He won’t know it yet, but Princess Eugenie’s new baby pays tribute to controversial ‘Galloping’ Major Ron – the polo-mad ladies man who who once proposed marriage to Princess Diana’s mother!
- He was close to the royals, Guards officer and polo manger to Queen Elizabeth
- Polo connections led to daughter Sarah Ferguson meeting Prince Andrew
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The latest royal to arrive in the world is Ernest George Ronnie Brooksbank, daughter of Princess Eugenie and grandchild of the Duke and Duchess of York.
George is thought to be a tribute to Eugenie’s father-in-law, father of husband Jack Brooksbank.
But it is the third of those names, Ronnie, that has attracted the most attention, for it seems to be in memory of the late ‘Galloping’ Major Ron, the colourful, polo-playing father to the baby’s grandmother, Sarah Ferguson.
While Ernest is only just getting started, Major Ron, rode the ups and downs of a life lived to the full – a dashing figure known for a number of high society affairs.
Major Ronald Ferguson and his daughter, Sarah, Duchess of York, at a polo match in 1988
For 21 years, Ronald Ferguson served as polo manager to Prince Charles
The names of Princess Eugenie’s second son, Ernest George Ronnie, pay tribute to Fergie’s father, Major Ronald Ferguson
A talented polo player and former polo manager to the Prince of Wales, his 1994 autobiography was aptly entitled The Galloping Major.
Born into the country gentry, his peaceful early years were spent among horses and dogs while living, from the age of eight, on a 480-acre farm at Dummer, Hampshire.
He was educated at Eton and moved on to Bishop’s Waltham before following a 19-year military career through Sandhurst and a commission in the Household Cavalry.
While at Sandhurst, he marched in the 1953 Coronation procession with a thundering hangover.
As a young officer, he later captained the Sovereign’s Escort during the Queen’s Trooping the Colour birthday parade.
Perhaps carried away by enthusiasm, Ronald reportedly came close to upstaging Her Majesty.
It was reported that he was told off by the late Queen Elizabeth when his horse masked her from full view: ‘Back a bit, Ron – it’s me they’ve come to see, not you.’
As a lieutenant in the Life Guards, he married his first wife Susan Wright, an 18-year-old debutante, in November 1956 at St Margaret’s, Westminster. They went on to have two daughters, Jane and Sarah – grandmother to newborn Ernest.
(News of the birth had been kept under wraps for a week until it was finally announced that the child had been born on 30th May, weighing 7lbs 1oz. A sweet snap shows older brother August watching over Ernest captioned: ‘Augie is loving being a big brother already’)
A tryst with the 23-year-old daughter of a colonel led to the break-up of Major Ron’s first marriage in 1972. His wife, Susan, sought solace in the arms of Argentinian polo star Hector Barrantes.
He was educated at Eton a before Sandhurst and following a 19-year military career
Prince Charles with Major Ronald Ferguson at a polo match on June 6, 1987
Ronald Ferguson pictured shaking the hand of Princess Diana at a polo match in 1985
Sarah and Jane were still teenagers when Ronald and Susan divorced in 1974.
While bringing up his daughters as a single parent, the Major courted a string of society women, including Princess Diana’s mother, Frances Shand-Kydd, to whom he proposed marriage.
Mrs Shand-Kydd declined the offer and in 1976, he married his second wife, Susan Deptford. They went on to have three children, Andrew, Alice and Eliza.
Following Ferguson’s retirement in 1968, he devoted himself to polo, an interest which brought him into contact with the royal family.
Major Ferguson acted as the Duke of Edinburgh’s unpaid polo manager before going on to fill the same position for Charles, then Prince of Wales, for 21 years.
It was his role to arrange the Prince’s schedule of matches, fitting them in around his many official engagements, and to look after the Prince’s horses and equipment.
The Duke and Duchess of York with Sarah’s father Ronald Ferguson and daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie at the Windsor Horse Show
Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson on the Balcony of Buckingham Palace with Ronald and members of the Royal Family on their wedding day
The Duchess of York on her wedding day with her father Major Ronald Ferguson
It was through this connection that his daughter, Sarah Ferguson, the now Duchess of York met Prince Andrew.
Ahead of their 1986 wedding, Sarah’s parents told the Washington Post that the pair had first met when they were only three years old – at a polo match in which their their fathers (Major Ronald and Prince Philip) were both competing.
When, in 1988, the Galloping Majoar was photographed entering and leaving a London massage parlour, he left his role as manager of the elite Guards Polo Club.
The Major was fiercely protective of his daughter Sarah, nicknamed Fergie, whose marriage to Prince Andrew ended with divorce in 1996.
The Duchess claimed she had taken this decision so she could pursue a career independent of the Royal Family.
Major Ronald Ferguson at his home, Dummer Down Farm, in Hampshire with his second wife Susan and daughter Eliza
Born into the country gentry, his peaceful early years were spent living on a 480-acre farm at Dummer, Hampshire (pictured)
Sarah Duchess of York with her father Major Ronald Ferguson before her engagement to Prince Andrew was announced in March 1986
And Sarah, who showed her father’s battling spirit to fight back from deep debt and personal despair after her divorce, doted on her beloved father.
He was not afraid to speak his mind, proving the point when he lambasted royal courtiers, accusing them of undermining his daughter’s marriage.
Courting controversy yet coveting privacy, he told a journalist: ‘I am nobody. Nobody at all. I just happen to be the father of the Duchess of York. I mean, that doesn’t make me terribly important, does it?’
In 1993, Major Ferguson was also in trouble over his connection with Lesley Player, a woman with whom he had organised a ladies’ international polo tournament, after she claimed she had had an affair with Ferguson.
Facing up to ill health later in life, he showed characteristic courage.
Major Ferguson was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996 but, after radiotherapy treatment, was given the all-clear in 1998.
He championed the Coalition For Prostate Cancer and helped with the launch of the UK’s first prostate cancer awareness week, presenting a petition to 10 Downing Street calling for increased spending on research, early detection and treatment.
However, his cancer returned in 2001 but he confronted the news with vigor. ‘I have no intention of dying yet,’ he said.
‘I am still playing cricket and riding and living a normal life as much as possible.’
Offering words of hope to other cancer sufferers and their families, he said: ‘You can never get used to that word, cancer, when it is with a direct relation.
‘Cancer is something that hits straight away and because you hear about so many cases of people with cancer dying, immediately cancer is connected with death.
Major Ronald Ferguson pictured with his dog at his home in Dummer, Hampshire
‘But it doesn’t have to be, far from it in my case. It doesn’t have to be.’
In November 2002 he collapsed, having suffered a suspected heart attack, and was admitted to Basingstoke General Hospital.
He rallied after suffering a second heart attack on March 16, 2003, but at the end of a long struggle, his condition deteriorated and he passed away aged 71.
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