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Sarah Ferguson Says Constant Princess Diana Comparisons Caused "Self-Hatred"

The Duchess of York reveals how she finally got over feeling inferior to her sister-in-law.

At 63 years old, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, says that she is fully accepting herself for who she is. On the Aug. 30 episode of her podcast, Tea Talks with the Duchess and Sarah, she shared that being diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and going through mastectomy surgery changed her outlook on life and healed her feelings of self-doubt. Ferguson explained that some of her "self-hatred" came from being constantly compared to her sister-in-law Princess Diana, especially in the press.

Read on for more of what Ferguson had to say about feeling inferior to Diana, their relationship, and the bright side of her recent health issues.

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Ferguson and Diana were friends before they became royals.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana at Guards Polo Club in 1982
David Levenson/Getty Images

Ferguson and Diana (née Diana Spencer) knew each other long before they both married into the royal family.

"[H]er mother and my mother were at school together, and they were best friends. And Diana was my fourth cousin. You know, it's just extraordinary that we were brought together," Ferguson said (via People) on a June episode of the podcast she co-hosts with entrepreneur Sarah Thomson. In fact, Diana was the one to introduce Ferguson to her future husband Prince Andrew.

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They were pitted against each other in the press.

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana visiting the HMS Brazen in 1986
Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images

Diana married Prince Charles in 1981, then Ferguson married Andrew in 1986. As high-profile members of the royal family, Diana and Ferguson were regularly stacked up against each other in the media. Ferguson was routinely mocked for her weight, including while she was pregnant. The insults printed by tabloids included referring to her as the "Duchess of Pork."

"In the '80s, it was Diana looking beautiful, and there was fat, frumpy Fergie," Ferguson told People in 2021. "We were just there for people to make a lot of money. At the time we both didn't realize that." She continued, "We were positioned as saint and sinner. And the most important thing was to remain robust together, and we did, no matter what anyone wrote."

Ferguson admitted she believed what was written about her.

Sarah Ferguson at the Pavillion Theatre in Weymouth, Dorset in 1986
David Levenson/Getty Images

On the new episode of her podcast, Ferguson said being compared to Diana changed how she viewed herself for the worse.

"When I look back, you know, I was OK," she said. "I got good legs and look good, and I didn't like myself, and that was because, I think, you know, I was always compared to Diana and I think that, at the end, I sort of believed my own press, which is, you know, not too good, right?"

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Her cancer scared changed everything.

Sarah Ferguson at the Luminous Gala 2019
Featureflash Photo Agency / Shutterstock

Ferguson said that being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a mastectomy in June 2023 changed her outlook completely, though she wishes she had come to her conclusion sooner.

"Does it take to have something cut off, a body part cut off, in order for you to wake up—not because of seeing death, but waking up to stop: stop worrying, stop self-hatred, stop self-doubt, stop all these things, stop not liking yourself. Does it take that? … I felt, yes it did, in my case," she explained on the podcast.

She also revealed that the last bit of advice Queen Elizabeth II gave Ferguson before her September 2022 death had to do with self-confidence.

"The last thing that the queen said to me: 'Just be yourself, Sarah,'" she recalled. "She saw it. She just got so annoyed when I wasn't being myself. And that's probably when I got into more pickles." Ferguson added, "But now I am myself, and I'm just so lucky to be able to be myself. It's so hard. What a journey."

She urges others to get regular mammograms.

Sarah Ferguson at the UK premiere of "Marlow" in 2023
Jo Hale/WireImage via Getty Images

Ferguson's breast cancer diagnosis was announced to the public in June. A spokesperson told The Independent that she was diagnosed during a routine mammogram.

"She was advised she needed to undergo surgery which has taken place successfully," the representative said. "The Duchess is receiving the best medical care and her doctors have told her that the prognosis is good. She is now recuperating with her family."

Ferguson has since advocated for regular mammograms, including on her podcast.

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Diana and Ferguson's relationship had ups and downs.

Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson at the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain Parade at Buckingham Palace in 1990
Julian Parker/UK Press via Getty Images

Ferguson wasn't the only one who felt the competition between herself and Diana. As reported by Town & Country, Diana told biographer Andrew Morton that Ferguson "wooed everybody in this family and did it so well. She left me looking like dirt." She also said that Charles compared her to Ferguson and said, "I wish you would be like Fergie—all jolly."

However, Ferguson has said that she and Diana remained close allies during that time. For example, in her 1996 autobiography, My Story, she wrote that they connected about their desire to leave the royal family—both women separated from their husbands in 1992. "We burned the phone wires into the night, trading secrets and jokes that no-one else would understand," she wrote.

Sadly, they became distant not long before Diana's 1997 death. (According to Town & Country, it has been speculated that Diana was not happy with how Ferguson wrote about her in her book, including saying that old pairs of shoes Diana gave her caused "plantar warts".)

"[B]ecause we were like siblings … we rowed," Ferguson told Harper's Bazaar in 2007. "And the saddest thing, at the end, we hadn't spoken for a year, though I never knew the reason, except that once Diana got something in her head… I tried, wrote letters, thinking whatever happened didn't matter, let's sort it out. And I knew she'd come back. 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.'"

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Lia Beck
Lia Beck is a writer living in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to Best Life, she has written for Refinery29, Bustle, Hello Giggles, InStyle, and more. Read more
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