch (salad, 2 points; main course, 10; dessert, 3), the duchess, looking slim in a black pantsuit, spoke briefly at a podium. She explained how the program has worked for her (she's within 7 pounds of her goal weight, on which she was mum) and discussed her workout routine. She exercises with a trainer for 1 1/2 hours three mornings a week, on a stationary bike and with free weights and on machines.

When the luncheon broke up, the duchess and I went to another room for our interview.

She looked pretty if strained: It had been a long day for her on that press tour, and she hadn't wanted to leave her children for the 12 days. The duchess and Prince Andrew divorced in 1996, but they still live under the same roof, Sunninghill Park, with their children, Princess Beatrice, 9, and Princess Eugenie, 8. The Duchess still wears her wedding band.


Question: What do you do when you're so tired you don't really want to go to the gym?

Answer: If I'm feeling tired and stressed, then I just stay on my bicycle for two hours. Sometimes, when you're overstretched, you've got too much in your head, just to go and sit on a bike for an hour really just clears your head.


Q: Do you ever get to relax?

A: Yes, I do. I relax more now than I have done because of the health scare at Christmas. So, I tend to try and take more timeouts. I paint watercolors and do tapestry and take photographs and color with my children, play with my children. That's timeout for me.


Q: In case not everyone knows, tell them what happened last December.

A: They found a lump under my right arm they thought was breast cancer.


Q: Everything's fine now, right?

A: Yes. I'm fine.

Q: Do you stick with Weight Watchers' diet 100%?


A: No. Absolutely not.

Q: When and how do you divert?

A: I divert when I feel like it. But I will divert a little bit. I mean, probably one packet of M&Ms; or something. Nothing too crazy.


Q: That's nothing.

A: I mean, it used to be much worse. I'm getting better. The Weight Watchers new 1-2-3 program is just extraordinary. I always say, if I can do it, anyone can do it. But it is true. I have such an extraordinary life, so busy, and always going to functions and socials, but I always manage to do it. It's taken the pressure off--the pain of dieting. It's really about loving yourself, really. The more you love yourself, the less you want to put bad things in your system.


Q: Aren't you relieved that you've gotten to that point in your life?

A: Yes. Beginning to.


Q: Beginning to?

A: Every day is a different day, and we're very lucky to be here.

(She didn't say so, but I sensed she was missing her best friend, Princess Diana, who died last August.)

Q: It sounds as though you're learning not to respond to sadness or trauma by overeating.


A: Life is just a journey, like a river. Around every corner there's the rocks, and it could be stormy or sunny. I mean, you always get so fed up . . . but, actually, at the end of the day, it doesn't really matter.

Q: What does matter now?


A: The end of the day, what's important is our children, our future, our health and protecting naturally what we have and learning to love ourselves and finding an inner god, whatever you want to call it. And I suppose I had to go through a great learning process of public sabotage in order for me to wake up and understand what life is.

So, really, every day is about making the most of it, breathing, being in the present. I mean, I'm even much better than last year. I'm much calmer, and I'm growing even now really. And it's all about that growth. I actually, in fact, used that with my daughters.


Q: How?

A: Well, I noticed Eugie was getting angry and was sort of lashing out, you know, like with the ball. [This was just before the press tour began.] She pushed the ball too hard in someone's face. That night, we had a chat. " 'Eugenie, let's talk about it.' And, she said, 'Mommy, I'm just feeling really uncomfortable you leaving, and I'm angry.' And I said, 'I tell you what, why don't we have a scream.' "


Q: Good for you.

A: And then Beatrice screamed. And we all had a good old scream. And by the end of it, it was very funny. We were all rolling around on the floor and the anger was gone.


Q: The ABC special ["Adventures With the Duchess"] that you did last November, someone told me that you rode nearly 100 miles?


A: Yeah, 65 miles. Yes, that was eight hours in the saddle.


Q: Didn't your butt hurt?

A: Yeah. And, of course, it was the one day--it was boiling sunshine the day before--and it was Wyoming. The weather changes so quick. It was about minus 10.


Q: Did you walk like a cowboy afterward?

A: Yeah, John Wayne and I.


Q: He would have been proud of you.

A: Oh, big time. I had the real cowboy strut.


Guest Workout runs Mondays in Health.

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