Before we started our roundtable with Sarah Ferguson, who is the producer of the movie The Young Victoria, a PR person from Fox Searchlight told us to either address her as Duchess or Ma’am, both sounded a little weird as we weren’t British subjects, and I wondered what to expect when the Duchess of York entered our room. What we got was a warm, lovely, down-to-earth woman who called herself Fergie.
Sarah Ferguson is the author of two historical books about the life of Queen Victoria, and she has long believed that the story of her early life would make a powerful motion picture. She has realized that dream, having conceived the initial premise on which the film The Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend, is based.
What is it that drew you to Victoria that led you to do all the research, write the books and get the idea for doing the film?
The first book I ever read (about her) was The Highland Journals given to me as a wedding present, and I dipped into it and it seemed so fabulous, those little lodges she made up in the mountains so that when Albert was out shooting he didn’t have to go all the way back to the castle, he could be warm and cozy. And just thought it was so romantic that she loved him so much she would do anything to make him happy.
When I read that I thought, I need to know more. So I then went to the library and I met all the wonderful people that helped me do that, and in getting more engrossed I realized that she was 18-years-old and fell in love, and everything you see on the big screen, it was there. If Victoria was here right now she’d be proud.
What is the message of this movie for you?
If I do ever make a success of my life, I would say never let anyone stand in your way, to follow what you believe is true and passionate from your heart, no matter what, because everyone will say, ‘You’ve never produced a Hollywood film. Why do you think you can?’ And everybody did, and I went, ‘Oh, I don’t matter, Victoria matters to me.’
For sixty-five years she wound Albert’s watch, she put out his clothes and she begged the universe to bring him back to her. And she never slept on his side of the bed, she only slept on her little side, and she mourned him and she said when he died, on the 14th of December, 1861, ‘How am I going to live, and how am I going to do this with half my soul missing?’
Why would you say ‘if you ever make a success of your life?’ You’ve written children’s books, you’ve written the books on Victoria, you’ve started many charities, you’re a tremendous success.
You’re very kind to say that. I feel very lucky, very privileged and I’m very humble, that is for sure, but I have taken all of the terrible press from Britain and I believe it, I do believe it, so to get the confidence to come back is very hard.
It was a 15 year process for you to get this to the screen, at what point did you actually feel this is going to happen?
My friend Tim Headington, who you see as a producer, I call him my angel Tim, he’s one of the finest people I know in my life, he lives in Dallas, and I said to Tim, ‘I’ve always wanted to do this,’ and he said, ‘You know, let’s make your movie.’
So he introduced me to Graham King and Graham said to me, ‘I’ll make your movie, and I’ll make it in Britain and do it properly.’ And he to this day has kept his promise, filmed in Britain, British cast, beautifully done and I always said to him, ‘If we win an Oscar it will be the King and I.’
Your daughter Beatrice is in the movie, are you worried that she might get an acting bug?
I’ve tried everything and all the mistakes that I’ve made [my daughters] won’t make, because it’s all written down. Every time I say, ‘You shouldn’t do that,’ they go, ‘Yeah, mum, because you know.’ ‘Yeah, I do.’
I think that Beatrice and Eugenie will do exactly what they would like to do because I’ve brought them up, and so has Andrew, with so much strength, security and confidence of knowing what’s right and wrong. And Beatrice for sure, she’s born a princess, she’s very responsible and she’s got a sense of duty. She is definitely someone to be watched for the future, because royalty is in her blood.
What did you personally take away from the experience of seeing your dream come to fruition with this film?
When I first started working for Weight Watchers I was so broken by the British press. I came to America and I thought everyone was looking at me, I was very paranoid really about everything, and it was the leaders of Weight Watchers that saved my life, and the American people. It was Oklahoma, it was the middle-America, it was people saying, ‘It’s okay Fergie, we know you’ve made mistakes, it doesn’t matter, we all have, come on.’
I am a closet American because of what you’ve done for me, and you’ve certainly given my children their mummy back. But when anyone pays me a compliment now, I say, ‘Oh, it’s a good hairdresser,’ or if they say, ‘You’re looking nice,’ I say, ‘Oh, this old thing.’ I never ever take it, because I can’t, because I’m still frightened, and yet when I stood on the pavement in London and the red double-decker bus went by with The Young Victoria on it, I couldn’t say, ‘Oh well.’ No, it was my idea!