LONDON — Palace officials were nervous.
The engagement of Queen Elizabeth II's second son, Prince Andrew, was official and the full, nerve-racking glare of publicity was about to descend over his bride-to-be.
As a warm-up question in her first television interview, a British Broadcasting Corp. reporter asked what she had had for breakfast.
"Sausages and a migraine," came the instant reply.
The ice was broken and Sarah Ferguson has never looked back.
The prince and his bride, made the Duke and Duchess of York by the queen on the day of their wedding in July, 1986, land in Los Angeles on Friday for a 10-day visit, a trip intended to whet the profitable Southern California market's appetite for investment and trade with the United Kingdom.
While Andrew, 28, has made several official visits to the United States, this is only the second for Sarah, 28, and her first on the West Coast.
As if ordered up from central casting, she has bounded wide-eyed into the limelight, freckles, red hair and all, adding a new dimension to the continuing real life drama of Britain's young royals.
She looks more comfortable in a mining helmet than a diamond tiara, tends to stride rather than walk, and is what one acquaintance diplomatically described as "a very vocal person." Air traffic controllers at the Oxfordshire airport where she took her flying lessons last year gave her the identification "Chatterbox One."
"There is certainly no one like her in the Royal Family," said Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty, a monthly magazine that details the lives of Britain's royals. "She's very enthusiastic about life."
In the refined atmosphere of British upper class society, this enthusiasm has occasionally been criticized as behavior unsuitable for a duchess.
"A fine girl, but a bit gauche," said a veteran palace hand.
"She's added a certain amount of fun to the 'Palace Dallas' scenario," said Dickie Arbiter, who covers the Royal Family for London Broadcasting, the capital's commercial radio station. "She's a larger-than-life character."
Certainly, the British public seems to like her. A public opinion survey conducted last year judged her the most pleasant and the most fun of all the Royal Family.
Much to the relief of Buckingham Palace, she has also reined in Prince Andrew, the family enfant terrible , helping transform his image from "Randy Andy, the playboy prince" into that of a responsible naval officer more in keeping with the title that his mother bestowed on him on his wedding day.
The House of Windsor
In the supporting cast that surrounds Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, at the head of the world's best-known monarchy, the Yorks rank second in prominence, behind only the Waleses, Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
While some worry that the added publicity surrounding the Yorks further threatens the mystique that British constitutionalists believe essential to Royal Family well-being, others see them as a valuable addition to one of the most successful symbols of nationhood anywhere.
Although it is barely two years since the Yorks' engagement was announced, the publicity surrounding their movements has been relentless.
Their wedding was viewed by a global television audience estimated at 500 million, from North America to China.
Speculation about a baby spiked interest earlier this year. Confirmation of the duchess' pregnancy and the expected birth of their first child in August will keep the attention of royalty watchers focused closely on them.
But unlike Charles and Diana, who, as the future king and queen have tight constraints placed on their lives, the Yorks have so far managed to maintain a semblance of normality to their existence.
Andrew remains committed to a career in the Royal Navy, where he holds the rank of lieutenant. After six years as a helicopter pilot, including flying missions as a decoy to lure Exocet missiles away from British ships during the 1982 Falklands War against Argentina, he is scheduled to go to sea as a regular ship's officer this spring.
The duchess kept her job as an acquisitions editor for a small Geneva-based publisher, Burton-Scira, until early this year. She helped produce a major book on the Palace of Westminster, better known as the Houses of Parliament.
According to royalty watchers, the Yorks share much in common, unlike the fun-loving, fashion-conscious urbanite, Diana, and the more serious, outdoorsy Charles.
A photo taken by Andrew appears on the jacket of the Palace of Westminster book, while Sarah learned to fly small fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to better understand her husband's work, feats that moved the British tabloids to dub her the "daredevil duchess."
In their official capacities, the two attended 208 engagements in Britain last year, almost exclusively to promote charities. They notched up an additional 76 appearances during four official foreign visits to Canada, Mauritius, the Netherlands and France.