'The Crown' Season 5: What Really Happened With Sarah Ferguson Toe-Sucking

It was the royal scandal that sent shockwaves through Buckingham Palace and the world, and which contributed to Queen Elizabeth II's labeling of 1992 as her "annus horribilis."

A princess was photographed in a compromised position with a business associate while on holiday in the South of France.

The press labelled the sensational photos of Prince Andrew's wife, Sarah Ferguson, with her foot being kissed intimately by another man as "Fergie foot-job," which became more widely known as the "toe-sucking scandal"—though the royal denies that sucking took place.

The ripple effects this had on contributing to Queen Elizabeth II's disastrous year of 1992—which on top of hastening the breakdown of Andrew and Ferguson's marriage also signaled the public separation of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, and the devastating fire at Windsor Castle—has been reference in the latest season of Netflix's The Crown.

Sarah Ferguson Toe-sucking Scandal
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York photographed attending the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, May 19, 2018. And (inset) July 21, 1990. GARETH FULLER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images/Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

Though swiftly dealt with in the show, the scandal may not be familiar to the series' younger fans who were afforded a rare glimpse of Ferguson during the state funeral of the queen in September.

The duchess (she keeps Andrew's title until such a time as she remarries) was given a prominent seat at the Westminster Abbey funeral, despite spending nearly three decades on the royal sidelines.

But who is Sarah Ferguson, and what is the true story behind the infamous toe-sucking scandal? Newsweek has the answers.

Who is Sarah Ferguson?

Sarah Ferguson was born on October 15, 1959 in London, the daughter of Major Ronald Ferguson and his wife Susan.

Ronald was the polo manager to Prince Philip and then to Prince Charles, so Sarah grew up alongside the royals as family friends, these included among them Prince Andrew.

Ferguson became close friends with Princess Diana before her marriage to Charles. After the royal wedding, the princess encouraged her friend's blossoming romance with Andrew.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana
Sarah Ferguson photographed with Princess Diana at a polo event, June 1983. The two women became close freinds. Georges De Keerle/Getty Images

In 1986 Ferguson married Andrew in a service at St Paul's Cathedral, becoming through the process Her Royal Highness The Duchess of York.

Fergie enjoyed great popularity among the British people in the early years of her marriage being closely compared to Princess Diana, whose unhappiness in her marriage led newspapers to often show favor to the bubbly duchess.

Her relationship with the press, who had given her the longstanding nickname of "Fergie," soured in the early 1990s as it became clear her marriage to Andrew had become strained. The prince was away for long periods of time as he served in the Royal Navy and by 1992 the couple had separated.

They divorced in 1996 after a series of public issues including the toe-sucking scandal. As the first princess who wasn't born royal to divorce in Britain, her position was uncharted. For some months she kept her HRH status which was then removed by the time Charles and Diana divorced a year later.

She received a divorce settlement reported to give her an income of £15,000 per year plus the sum of £350,000 (Diana would be awarded a reported lump sum of £17 million).

After her divorce, Ferguson wrote a tell all memoir titled My Story, and she also embarked on a number of business ventures. In 2010, she was recorded in a sting operation staged by a newspaper allegedly offering introductions to her ex-husband for cash, causing greater distance between her and the senior royals.

Despite the breakdown of their relationship the duchess and Andrew remained close, co-parenting their two daughters, the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie. The couple live together at Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park where Ferguson has publicly supported Andrew during his fall from grace over his connections with Jeffrey Epstein and the settled sexual assault lawsuit filed by Virginia Guiffre.

Most recently they appeared together to view floral tributes to the late-queen outside Windsor Castle in September.

Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew Royal Wedding
Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew photographed on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on their wedding day, July 23, 1986. The couple still live together despite divorcing in 1996. Derek Hudson/Getty Images

What Really Happened With Sarah Ferguson's Toe-Sucking Scandal?

In August 1992, British tabloid Newspaper the Daily Mirror published photographs of Ferguson and her financial advisor John Bryan holidaying together in the South of France. In the images taken by the paparazzi, Ferguson is sunbathing with Bryan shown to kiss her feet and lips.

Ferguson and Andrew were separated at the time but still married. The duchess later admitted their friendship had become intimate.

In her memoir My Story, the royal writes of her "suspicions" that the royal "Firm colluded with the press by leaking details of my whereabouts" during the holiday with Bryan to humiliate her. By the "Firm" she referred to the courtiers surrounding the royal family who, she believed, had never fully accepted her.

On the morning that the story broke in the newspapers, Ferguson was staying at Balmoral with Andrew, the queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Edward. Given a brief warning as to what was coming she told the queen and Andrew ahead of time to which she wrote that her husband said: "Don't worry, we'll just deal with it."

Sarah Ferguson Memoir
Sarah Ferguson photographed with her tell-all memoir published after her divorce from Prince Andrew, November 25, 1996. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

After reviewing the photos when they were published, the duchess wrote: "The shot that caused the most furore—the one that would define me for years to come—showed John [Bryan] planting his mouth on the top of my foot. Toe Sucking!, went the tabloids refrain, and you could almost hear the grown men giggling."

Despite this, the duchess insists that no toe-sucking ever took place. "John and I were actually playing Cinderella when the picture was snapped," she explained, "the whole scene was not nearly as intense as it was made to look."

The queen's reaction, she conceded, was one of fury but she sought solace in Princess Diana who was also a guest at Balmoral and who, just one week later, would face a similar scandal when a newspaper published a transcript of a private conversation between herself and close friend James Gilbey.

The conversation referenced her husband Charles and other family members. It was nicknamed "Squidgygate" after a term of affection used on the call.

The toe-sucking scandal has not been forgotten, but it did not bring an immediate end to the York's marriage which was not legally dissolved until four years later.

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