In May 2010, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, former daughter-in-law of Queen Elizabeth II, made headlines around the world. An undercover tabloid reporter appeared to catch an inebriated Sarah on tape taking $40,000—and negotiating for future payments of about $750,000—in exchange for access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew.
After living through this lowest of moments, Sarah knew it was time for a change. On the new OWN series Finding Sarah, cameras follow Sarah's quest to go from broken to broken open. Sarah says she agreed to let the world see her journey of self-discovery because she trusted Oprah. "I remember so clearly you saying to me, 'Sarah, I want you to know if you come with good intentions, your intentions will show. And I will know if you are not in good intentions,'" she says. "Now the brilliance about you is that for some reason you knew Sarah, and I didn't know her. And Andrew and the girls, same as you. And my friends know Sarah. I didn't know."
The root of the OWN series Finding Sarah began just as Oprah's June 2010 interview with Sarah ended. "I remember leaving the room, and I turned and I said, 'I hear that you're thinking about doing Dancing with the Stars,'" Oprah says. "And I go, 'Big mistake. Do not make that mistake for yourself. That is not what you need to do.'"
Later, Sarah had another opportunity for a different reality TV show about cooking, but Oprah had a different idea.
In the months they had spent trading emails, Sarah told Oprah how she had lost her personal staff and had to do various domestic things for herself for the very first time. "I said, 'Sarah, I've had this idea. This whole you-moving-into-the-real-world-and-trying-to-figure-out-who-you-are-without-the-royalty thing going on, I think that's more interesting,'" Oprah says. "Your own life is more interesting than dancing or cooking."
From their correspondence Oprah says she knew Sarah's journey would require plenty of guidance. "In order to get to the root of what's really going on, she knew that she would need a lot of help," Oprah says. "Because you'd never even faced the fact that it was inauthentic."
One of the first missions on Finding Sarah—and one of the most difficult—was to sit down for a session with Dr. Phil.
"When Dr. Phil said that I was an addict to acceptance and approval, I nearly hugged him. I just went, 'Thank you so much!' And he went, 'That's the first time I ever heard anyone be happy to be called an addict.' And I said, 'No, I am, because now I've got a label. I can actually see it.'"
Instead of participating in all the festivities in London with her ex-husband, Prince Andrew; daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie; and the throngs of happy Brits, Sarah spent the weekend at a spa resort in Thailand. She says she was not invited to the wedding, but traveling 6,000 miles away was her decision. "I felt that I ostracized myself by my behavior, by the past, by living with all the regrets of my mistakes," she says. "I sort of wore a hair shirt and beat myself up most of the day, thinking and regretting. 'Why did I make such a mistake? Why have I made so many mistakes?' So I did spend a good three hours on that."
Sarah says her room in Thailand had no television so she couldn't watch the royal wedding, but when it actually came time for the ceremony to begin she caved. "I couldn't resist," she says. So Sarah called a friend in England and listened to the television coverage over the phone. She also was able to get an inside perspective from her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. "We were talking all morning, and he was saying, 'It's okay. Just remember we had such a good day. Our wedding was so perfect,'" Sarah says. "Because we're such a unit together, he made me feel very part of the day on April the 29th."
Though she was far from London, Sarah's spirit was present at Westminster Abbey for William and Catherine's wedding. A secret until now, Sarah tells Oprah, "[Andrew] had a picture of me in his pocket."
Sarah says she hopes Catherine, the newest member of the royal family, avoids the pitfalls of other young royals. For instance, Sarah says her generation was not savvy about the whims of the tabloid press. "In Diana and my case, we were at the time the media was just starting to really hype up," she says.
Unlike the short royal courtships of the past, Prince William and Catherine dated for nine years before their engagement. Sarah says this should help Catherine in the palace. "Diana had a few months before she married Charles. I had like two dinners and one weekend. It was very different then: We weren't allowed to live together. We weren't allowed to be seen staying the night and things like that," Sarah says. "As the Prince of Wales said, [Catherine] knows the ropes. They're such a great couple together. And I pray that from Diana and me, from our mistakes, they would have learned. We've trailblazed for them, I hope."
On the day of Prince William and Catherine's royal wedding, Sarah says she found herself thinking a lot about her late friend Princess Diana. "Diana and I both weren't there [in London], but I'm here to say how proud she would have been," Sarah says. "And Kate looked utterly beautiful."
Just months before the 1997 car accident that took her life, Diana gave Sarah some advice about life as a former royal. "She said, 'Remember, Fergie, when you're at the top of the pedestal, you can fall off. It's when you're at the bottom you can grow,'" Sarah says. "On April 29, I again thought that. I thought, 'Well, now, I went to the gutter. Now I can grow up as Sarah, and I can begin to really get to know Sarah.'"
Though they separated in 1992 and divorced in 1996, Sarah says Prince Andrew is still a close friend. Sarah even lives in Andrew's house. "Which is really lucky because otherwise I really would be on the street," she says.
While Sarah and Andrew share a home, she says they both travel so much that they are rarely there at the same time with Beatrice and Eugenie. "We're ships in the night, as we've always been," she says. "But when we are there, it is fantastic, and we have a very strong unit, the four of us."
During the fallout from the bribery sting, Sarah says Andrew was always supportive of her. "Andrew and I are very much like [what] Kahlil Gibran wrote about the oak and the cypress in the forest when you grow to the light. We grow together, and we support each other no matter what, through everything, together," she says. "I think there's no finer man than him. I've never met a finer man."
Growing up with a mother who left the family for an Argentine polo player and a father who regularly called his daughter mean names, Sarah says she was determined to be a different kind of parent. She says she tried to raise her daughters Beatrice and Eugenie, now 22 and 21, with the love that was lacking in her own childhood. "The best thing I've ever done is be a great mother, because I put the oxygen mask on my children, not on myself," she says. "I have brought the girls up with my entire heart and soul from the mother that I didn't have. So the great thing is they have confidence; they are strong."
Sarah says she hopes Beatrice and Eugenie don't have to make the same mistakes she did. "Every time that I can see them maybe not being completely honest, I'm there with them saying, 'Hey, what are you doing?'" she says. "'Remember I've made the mistakes. I've been there.'"
As an approval addict, Sarah says one of the hardest things to do is ask the question: What do I want? To find out, Sarah says she relies on a simple technique. "When an email comes in, or when the telephone rings or somebody wants you, take a moment, sit very quietly, even if it's in the bathroom, and just connect honestly." she says. "Go inside and connect and say, 'Okay, is that self-hatred talking? Is that trying-to-please talking? Who is that talking? ... What do you feel, Sarah?' And once you get there, even if it's for five seconds, then you're ready."
Sarah says if she could talk to her just-married self, she would have some important advice to share. "Sarah, do you have any idea of who you are? You don't know who you are. You had it all. You had the most wonderful man. You could have done it," she says. "And I'd say to her, 'You're such a great person—but know it. Don't wait 25 years to know it.'"