The Truth About Princess Diana's Relationship With Sarah Ferguson

As both Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson knew and know, marrying into the royal family comes with lots of press speculation about the feuds and friendships within the family. Just take a look at the alleged feud between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle that caught traction in the British press (via Harper's Bazaar). 

It turns out, these two aren't the first royal sisters-in-law to face endless scrutiny in the tabloids. When Sarah tied the knot with Prince Andrew in 1986, she became Diana's step-sister, and the press quickly whipped up rumors of a major feud. Reportedly, the two women had a seriously rocky relationship. In fact, they allegedly fluctuated back and forth between being best friends to worst enemies over the years. Naturally, the tabloids loved following the rumors of the feuding Duchesses — much as they do today!

But what really went on between Diana and Sarah during their time in the Palace? Were the tabloids to be believed, or is there actually more to the story? Here is the truth about the relationship between Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson.

Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson met long before they married into the royal family

Unlike Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson met long before they married into the royal family. According to Express, the royal sisters-in-law were actually distantly related. Apparently, they shared an ancestor — Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who'd been born a Spencer, like Diana. This made them fourth cousins. You may remember Georgiana from the 2008 film The Duchess starring Keira Knightley. It seems it's a pretty small world when it comes to the British aristocracy!

Not only were Diana and Sarah distant cousins, they were also old friends. Their mothers had once been school friends, so the two soon-to-be royals had known each other since childhood. When Diana lived in Chelsea in London during her engagement to Prince Charles, Sarah had been part of her friendship circle, too. According to Town & Country, they became really close during this period, thanks to their mutual interests and friends.

Sarah Ferguson felt snubbed throughout Princess Diana's wedding preparations

Because Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson were close friends and distant relatives, it was pretty surprising that Diana didn't invite Sarah to her wedding reception at Buckingham Palace after the larger ceremony. According to royal expert Tom Quinn, the snub didn't go unnoticed. As he said in the documentary Fergie Vs Diana: Royal Wives at War, "I think she was astonished to discover she wasn't being invited to the wedding breakfast." In fact, Sarah was so hurt by the snub that she was left feeling "quite worthless and unfit as a person," according to psychologist Jo Hemmings (via Express).

However, the documentary revealed that it hadn't been Diana's idea to leave her friend out of the reception. As it turns out, Diana actually wanted Sarah to be there. She'd even wanted to name her as one of her Ladies-in-Waiting. However, as royal commentator Lizzie Cundy explained, "I think the Royal Family felt Sarah wasn't posh enough," she revealed. Apparently, it was during this period that tensions began to form in the women's friendship.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana met for a weekly lunch

In spite of the snubs caused by royal protocol during the lead up to Princess Diana's wedding, she and Sarah Ferguson remained incredibly close in the early years of Diana's marriage to Prince Charles. In the documentary Fergie Vs Diana: Royal Wives At War, experts on the royal family explained that Diana saw Sarah as a loyal and trusted friend at the time. In fact, she relied on having weekly catch-ups with her confidant. As author Kate Nicholl said, "They would frequently meet for lunch. Often once a week" (via Express). If lunch wasn't possible, Sarah would come to the Palace for tea.

Nicholl went on to explain that Diana's lunches with Sarah helped her to adjust to her new, royal life. "She would really lift Diana and make her laugh, which Diana really needed at that time," she added. Sounds like the two women's friendship was especially important to Diana in those difficult early years of being a princess.

Sarah Ferguson introduced Princess Diana to astrology in 1986

It seems that Sarah Ferguson's friendship really did have a significant impact on Princess Diana in her early years as a royal. Apparently, Sarah recommended her astrologer, Penny Thornton, to Diana in 1986. As it turns out, Sarah's recommendation came at a crucial moment in the princess's life: as Thornton told Vogue, Diana was desperate for help. "I just want to know if there's a light at the end of the tunnel," she'd said at the time.

During their first meeting, Thornton tried to help Diana "turn her situation around from being a passive victim, to an active member of the royal family who was equal to her husband." Additionally, Thornton explained to the Daily Mail that her advice worked, as Diana had been on the verge of running away from her marriage to Prince Charles. "She was going to bolt and she didn't," the astrologer revealed. "That Christmas I had a card signed by Charles." Sarah also wrote to express her thanks (via Express). According to Vogue, Thornton went on to work with Diana for six years.

