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News Media Believe Prince Andrew Has Chosen Red-Haired Bride-to-Be

February 7, 1986

LONDON (AP) _ After headline romances with a string of actresses and models, Prince Andrew is reported by the British news media to have chosen a fun-loving red- haired bride-to-be who is no stranger to royal circles.

Two British tabloids, The Sun and The Daily Mail, reported without attribution in front-page stories Friday that Queen Elizabeth II has given her blessing to a royal wedding this year between her 25-year-old second son and 26-year-old Sarah Ferguson.

Rival papers said Ms. Ferguson was being groomed as a princess by her good friend Princess Diana, with whom she is skiing in Switzerland this week, and hinted at an imminent engagement announcement.

But the queen’s press secretary, Michael Shea, said: ″We are not going to comment on wild speculation.″

Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director of Burke’s Peerage, one of the bibles of the British aristocracy, said: ″I am convinced from impeccable sources that no decision has been made, but I understand he’s thinking about it.″

Ms. Ferguson’s father, Maj. Ronnie Ferguson, who is Prince Charles’ polo manager, fueled the speculation Wednesday when he said, ″There is a strong relationship between them and time will tell.″

When Ms. Ferguson was unexpectedly spotted on the ski slopes at Klosters while vacationing Prince Charles and Princess Diana were being snapped by photographers Thursday, she instantly became the center of attention.

″I am so happy. Life is wonderful,″ Ms. Ferguson told reporters.

But asked when she would get engaged, she replied, ″You know I can’t say anything. Let’s talk about something else. What about the skiing here?″

She said Andrew, a Royal Navy helicopter pilot, would not be joining the skiing party. His ship, HMS Brazen, sailed from London Friday morning for 12 days of NATO exercises in the North Atlantic.

The news media gave Ms. Ferguson - whose nickname is Fergie - high marks for parrying questions. The Daily Mirror said, ″Diana’s coaching stood her in good stead.″

A sales executive with a printing firm, Ms. Ferguson is directly descended from Charles II and her family tree is throroughly entwined with those of England’s ancient aristocratic families. Her father is a cousin of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, who is the widow of the queen’s uncle.

She first appeared in public with Prince Andrew at last June’s Ascot races, shortly after she ended a four-year romance with Paddy McNally, a 48-year-old racing car manager who worked with Austrian racing driver Niki Lauder.

McNally was quoted in The Mirror as saying: ″Sarah is very much her own woman. Any man would be lucky to have her.″

Majesty magazine editor Ingrid Seward, who has known Ms. Ferguson for three years, wrote in the tabloid Star that Ms. Ferguson was ″warm, loyal and a great deal of fun.″

Andrew, second son of the queen, is sometimes called ″the playboy prince″ by the British media. He made headlines around the world with his 1982 romance with American actress Koo Stark, who appeared nude in several soft-porn movies as a teen-ager.

A string of other girls in the prince’s life have also made front-page news in Britain’s tabloids - models Katie Rabett and Vicki Hodge, former Playboy bunny Ruth Burnett, former Miss United Kingdom Carolyn Seaward and ″Cats″ dancer Finola Hughes.

But Andrew said last year that despite his well-documented social life, he considered himself ″something of a recluse.″ He said he wasn’t thinking about marriage but ‴if I do find somebody, then it’s going to come like a lightning bolt and you’re going to know it there and then.″

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