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Candid Camera : Latest Royal Tempest: Photos Catch Fergie Frolicking Poolside With Texan

August 21, 1992|JEFF KAYE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LONDON — Initial reports of royal toe-sucking may have been slightly overblown.

But that hardly mattered Thursday as a British tabloid newspaper published a startling collection of photographs depicting Sarah Ferguson--the Duchess of York, Fergie--cavorting topless at a St. Tropez villa with a Texas businessman identified as her "financial adviser."

Well, as royal watchers are saying here, "look at the financial advice that woman is taking."

Filling page after page, the Daily Mirror ran 22 poolside photographs showing Fergie kissing, clenching and horsing around with balding millionaire John Bryan. Although the 37-year-old Texan has been an almost constant companion of the freewheeling duchess since she separated from Prince Andrew in March, he has maintained that his involvement with her is purely platonic.

Bryan failed in his attempt Wednesday night to get a High Court judge in London to block publication of the photos. Later, he issued a statement saying that "my privacy and that of the Duchess of York has been grossly infringed."

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said, "We strongly disapprove" of the publication of the photographs.

The pictures were taken by an Italian free-lance photographer last week as Bryan and Fergie, 32, vacationed with her daughters in the rented villa in the south of France. Mirror editors would not say how much they paid for the photos but declared it was less than the $100,000 to $150,000 reported by other newspapers.

The split between Prince Andrew and the duchess followed the discovery and publication of a different--and tamer--set of photographs showing Fergie on holiday in Morocco and the French Riviera with a different rich Texan, Steve Wyatt.

It was Bryan who then stepped in, seemingly out of nowhere, to help Fergie through that difficult time and assist in straightening out her financial affairs. Together, they have taken trips recently to Asia, Argentina, New York and Paris. Bryan also has escorted her to tony London restaurants and maintains rented residences in London and Gloucestershire.

Now, on the heels of Fergie and Andrew's messy split and widespread reports of a severe marital rift between Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the Royal Family is thrown into yet another soap-opera crisis.

The new drama comes at a particularly sensitive time for the royals, who have gathered for their annual summer getaway at the Scottish estate, Balmoral. With Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, are Charles and Diana and their two sons, along with Fergie and Andrew and their two daughters. Buckingham Palace denied reports Thursday that the duchess has moved out of Balmoral Castle.

*

In recent months there has been speculation in the press that Andrew and Fergie--who has caused the royal family headaches since her marriage in 1986--might attempt a reconciliation. They have never announced the terms of their separation and have never said they intended to divorce.

But the emergence of the latest photos is not seen as a good sign for marital healing.

One photo shows Bryan with his mouth implanted firmly on the sole of Fergie's foot, as if sucking out snake venom. But that seems an unlikely explanation, and no one, so far, has suggested it.

On Wednesday night, before the pictures were published, misguided rumors circulated that the foot photo showed Bryan sucking Fergie's toe. Although that does not now appear to be the case, it has nonetheless led to a sudden outbreak of toe-fetish humor.

Other photos show the pair embracing on a lounge chair, splashing in the pool and playing with Fergie's daughters, Beatrice, 4, and Eugenie, 2.

Although Fergie is clearly topless in many of the pictures, the Mirror did not run any photos that fully exposed her breasts.

Mirror news editor Steve Lynas said that was a conscious decision. "We have plenty of photographs that are revealing," he said. "But this isn't a story about showing off breasts. It's a story about how somebody was lying to us."

Publication of the photos led to a new clamor among some members in Parliament for stronger laws governing the right to privacy in Britain. Among them: Ivan Lawrence, a Conservative Party member of the House of Commons, declared: "We should tighten up the law of privacy to protect the highest in the land and the lowest in the land."

Meanwhile, the London Evening Standard, a staunch supporter of the monarchy, suggested that the time had come for the duchess to act more in accordance with royal tradition. In an editorial Thursday night, the Standard said: "The private conduct of members of the Royal Family is not their own concern alone. The duchess has tried to enjoy the privileges, the wealth, the deference that goes with her station while behaving in a fashion utterly at odds with her position. But this won't do.

"Privilege," it said, "comes at a price, and in the case of a royal person, the price is duty."

*

In its editorial accompanying the pictures and stories about Bryan and Fergie, the Mirror denounced the Texan's alleged duplicity and noted that he had often told journalists that there was every chance of a reconciliation between Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York if they were only given the opportunity.

"Today's pictures reveal Mr. Bryan as a man who has rather successfully and cynically attempted to manipulate the media," the paper said. "We have no idea if Prince Andrew or the queen knew what kind of man is 'helping' the duchess at this difficult time. They certainly do now.

"Fergie, now staying at Balmoral, has once again made our Royal Family look like a laughingstock in front of the world. For Prince Andrew, it is a humiliation few men could bear. His wife and her American friend must be sent packing.

"If the Royal Family is to survive beyond the queen's reign, it cannot afford another scandal like this."

Staff writer William Tuohy contributed to this story.

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