Sarah Ferguson is opening up about her beloved former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth.
Sarah, whose title is Duchess of York (and who is popularly known as Fergie), tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue that the Queen, who died in September at age 96 following a historic 70-year reign, was her “total idol.”
“She put you at ease straightaway . . . because it’s terrifying, you know? I used to sit there for hours thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is somebody’s lifetime to have an audience with the Queen, and I’m sitting having a cup of tea,’ ” recalls the Duchess, 63.
“She was so brilliant at putting you at ease. She had the most incredible faith of any single person I’ve ever met,” Ferguson continues. “She just knew what to do. She knew how to make people feel good. She never took it onboard as about her. It’s about the monarchy, about making someone feel good. She was my total idol.”
In her new historical fiction book — A Most Intriguing Lady, out on March 7 — the Duchess explores the theme of “invisible women” in history, as she did in her first bestselling novel, Her Heart for a Compass.
“I have been invisible for my own self for a very long time now, and so now I’m just beginning to sort of liberate and sort of test the waters, right?” she says. “So invisible women for me, and a voice from the grave is crucial for me, which is why I chose this period in history. Because for example, Lady Margaret and Lady Mary [the real-life heroines of her two novels], all their brothers were written about but they weren’t. So I think my real love is to take an invisible woman from the grave and say, ‘Right, this is your story. How would you like it to be told?’ And just tell it.”
As for how she has learned to balance the tension between lineage and duty, a topic she also explores in A Most Intriguing Lady, she says, “I think it’s much easier for me to answer that now that the Queen is not here,” she tells PEOPLE. “A lot of my sense of duty was because I wanted to uphold exactly the way the Queen did it, and my father before that, and my mother before that. I do think that it’s your own value system that you have to uphold — and your own rule book of life.”
Ferguson says that if she were to talk to Queen Elizabeth today, she would “tell her about the magnolia trees in the garden, because she loved that, and the primroses on the banks of Windsor, and the snowdrops. She would love that her doggies were walking wherever she walked before.”
The Duchess adopted the monarch’s two surviving corgis, Sandy and Muick (pronounced “Mick”), gifted to the Queen by Ferguson, her ex-husband Prince Andrew and their daughters, Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie. But caring for the U.K.’s most famous pets comes with some stress.
“They are national icons, so every time they run chasing a squirrel, I panic,” the Duchess shares. “But they’re total joys, and I always think that when they bark at nothing, and there’s no squirrels in sight, I believe it’s because the Queen is passing by.”ORDER A COPY OF ROB’S NEW BEST SELLING BOOK! Called “America’s Number ONE Gossip Columnist” by The National Enquirer. Rob ‘Naughty But Nice’ Shuter breaks celebrity news every day on his website NaughtyGossip.com where he delivers all the dish about the stars we love in his naughty but nice signature style. You can also catch him co-hosting and breaking celebrity news on Good Day New York, The Today Show, The Talk, Wendy Williams Show, CNN, Extra and Z100’s ‘Elvis Duran.’ Previously, Rob was the Huffington Post’s only celebrity columnist and the former executive editor of OK! Magazine. Rob has also hosted his own Saturday night talk show on Mark Cuban’s channel and his own daily morning show, ‘The Gossip Table,’ on VH1! Breaking some of the biggest entertainment stories, including Jamie Lynn Spears’s pregnancy news, Britney’s first post-meltdown interview, Eva Longoria’s wedding, and baby exclusives for Jessica Alba, Tori Spelling and Mathew McConaughey’s tots, Rob always knows where to find the best scoop. Before Rob was one of the world’s most successful entertainment reporters, he was a publicist working for Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys, P. Diddy, Jessica Simpson and Jon Bon Jovi! Now he is bringing all this experience to his new show on I HEART MEDIA in his unique cheeky way, that is always a pinch and never a punch!