Sarah Ferguson saw herself as an older sister to Princess Diana

Even though Princess Diana married into the royal family before her friend did, Sarah Ferguson still saw herself as a superior to Diana in some ways. For instance, in the early years, she viewed Diana as a younger sister. "She was two years younger than I, and I strove to support and protect her as I would a younger sister — as I still do today, as a best friend," she wrote in her 1996 autobiography (via CheatSheet).

At the time of her marriage, Diana was still very young. In fact, she was just 19 when Prince Charles proposed (via Town & Country). As Sarah's friend, Lizzie Cundy, explained in Fergie Vs Diana: Royal Wives at War, "Diana looked up to Sarah because she was so flamboyant." And as psychologist Jo Hemmings put it, "By the time [Sarah] was in her 20s, she'd had two live-in at that point, when Diana was very young, those two years must have seemed incredibly significant" (via Express). 

However, by the sound of things, their friendship evened out as Diana grew older, and their dynamic became that of two best friends.

Princess Diana played matchmaker for Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew

Sarah Ferguson wasn't the only generous person in the friendship. In fact, Princess Diana eventually played matchmaker for her friend and introduced her to her brother-in-law, Prince Andrew. According to Town & Country, Diana had asked Queen Elizabeth to invite Sarah to one of her "dine and sleep" events during Ascot week in 1985 — essentially, it sounds like a fancy royal sleepover. As The Times reported, Diana arranged for Sarah to sit next to Andrew at lunch, and the attraction began from there.

When Diana found out about Sarah and Andrew's secret relationship, she was apparently eager to help her friend with the budding romance. She even invited Sarah and Andrew to visit Highgrove, her country house, where they could get to know each other better before the relationship became public. Just one year later, the pair were engaged — and Diana was on the verge of getting a brand new sister-in-law (via The Sun).

Sarah Ferguson followed Princess Diana's lead when she entered the royal family

Once Sarah Ferguson entered into the royal family, the dynamic between her and Princess Diana shifted. While Sarah had once tried to protect the young princess, after her marriage, she began to look up to her friend for advice and guidance. When Diana had announced her engagement to Prince Charles, she faced hordes of tabloid photographers on a daily basis; for Sarah, it was no different. As Sarah revealed in her autobiography My Story, Diana's years of experience in front of the press proved helpful.

In the book, Sarah recalled one moment when she and Diana had been swarmed by the press. "I looked over at my friend in befuddlement," Sarah wrote. "'Just keep smiling,' Diana whispered." As Sarah explained, this was advice she would heed for "years to come." As she put it, "I always felt safe in mimicking Diana" (via Harper's Bazaar).

Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson once crashed a bachelor party in disguise

Even though Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson were usually well-behaved, there was one occasion when they got into a little mischief. According to The Times, Sarah came up with the idea to gatecrash her husband-to-be's stag party by dressing up as a police officer. She roped Diana into her plan, and the pair went to Annabel's nightclub in London to drink champagne and orange juice in costume. As the club's manager explained to Express, the women were very convincing. "They were perfectly disguised and certainly had us fooled," he revealed. After their night out, the friends stopped Prince Andrew's car on his way back to the Palace.

As Diana's biographer Andrew Morton wrote, it was the "first signal of the change in Princess Diana's behavior." Apparently, she'd been influenced by her more outgoing, daring friend. And, as Morton pointed out, impersonating a police officer is technically illegal, so the stunt certainly would have raised some eyebrows at the Palace (via Radio Times).

Princess Diana sometimes felt overshadowed by Sarah Ferguson

After Sarah Ferguson joined the royal family, her relationship with Princess Diana became a little more complex. According to some reports, her outgoing, laid-back personality even led to a little jealousy. After all, Diana was often called "Shy Di" in the press. Additionally, as noted by Town & Country, Sarah made an excellent first impression on members of the royal family — and on the press for being the total opposite. 

Sarah won over the Queen by getting her pilot's license, and she bonded with Queen Elizabeth's husband by open carriage driving. She also liked the same sports as the royals, like skiing and horseback riding, both of which Diana hated.

