Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, swept through Houston Tuesday, spending just enough time here to lunch with friends, have tea with CultureMap ladies at Neiman Marcus, order Christmas garlands for transport back to England and accept an invitation to attend the Houston Grand Opera ball in April.
The mad dash was one of several stops in a whirlwind promotional tour for The Young Victoria, the film that the duchess co-produced with Martin Scorsese and Tim Headington. (It opens here Dec. 18.)
Bringing the love story of the vibrant, youthful Victoria and her dashing Albert to the big screen was Ferguson's dream, one that she had been working to realize for 17 years.
"It's such a beautiful love story, but a contemporary love story set in history," Ferguson said privately before the tea.
The duchess explained that she delved into the history of Victoria and Albert after her then-husband Prince Andrew shipped out in the Royal Navy. (For the first five years of their marriage, she only saw him 40 days each year.)
"I immersed myself in Victoria and Albert. I went to the royal libraries and I immersed myself in reading . . . it was one of the greatest untold love stories. Love is ageless."
Her fascination with the couple continued and Ferguson co-authored two books on Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The film was a personal labor of love.
Ferguson arrived in town from Los Angeles, where the movie premiered last week. She walked the red carpet with her daughters, Princess Beatrice, 21, and Princess Eugenie, 18, whom she proudly referred to as fifth and sixth great-granddaughters of Queen Victoria. (Beatrice has a brief role in the film — lady-in-waiting to the young Victoria.)
The Houston sprint began straight from the airport with a morning respite at The Houstonian Hotel where the duchess was so taken with the elaborate Christmas decorations that she ordered two 10-foot garlands (fully decorated) boxed for shipping. Ginger Ramsey, owner of Events n Petals, the firm that decorates the hotel, scrambled to have them completed before Ferguson headed out for her final stop in Atlanta.
Midday, Ferguson lunched with long-time friends Lynn and Oscar Wyatt, a quiet repast for three in the Wyatt's River Oaks home. When she learned that Lynn was being honored at the HGO ball, she accepted the invitation to attend. A thrill for opera ball chairs Denise Bush Bahr and Philip Bahr.
Denise and her mother, Olga Bush, were among the three dozen women, friends of CultureMap and Clive Christian perfume, who gathered in the couture salon of Neiman Marcus for tea with the duchess and Victoria Christian of the British perfume house that received Queen Victoria's blessings in 1872.
Ferguson talked informally about her infatuation with the Victoria and Albert love story and her involvement with the film and, when asked, briefly about her relationship with Prince Andrew. In her candid, relaxed presentation the duchess revealed a special affection for Andrew and a special relationship.
"He is a mighty man, a fine man. He is a great ambassador for Britain" she said adding that they "stood by each other, all the way, through everything."
"He flies his way. I fly my way. At the end of the day, we fly together as very good parents," she said, adding that not all happy endings are the same, that you must create "happily ever after in your own way."
Playful, witty and warm, Ferguson impressed the tea party group with her presentation that included a final moment of flirtation with Neiman Marcus general manager Bob Devlin.
"Mr. Devlin," she said, "We'll follow you anywhere. You're very good looking."
And, indeed, he is.
Then the mad dash continued as the duchess and the perfume heiress were off to floor one in Neiman Marcus where they signed perfume bottles and posters from the film. Final Houston destination — IAH for that flight to Atlanta.