Cash-for-access row only latest to hit British royal

24th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's royals have been embarrassed by the Duchess of York accepting cash for access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew, but many commentators Monday were unsurprised at what is only her latest gaffe.

Sarah Ferguson, who divorced from Queen Elizabeth II's second son in 1996, apologised for a "serious lapse in judgement" Sunday after being secretly filmed striking a deal with an undercover reporter from the News of the World.

In return for 500,000 pounds (575,000 euros, 723,000 dollars), she seemingly promised to introduce the reporter, posing as a businessman, to the prince, who is Britain's special representative for international trade and investment.

"I very deeply regret the situation and the embarrassment caused," she said, admitting that her financial situation was "under stress" but saying this was "no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment and I am very sorry".

It is not the first time Ferguson has sparked controversy, however.

She has been regular fodder for Britain's voracious tabloids over the years, notably when she was photographed in 1992 having her toes sucked by her financial advisor, John Bryan. She and her husband split that year.

She was lampooned for her outlandish dress sense, in stark contrast to her elegant sister-in-law, Princess Diana, and the queen's former private secretary Lord Charteris famously summed her up as "vulgar, vulgar, vulgar".

There have also been recent reports about her financial situation, including that she faces legal action from a law firm over an unpaid bill worth up to 100,000 pounds and that her US company is expected to close with huge debts.

The duchess spoke openly about her money troubles to the News of the World reporter, revealing that her settlement from her 1996 divorce was only 15,000 pounds -- although she and Andrew remain on good terms.

"I absolutely have not a pot to piss in," she said, adding that she lived in an apartment owned by her ex-husband and that their daughters, princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, often paid her way.

Ferguson had success as a children's author, as the US face of diet firm Weight Watchers for two years and as a public speaker, but reportedly struggles to contain her spending.

Government minister Lynne Featherstone described the situation as "shoddy and grubby and really upsetting", while a Daily Telegraph commentator said it was the latest phase in "the national pantomime that is the Duchess of York".

Others were more sympathetic.

"Shocking? Yes. Surprising? Not to me. The woman is skint. And like any desperate person, she will do almost anything to get her hands on some cash," wrote former royal commentator James Whitaker in The Guardian newspaper.

He said her divorce settlement was paltry for any woman with two children, but said: "When those children are granddaughters of the sovereign, such a piffling amount is asking for trouble."

Ferguson insisted her ex-husband, the Duke of York, was "not aware or involved in any of the discussions that occurred", and Buckingham Palace said he "categorically" denied any knowledge of her meeting with the reporter.

But the prince himself is not immune to controversy over his job as trade envoy in 2001, which is unpaid, although he receives 249,000 pounds a year from the queen and ran up expenses of about 140,000 pounds last year.

The media have questioned his ties to a billionaire from Kazakhstan who bought his home for way over the asking price, as well as his use of a villa in Abu Dhabi from the Gulf state's crown prince, while his frequent use of private jets earned him the nickname "Airmiles Andy".

© 2010 AFP

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