As Diana put it to Andrew Morton, her biographer, she "wooed everybody in this family and did it so well. She left me looking like dirt." Apparently, Prince Charles had even expressed a wish that Diana could be more "jolly" like her friend. No wonder she felt threatened by the new royal arrival.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana conspired about leaving the royal family

Despite Princess Diana's feelings of jealousy, she continued to rely on Sarah Ferguson as a close friend and confidant throughout her marriage. Eventually, they both found themselves increasingly unhappy in their marriages to their respective princes. By 1991, Diana found that Sarah was the only one who could understand what she was going through, and vice versa. "It was the year we first put words to the unspeakable idea that had been nudging us in the ribs for some time: that one or both of us might leave the royal family," she wrote in her autobiography (via Town & Country).

After that, the pair began to plot and scheme of how they might escape their unhappy marriages and sever their ties to the royals. "We burned the phone wires into the night, trading secrets and jokes that no-one else would understand," Sarah added.

According to the Daily Mail, Diana was having an affair with an art dealer called Oliver Hoare at the time. Allegedly, the two women used the name of Hoare's road as a code word. "It meant our leap of freedom," Diana reportedly had said.

Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson became closer than ever after their divorces

In 1992, Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana officially separated from their respective royal husbands. By 1996, both of their divorces had been finalized, and the women were free to go their own ways. Yet again, the two friends found themselves in a unique position that only the other could fully comprehend. Understandably, they relied on each other for support during this period. 

To celebrate their freedom, Sarah and Diana set off on a trip to the South of France with their children. According to UPI, the two sisters-in-law arrived in July, and stepped off their private plane into three limousines to avoid the press. During their getaway, Diana and Sarah stayed in a chateau in the village of Seillans where they spent their time playing in the pool and relaxing on the patio. But sadly, they were still plagued by paparazzi and fans throughout the trip.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana fell out completely in 1996

The same year that Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana finally divorced Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, then went on holiday together, they also fell out for good. According to Page Six, Sarah didn't know what had caused Diana to stop speaking to her. However, most people date their fall out to the release of Sarah's 1996 autobiography, in which she included an embarrassing detail about her friend. In the book, she revealed that Diana had given her some old shoes, "and less happily, her plantar warts." Yikes — it sounds like Diana didn't take too kindly to having rumors about her wart problem spreading through the press — and who can blame her!

According to Express, who spoke to Diana's astrologer after her death, she'd always been a very sensitive person. It's no wonder she apparently reacted so poorly to her friend's cruel and super personal revelation. 

Sarah Ferguson was deeply sad that she and Princess Diana had been fighting at the time of her death

Sadly, Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana hadn't reconciled at the time of Princess Diana's tragic death in 1997. In fact, according to Page Six, they hadn't spoken in over a year. As Sarah confessed to Harper's Bazaar in 2018, not making up with Diana was one of her biggest regrets. "Because we were like siblings...we rowed," she explained. "And that's the saddest thing, at the end, we hadn't spoken for a year, though I never knew the reason."

Sarah went on to explain that she'd done her best to mend the relationship prior to Diana's death by writing letters to the princess. "I knew she'd come back," Sarah continued. "In fact, the day before she died she rang a friend of mine and said, 'Where's that Red? I want to talk to her.'" So, apparently Diana had been just about ready to forgive her old friend. 

Sarah did attend Diana's funeral even though they'd fallen out; after all, the pair had at one time been incredibly close (via Town & Country).

Sarah Ferguson doesn't speak to Princess Diana's family

After Princess Diana's death, Sarah Ferguson cut most ties to the royal family, including to Diana's sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, whom she hasn't spoken to since she fell out with Diana. As she explained to Harper's Bazaar, "I don't want either thinking that I'm trading on my friendship with them, pushing myself on them, though I'll always stand by the boys 100 percent."

In 2007, Sarah didn't attend the 10th anniversary memorial of Diana's death, which had been organized by the two princes. A friend spoke to Express about her controversial decision, saying, "She had not been on a royal guest list for some years and it has been made clear that the family do not want her to attend royal events." Sadly, Sarah didn't receive an invitation to William's wedding in 2011, either. However, she did get an invitation to Harry's wedding in 2018 (via CheatSheet).

While Sarah clearly has a strained relationship with the royal family, it's clear that she looks back on her time with Diana with nothing but fondness. As she told Harper's Bazaar, "I really miss Diana. I loved her so much."