She arrived at the Century Plaza Hotel in a shiny black GMC Suburban, private security guards in tow. As she stepped out into the driveway of the hotel towers, she smoothed her sleek gray skirt, the hem of which rested a good three inches above her perfect thoroughbred-like knees. (In all her various incarnations--heavy and thin--she has always had fabulous legs.)
If there's one thing that Sarah Ferguson knows, it's that all eyes will be riveted on her no matter what role she's playing--duchess of York, former wife of Britain's Prince Andrew, or in this case the U.S. spokeswoman for Weight Watchers.
On Tuesday, she was meeting a chandelier-draped conference room full of 250 Weight Watchers stalwarts, culled from the honor rolls of Weight Watchers groups in the area, representing a collective loss of 3,500 pounds.
"How much? That is quite extraordinary!" crooned the 38-year-old duchess after a vigorous round of applause for her arrival.
The room had been warmed up for her, but the Weight Watchers spokeswoman (a job she has had for 15 months) didn't really need it.
Once derided by the British press as "the Duchess of Pork" (a barb whose sting she ruefully acknowledges), she was there to tell the faithful she could feel their hunger pain--even if the hunger was emotional and misguided toward using food as a salve.
She shared how she fought off cravings for a butterscotch ice cream sundae as she flew here, how she remembers waking up "moody and temperamental" when she was overweight. She remembered recently preparing to leave on a trip that would separate her from her children, Princesses Beatrice, 9, and Eugenie, 8. As she drove around on her errands in London, she longed for a tomato and cheese sandwich until she called a Weight Watchers friend, who gently suggested she was depressed about having to part from her children, not actually hungry.
"Weight Watchers quite frankly saved me," Ferguson told the crowd in her brief remarks.
However, she doesn't attend meetings in England. "Some of the people there could be members of Fleet Street," she explained, referring to the press that follows her every move.
Kelly Babcock, Weight Watchers training official (and loser of 33 pounds) started to say to the audience, "Those of you have burning questions--"
"Fat-burning questions," injected Ferguson to chuckles.
She was asked how she changed her fashion style since she lost weight. ("I think I've gotten a little more risque," she said. "Shorter skirts.")
She was asked about her food temptations. (Sausage rolls, mayonnaise--"the full-blown fat mayonnaise.")
But some questions were apparently not fit for either a duchess or a Weight Watchers spokeswoman. When a reporter asked how much she weighed now, the audience seethed with hisses.
"The nice thing about Weight Watchers is that you never have to disclose your weight to anybody," the duchess said to wild cheering.
She did admit that she would like to slim down some more (although she wouldn't specify how much).
"My dream is to run along a beach in a nice black swimsuit."
"Just a nice black swimsuit," she said. "I don't want to run along at this precise moment in a swimsuit."
Dave Norek, a 24-year-old office worker from Burbank, was one of four people singled out for the duchess to meet on stage. He has lost 75 pounds. (He was more than happy to share that he now carries a mere 142 pounds on his 5-foot-11 frame.) He brought an old pair of denim shorts to show Ferguson.
"The fact that she took them and threw them on the ground and said, 'Forget about them,'--that was total closure," Norek said.
It's fair to say that Sarah is a shadow of her former heavy royal self. In her tailored long gray suit jacket, worn open over a tight-fitting top, she looked slim but not Hollywood skinny. At the end of her talk, audience members foisted copies of her new cookbook upon her for her autograph. She tucked her long, red hair behind her ears as she diligently scribbled small endearments. Her ruby and diamond engagement ring and gold wedding band gleamed in the glare of camera lights.
"I've never taken it off," she said. Despite their divorce, Ferguson and her two daughters and Andrew share a two-story brick house (they live in separate quarters) on the grounds of Sunninghill Park, an estate owned by the queen outside London.
Ferguson not only has whittled down her body, she has whittled down her debt, which she confessed in her 1996 autobiography reached $5 million. She can thank her new career as an ex-royal celebrity.
She can hustle with the best of them. Hawking her new cookbook, "Dining With the Duchess" (she shares authorship with Weight Watchers), she even ate recipes from the book with the host of a cable TV food show a few weeks ago.
And you have to love an author pushing a cookbook who confesses upfront she doesn't cook. ("Today, I am lucky enough to employ a cook who knows my likes and dislikes," she says in the book.)
She's always open to new opportunities, she said between autographs. "I have to work very hard to keep things going," Ferguson said. "I'm always looking for new jobs."