What We Learned in a Few Minutes With the Duchess of York Lady Sarah Ferguson

If we’re going to attend a media event on a Saturday afternoon right smack in the middle of the first beautiful weekend of the year, it has to be worth it. The Duchess of York Lady Sarah Ferguson definitely made the cut. On Saturday, she was in Toronto as the keynote speaker for the second Scarborough World Gala, held by The Scarborough Hospital Foundation (TSHF) at Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel. The goal of the evening was to raise $2 million to support The Scarborough Hospital’s (TSH) innovative Cancer Care program. The gala also honoured Dr. Dhun Noria, the Scarborough Hospital’s Chief of Laboratory Medicine and Medical Director of Laboratories, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Prior to the gala dinner (which came with a regal price tag) was a planned-down-to-the-minute media event that included a brief panel discussion with Dr. Dhun Noria, TSH President and CEO Robert Biron, and well-known musician Lawrence Gowan and his wife Janice Gowan, a cancer survivor, followed by interviews with the Duchess herself. You’d be surprised about what you can learn about the Duchess of York Lady Sarah Ferguson in mere minutes…

She makes everyone nervous, not just us.
From Hollywood A-listers during TIFF to media events with icons like Wayne Gretzky, nobody’s ever caused our heart to race as much as Fergie as we waited among the hungry journalists to get a word with her, repeating just don’t call her Sarah… don’t call her Sarah in our over-thinking head. Really, though, how could you not be a little nervous? Royalty is a whole new level of celebrity. The good news is that we weren’t alone. When we caught up with fellow media and guests at the VIP reception that followed, they told us that they were just as sweaty-palmed when they shook the hand of the Duchess (which is actually pretty gross for her/we hope her people brought Purell). The good news is that, after chatting with her, we broke the royal ice and are all the more prepared to take on Kate and William one day.

She’s human
Though we had no idea of what to expect from her, what made us kind of fall for Fergie was her glaringly apparent respect and admiration for other people. You could tell right off the bat in the panel discussion in her praise for the Scarborough Hospital and Dr. Dhun Noria. “I came today with a great big heart for you, if I may say, Dr. Dhun Noria, and all that you have achieved,” she told Dr. Noria in her opening remarks. She also praised Robert Biron for “running a good team” and said she was happy to help in any way she could and proud to be a part of Scarborough Hospital, calling it “one of those places that is just a great nugget in this huge world.” When we had a chance to speak with her afterward, her longwinded, passionate answer (we’re getting to it) revealed how human this woman – a magazine fixture from before the time that most of us could read them – actually is, complete with emotions and a real, beating heart.

She calls the shots
Although the Duchess comes armed with some no-nonsense people, it was quickly evident who is boss. When it was our turn to get a word in, she stopped us after a few seconds and told her team that she would rather wait until her live on-camera interview was over so that we’d have more time. When PR later tells you that you have only one to two minutes, however, you have to be strategic with your question(s). We would normally open with a question about her involvement in the evening, but we’d already heard about that during the press conference. Besides, the Scarborough World Gala marks only a small part of Fergie’s lifelong charity involvement. So, we asked her if there was one individual or story that left the greatest impact in all of her philanthropic endeavours throughout the years. “You’re not asking specifically about my involvement in The Scarborough Hospital?” she asked. When we replied that time was of the essence when we had less than two minutes, she made us like her even more. “Who says you have less than two minutes? Don’t worry about that,” she replied. When in the middle of our chat, her people tapped us on the shoulder in a signal to wrap it up, but when we turned around to acknowledge them, she tapped us right back on the shoulder to look at her because she was not done talking, thank you. Amazing.

She’s a red-hot redhead
Her fiery personality isn’t the only thing that makes Fergie red-hot. One thing’s for sure: the Duchess of York is impossible to miss in a room – royal and famous or not. Seeing her in person, it is immediately evident that she has aged naturally, gorgeously and graciously as she stunned in a long red figure-hugging dress that not all redheads (or many females, for that matter) can pull off. Judging by the not-so-discreet whispers from fellow attendees, we know we’re not the only ones who thought so. Unlike the long line of other iconic female figures to grace countless magazines and Oprah’s couch (like fellow redhead Nicole Kidman), there is nothing obviously plastic a la Real Housewives about the Duchess and she appeared vibrant and free of any over-the-top work. That was more refreshing than the patio drinks we were missing out on.

She’s a dream for media people
Not only does the Duchess tell you to take your time during interviews, she offers a long-winded answer and looks you right in the eye so intently that you almost convince yourself that you have a connection with her. When we asked her most impactful story (which turned out to be our only question), she thought for a second. “There are just so many extraordinary stories, but I suppose if I were to pick one, it would be the most extraordinary young girl named Vickie who was 19 years old and who had cancer. When I saw her, she said, ‘Look here, I call this tumour Edward, and him here, the one on the right, he is called Richard, and this one is called Henry. Now they won’t live long in this world, but shall we talk to them?’ And I just looked at her and saw this the extraordinary courage and bravery in a young teenager who knows that she is never going to make it out of teenage years. She was so special, and did pass on, but the fact that I am talking about her now is really important to me. I was sitting with her and asked her how she was and she said, ‘Well I really want to see my pony called William.’ So, I asked if we could organize that, but she said she really wasn’t that well and couldn’t leave the hospital. I said ‘Ok, let’s do something’, and went to the stables and I found William and I took a photograph and made a big giant poster.”

“Just before, um, she died, she woke up with William looking at her and I just couldn’t get over it. The next thing I received was a text from her thanking me and thanking the lady who had driven down with the poster, and I thought to myself, in the face of death, she was able to give from her heart with compassion and have manners – I don’t think I would. I do now realize more and more though what are we all doing in our daily lives when we don’t ever stop to take a breath. So I take Vickie with me everywhere. She really taught me and changed my heart, changed my life, and I think that’s the reason why I do this work. It’s not just Scarborough; it is everywhere I go, because I am the lucky one. I get to meet the most extraordinary and brave people who have such courage and their courage fills my heart and makes me more humble by the minute, so really, I do this work because it isn’t work – it’s the petrol in my tank, it’s in my veins, and it’s what I really love to do.” At the end of it (when her people are practically dragging us away with their eyes), she told us that we did a good job and wished us well. And that was that.  

Though we took off into the evening sunshine shortly after, we were happy to hear that Scarborough World Gala raised nearly $2-million.

#LYNL | (Live Your Notable Life)

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