Sarah Ferguson Infamous Toe-Sucking Incident a Set Up, Biographer Says

Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson, the Duchess of York, became the subject of ridicule and scandal when photographs of John Bryan, her “financial advisor,” kissing and sucking her toes poolside while on vacation in St. Tropez were published in 1992.

In the years following the scandal, a biographer claimed Ferguson’s toe-sucking scandal, which led to the fallout she had with British royal family appeared to be a set-up. 

Ferguson may have ‘wanted to get caught’

At the time the photographs were published, Ferguson and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, were still married. In 1992 they separated, after which the toe-sucking incident occurred, but it wasn’t until 1996 they announced their divorce.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of Sussex, on the cover of Paris Match magazine. | Instagram

Five years after she separated from Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and one year after their divorce, Ferguson became the subject of a documentary, Fergie: Downfall of a Duchess. The 1997 film detailed her journey from “Her Royal Highness, Duchess of York, to “an exile from the royal family,” according to the film’s synopsis

In the documentary, royal biographer Allan Starkie, made the claim the toe-sucking incident was all a set up, according to the International Business Times.

“When she stepped off the private plane, she was photographed walking down the steps of the airplane with a scarf and sunglasses on. That photograph appeared in the local newspaper the next morning,” Starkie said.

“She was followed in the car by a motorcyclist all the way to the villa they rented and then there was a van parked in the side of the road with one-way mirrors, photographing her as she drove along. Three tip-offs, how much more information did she need?”

Starkie suggested the Duchess of York wanted to get caught in a compromising position with Bryan. 

Sarah Ferguson attends the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Sarah, Duchess of York arrives at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle before the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle on May 19, 2018, in Windsor, England. | Gareth Fuller – WPA Pool/Getty Images

“I told her many many times, years afterwards, at least in a subconscious level admit to me you both wanted to get caught, you made too many mistakes,” he added. 

Ferguson steadfastly claimed the photographs were a set up orchestrated by someone close to her. 

Princess Diana on toe-sucking incident: ‘The redhead’s in trouble’

While at Balmoral with the rest of the royal family, Ferguson learned of the scandalous photographs taken with a telephoto lens. 

Richard Kay who wrote about the royal family for the Daily Mail, claimed he received a pager message from Princess Diana the night before the photographs were published, according to the Mirror

“The redhead’s in trouble,” her message reportedly said. 

Sarah Ferguson and Princess Diana.
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, & Princess Diana at Epsom Derby. | Ken Goff/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

Not long after, Kay received a phone call from Bryan asking if he could get an advanced copy of the story. He agreed and arrived at Bryan’s apartment when Ferguson called. 

“Bryan promised her everything would be fine, but I could see in his face that he didn’t really believe it,” Kay later wrote. “In a few short hours, those pictures were going to be on the breakfast room sideboard in the Queen’s castle. They would also be winging around the world to be pored over by millions.”

As the scandal unfolded, Ferguson left Balmoral to return home with her two children, Princess Beatrice of York and Princess Eugenie of York. 

Princess Beatrice of York, Prince Andrew Duke of York, Sarah Ferguson Duchess of York, and Princess Eugenie of York. | Instagram via Sarah Ferguson

Ferguson only recently became accepted into the royal fold again. She attended the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, alongside the rest of the royal family, namely Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who didn’t want anything to do with Ferguson after the incident.  

Since then she’s made other appearances at royal events such as the Royal Ascot alongside her ex-husband and her daughters.