Sarah Ferguson On Her ‘Idol’ Queen Elizabeth And Adopting The Corgis

In an interview, Sarah Ferguson discusses her adored former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth. Sarah, the Duchess of York (often known as Fergie), reveals exclusively to PEOPLE in this week’s issue that the Queen, who passed away in September at the age of 96 after a remarkable 70-year reign, was her favourite monarch “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.”

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The Duchess examines the issue of women in her new historical fiction book, A Most Interesting Lady, which will be released on March 7“invisible women” as she did in her first, widely read book, 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.”

Sarah Ferguson On Her Queen Elizabeth

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 took in Sandy and Muick, the two remaining corgis owned by the queen (pronounced “Mick”), Ferguson, her ex-husband Prince Andrew, and their daughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie sent the items to the Queen. But taking care of the most well-known pets in the UK can be stressful.

“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.”

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