by Natalie Finn | Tue., Jan. 23, 2018 4:00 AM
When you're in line to the throne, you're generally expected to toe that line. But the more people there are ahead of you, the closer to normal you get to be.
Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie of York are seventh and eighth in line, soon to be eighth and ninth following the birth of their cousin Prince William's third child, and they've been allowed more freedoms for being further down that royal ladder.
Which isn't to say, however, that Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughters—the daughters of her third-eldest child, Prince Andrew, and his ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York (aka the original Fergie)—haven't been immersed in royal duties, or haven't been enjoying the creature comforts that come with being HRH. Rather, though they're certainly in the public eye and Eugenie's just-announced engagement will be of utmost interest to folks in the U.K. and beyond, they may be the living definition of what it means to have the best of both worlds.
"It's a big family," Beatrice acknowledged in a 2012 interview, giving a tour of a grand playhouse where the queen and her sister Princess Margaret used to play as young girls, and where Beatrice and Eugenie and their cousins spent time as children when they'd come to visit "Granny." Beatrice had just helped preside over a year-long renovation of the space.
John Stillwell/PA Wire
"Rethatched, new curtains, new wiring—bit of a spruce-up really, because it was such a wonderful little place," she said as she and the TV presenter ducked their heads and went into the house, which they were far too big for, like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
The decor was immaculate, from the child-size crystal decanter and matching glasses to the teddy bear sitting on a plush armchair.
"Granny was very clear that [on] all the fabrics she wanted very little designs, because it was such a little house," Beatrice said, pointing out the precious pink-floral print on the curtains.
"You know Granny's a great-grandmother now," she added, "so we can have Savannah come and play in here as well." (Now 7-year-old Savannah Phillips, granddaughter of Princess Anne, was Queen Elizabeth II's first great-grandchild, arriving several years ahead of Prince George.)
David M. Benett/Getty Images for The Serpentine
Being tasked with the design and interior decorating project seems right up Beatrice's ally. As members of Britain's royal family, she and Eugenie are both committed philanthropists and what amount to goodwill ambassadors for the monarchy, and they've always showed a special affinity for the arts, fashion and other aesthetically minded pursuits.
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Eugenie received a combined Bachelor's degree in art history, English literature and politics from Newcastle University. After living in New York for a year and working for online auction house Paddle8, she moved back to London and got a job at art gallery Hauser & Worth as an associate director. Beatrice, who's two years older, graduated from Goldsmiths College, London, with a BA in History and History of Ideas.
Courtesy Teddy M (teddym.com)
In 2016 the sisters and their mother collaborated with artist Teddy M on what was referred to as the first-ever royal graffiti, which Teddy painted on the front lawn at Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park. The resulting work, Royal Love, was exhibited during Masterpiece London 2016 and later sold for five figures at a private Sotheby's auction, with all proceeds donated to Children in Crisis—the organization Beatrice was raising money for when she became the first member of the royal family to run the London Marathon in 2010 (while tied to 36 friends, men and women, all wearing neon-yellow tutus over their running clothes in a show of solidarity).
"It's a very weird tagline to have," she noted about the "first royal to run the marathon" qualifier.
Last year Beatrice ran a 5K in London's Hyde Park for the Lady Garden Campaign, which raises awareness about ovarian cancer. She joked about looking "like a hot mess" when she sat down for an interview right afterward but the royal was perfectly on-point.
"It's so amazing when you get a community like this together, a mass sporting event puts people in a whole different framework," she told MSNBC. "It's so much fun to see all these incredible women and men taking the time to support this incredible campaign." Beatrice added, "I think women supporting women is one of the most important things we have to focus on these days."
She also thinks the era of staying silent, whether it's about your excitement or your struggles, is over. "It's never been more important than now to really stand up to say what you're proud of, what you're passionate about—and what your battles are," Beatrice, who has talked candidly about her own battle with dyslexia, said. "I think by sharing it suddenly makes it OK...It reframes the conversation, you immediately feel calmer."
So Prince William and Prince Harry aren't the only members of their generation making the royal family more accessible and relatable, as the sons of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana are joined by their cousins in not shying away from opening up about their own issues so long as their stories can help others.
Yet because they're royals, there are always subjects that will remain off the table forever.
Beatrice and Eugenie's parents divorced in 1996 (about four years after they announced their separation). The Duchess of York retained her title—it'll remain hers unless she chooses to remarry—and she still attends official royal events from time to time with her daughters.
Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)
The Duke and Duchess of York's split wasn't Diana-Charles-level messy, but only because the attention paid to Diana was and remains unparalleled. Otherwise, it came close.
They married at Westminster Abbey in 1986, Prince Andrew having given his bride-to-be a Burmese ruby engagement ring, to match her red hair. But by 1991 Fergie was starting to be photographed in the company of more than a married duchess' fair share of male companions when her husband was away. And Andrew was no prince, either.
In August 1992, about six months after they separated, a tabloid published topless photos of Fergie taken while she was sunbathing with (and having her toes sucked by) American businessman John Bryan—a scandal that certainly didn't endear her to the queen.
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After her divorce, Fergie had a decade-long endorsement deal with Weight Watchers, and she did a couple of controversial reality shows in which she advised families who lived in government housing on diet and lifestyle choices.
