Sarah Ferguson's caught-on-tape bribery scandal this past week prompted one of my friends to say "if that had been me I would have considered killing myself," yet the Duchess of York is scheduled to appear on Oprah tomorrow to explain her side of the story and there are rumors that Donald Trump wants to recruit her for Celebrity Apprentice and she may move to the States permanently. So it goes.
This latest tabloid scandal for the Duchess of York provides a great Rorschach test for how people feel about this kind of fallen celebrity. The sympathetic find Sarah Ferguson misunderstood, abandoned, exploited, her own worst enemy and flawed in a rather charming way. These are people who use the word charming because it sounds British and would probably curtsy if they met her.
The outraged find her vulgar, reckless and cynically cavalier about selling her influence to finance a lifestyle she feels entitled to. These are people who don't feel sorry for Lindsay Lohan either.
Another way to put it is some people watch the incriminating video and think she's crying in front of the pile of money on the coffee table because she's actually ashamed of how low she has sunk while others think she can't freaking believe she just scored this much cash.
A friend who has met Ferguson several times reports "Basically she's a very nice person, she came to my house for dinner in London once and spent an hour upstairs with my two little girls making up these wonderful bedtime stories - they were entranced.... she's got this really maternal, cosy girl side you can't help but like." She adds, however, "We're surprised when the royals act badly but just because someone is born with or marries a title doesn't make them aristocratic or genteel or honorable." She put it another way, "Sarah drives home the folly of expecting someone in her position to act differently - being a royal may classify you but it doesn't give you class."
She also confirms suspicions here and abroad from those close to the situation that despite Sarah's protestations that Andrew was unaware of her selling influence to him may not be completely accurate but a story she will probably stick to.
The British tabloids have a tradition of running these kind of stings - a sort of Punk'd for Royals that exposes people who present themselves as superior to others and are revealed to be not only 'just like us' but often worse. There is a wicked delight in seeing the mighty exposed as cravenly human and this particular scandal really delivered. If you didn't like Sarah Ferguson before, this story was the mother lode for exposing her as a shallow show-off who is all about the perks and the bucks.
This is the special talent of the celebrity press and that is when they confirm our collective hopes that people who seem to have it all really don't, and people whom we never really trust or like indeed meet our worst expectations and fall from grace.
But then we pick them up again. Chastened, participating in the public apologies (see Tiger Woods and Jessie James) and seeking our collective forgiveness and understanding, they step down one more sad rung on the downward ladder of fame. Any publicity becomes good publicity. They compete with other C and D listers on reality shows that continue to provide recognition, no matter how tattered and cheap. They will talk to everybody and anybody and repeat their humiliating stories to anyone who asks as long as it's in the warm glow of studio lighting and there is any kind of lens in the room. The thought of retreating from the public eye or finding salvation, say, in helping others, is rarely chosen, rather, having been branded by the glare of bad publicity, the Celebrity Fallen become ours forever. So we're sort of stuck with Sarah Ferguson now.
She got caught peddling her influence and integrity, diminished as it was, and now seems to be selling the rest. Stay tuned.