Q&A with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York

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Sarah Ferguson, the businesswoman, philanthropist, author and mother of two daughters, has found that a sense of humor has helped her through the hard times. And her charity, the Sarah Ferguson Foundation, has given her a sense of peace and purpose.

Lately, the Duchess of York has teamed up with Avon on a new lifestyle collection, Sincerely Sarah by Sarah Ferguson. Here, she talks with Bankate about her life as a former royal and how she has moved on.

Bankrate: Mom, successful businesswoman, advocate, philanthropist and author. How much of Sarah Ferguson goes into each one of these slices of your life?

Sarah Ferguson: Well, to answer that much more factually, I’m more from the heart than anything else. I’m just a big, honest, emotional heart, and I’m very spontaneous. And I just throw passion and my entire being into every single thing that I do.

Bankrate: So is there a specific time when you saw yourself as a successful businesswoman?

Sarah Ferguson: Oh you’re so nice to think that I even am. I would love to think that I was. I think it’s because I put so much weight behind everything that I do that I put my passion into business like I do into philanthropy, like I do into Avon and Sincerely, Sarah. Mother Teresa was asked when there was a huge disaster in India, “Mother, what are you going to do about all this?” And she said, “We’ll just take one at a time, and if we can help one, we’ll help a lot more. Just go slowly.” And I think that’s honestly what I believe.

Bankrate: In Avon’s press release, it says the products actually draw on your own life’s pleasures and memories, such as the lavender-scented throw. So, what life’s pleasures do you draw upon?

Sarah Ferguson: I love to take photographs, and my favorite thing to do is to sit in a lavender field. I love to smell the lavender, and I like to watch the bumblebees be busy because they really shouldn’t fly, and they defeat gravity by flying because their fat little bodies can’t manage it. I enjoy that sense of just being still and just watching somebody else work flat out like they do in the lavender fields. That’s why I thought of the lavender throw blanket because I thought it a rather good idea to take people on a journey to Provence in the south of France, where I look at my lavender and see the bumblebees and have people remember that every minute of the day, make it the precious present, the precious moment.

Bankrate: Your career is on a really grand level right now, so do you feel financially stable at this point in your life?

Sarah Ferguson: The trouble is I give it all away to charity (laughs), and I guess that’s why I’m going to go on being commercial and work as hard as I can. So the more I work, the more I give. I just gave some money to Romania … I find these children in institutions there and I don’t want mothers to have to abandon their children. I want to start a community center there for mothers to be able to stay there, so they can manage to get through the winter. I want to help the women of the Congo who are fleeing from these wars there. I want to help them so they can bring up their children. So I’m just going to keep on working.

Bankrate: Do you have a particular pet charity?

Sarah Ferguson: Well, I have (the) Sarah Ferguson Foundation, which is a fairy godmother foundation that gives to already-existing charities. It doesn’t have its own projects. If people donate to me, I give it to charities like Children in Crisis, the charity I started in 1993, which educates children all over the world. I believe education is the key. I also gave money to the earthquake victims in China, and so it goes on. I tend to give it all away.

Bankrate: Why is your charity work and giving away millions of dollars so important to you?

Sarah Ferguson: Because charity work is a way for me to understand how lucky I am. You know what? There are people all over the world who aren’t as lucky as me and I keep being reminded of that. It makes me go, “Come on, Sarah, pull yourself together and get out there.”

Bankrate: I know you were a paid spokeswoman for Weight Watchers for 12 years. And you have admitted to comfort eating in the past.

Sarah Ferguson: Past? (laughs). Oh, heavens. When I allow that naughty person — stress — to come into my life, then I normally eat, then I put on weight, then I get more stressed because I put on more weight. So it’s that old vicious circle. I am human, and I tend to let stress beat me sometimes. And I think I was the longest-running paid (spokeswoman) that Weight Watchers has had.

Bankrate: How do you teach your daughters to have healthy body images?

Sarah Ferguson: It all comes from your role models. If your role models think it’s cool to be size zero, you’re likely to think so as well. We see models who look as though the dust of the wind might blow them off the catwalk. We need to emphasize that curves can be healthy. I vowed that my daughters would not share my difficulties with weight. We talk honestly at home, and I make sure that weight and body image are kept in healthy perspective.

Bankrate: You look fabulous now — vibrant and rejuvenated. When was it you felt comfortable in your own skin?

Sarah Ferguson: I think probably now, and I’m into my 50th year. I think it’s taken me this long to feel comfortable in my own skin. I was in the Ritz Hotel today because I’ve been working here all day, and a man came up to me and said, “I used to run a modeling agency,” and I said, “OK.” And he said, “Here’s my card,” and I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Some people love redheads and some hate them, but I love redheads, and if I had my modeling agency still, I’d sign you up.” I was so very pleased. … So I suppose now, I have more confidence and can just be who I am.

Bankrate: What part of your day would you be glad to leave behind?

Sarah Ferguson: Exercise (laughs).

Bankrate: What would you say is your No. 1 fear or insecurity in life?

Sarah Ferguson: The size of my bottom (laughs).

Bankrate: Do you put aside fears and insecurities to get through the day?

Sarah Ferguson: Yeah, I do. I think fears come up every minute of the day: fears that you’re not going to manage, fears that you got it wrong (and) fears that you’re not the person who you really think you are. And, you just have to know that everybody has fears. I used to think that I was the only one who had these thoughts and now I realize, through a lot of hard knocks, that actually we all have these fears.