In 2010, mired in debt, she was caught on tape offering a reporter from the now-defunct News of the World information on Andrew in exchange for 500,000 pounds and accepting a briefcase full of cash. She later told Oprah Winfrey on Oprah that she had been "in the gutter" when she made that ultimately embarrassing bad decision—which is said to have cost her an invitation to Prince William and Kate Middleton's 2011 wedding. (Beatrice and Eugenie were in attendance and had the most memorable fascinators of the bunch.)
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Prince Andrew was enmeshed in scandal more recently. The palace was compelled to release a statement when he ended up linked to American hedge fund tycoon Jeffrey Epstein, a former friend of Andrew's who went to prison for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. Andrew, who was photographed strolling with his old friend in Central Park in 2011 (after Epstein had been to prison and was a registered sex offender) denied ever having Epstein facilitate a sexual encounter for him with underaged girls.
Sticking together, Beatrice and Eugenie have remained close to their parents. Beatrice and the Duchess of York having spent a lot of time in New York over the past couple of years (while Fergie also maintains residences in London and Switzerland), and Eugenie has been photographed at dinner with her father and now-fiancé Jack Brooksbank.
In 2016 Andrew slammed a rumor that he was trying to force his daughters to take on more visible royal roles.
"As a father, my wish for my daughters is for them is to be modern working young women, who happen to be members of the Royal Family, and I am delighted to see them building their careers," he said in a statement. "When they do support the Royal Family in its work this is very much appreciated by my Family and most importantly by those organizations and to those for whom their participation makes such a difference to their lives."
The girls' mother, emphasizing how proud she was of her daughters' work at the time with a charity combating teen cancer, told People, "Let's focus more on this than tittle-tattle gossip, and incorrect gossip that is taken out of all proportion. I have no qualms about it. Stop bullying. And stop bullying the York family."
Last year Beatrice broke up with her boyfriend of 10 years, Dave Clark, and had directed her focus to her new consulting firm and Big Change, the charity she co-founded with friends Sam and Holly Branson (son and daughter of billionaire Richard Branson).
While in Toronto last October to support WE Day, which was taking place in partnership with the Invictus Games (which count Prince Harry as their most high-profile supporter), Beatrice told Hello! that her mother and grandmother are her role models.
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"They are both formidable women," she said. "I think having female role models is incredibly important and I am very lucky that I happen to be related to these two incredible women. I find my grandmother inspiring every day because her overwhelming sense of duty is linked with an overwhelming curiosity. Every day she's curious to learn something new, to do something new and I think that at 91 years old, she goes out into the community with a genuine curiosity as to how she can be a force for good in the world. She also looks for ways in which she can inspire communities, and I admire the way that she works so hard."
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Beatrice called her mother, the Duchess of York, her best friend and "probably one of the most misunderstood women in the world."
"We've been through some incredibly stressful times together as a family," Beatrice added, "and every single minute she created joy. I am so lucky that I get to learn from her every single day. I'm inspired by her ability to give, even when she's going through something hard. Her grandmother always said, 'When you feel bad about yourself, go out there and do something for somebody else.' That's an incredible motto that my family has always lived by. My mother is just remarkable."
Back in the U.K., meanwhile, Eugenie has involved herself with the fight to stop human trafficking, inspired by a trip to India she took with her mother, where they met with young women who had escaped or been rescued from sex slavery and were learning trades and selling artisan goods to support themselves.
"I think it's something that always striked me as never really being talked about and no one really knowing what's going on," Eugenie told Major Anne Read, director of Anti Trafficking and Modern Slavery for The Salvation Army, in an interview last year. "So to just try and raise awareness and shine a spotlight on an issue, and also on the wonderful people who are doing amazing things within the field, was so important to my family and to me."
So the apples don't fall too far from the royal tree.
"It definitely runs in the family," Beatrice told MSNBC. "And especially when talking about women's issues, I've got the most incredible female role models throughout history that I feel like I carry with me all day, every day, and it's sort of an honor." Speaking of her recently retired grandfather, who had been patron to upward of 800 charities over the years, she called the Duke of Edinburgh an "incredible man. He's a phenomenal consort, phenomenal grandfather, and he's done amazing work the last 96 years, so we'll see what happens next."
Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images
Like her sister, Eugenie is also very active and committed to causes that promote health and wellness. She had surgery when she was 12 to correct a curvature in her spine and now has two 12-inch rods and eight screws in her back and in 2012 she did the Nightrider challenge, a 62-mile bike ride around London benefiting the National Royal Orthopedic Hospital, where she had the operation.
Having just attended Granny's Diamond Jubilee celebration marking her 60 years on the throne at the time, Eugenie marveled over how Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philipstoically gave their best to the crowd for four hours aboard a boat on the Thames. "I mean, together they are invincible," their granddaughter said in a TV interview. "They're this power couple that just sort of...I don't know, astound people!" She added, "Being just around that vibe with millions of people lining the streets, and all the red white and blue...being there and hearing all the horns going off...and in the distance you saw the white glimmer of Granny's coat. The whole thing is just an unbelievable experience that will forever stay with England—and me, because I got to actually be there, to take part of it and be, and see and hear everything. It's unbelievable."
She especially enjoyed the pop concert that came after, her favorite part getting a shout out from Robbie Williams. (Because royals get all fan-girly too.)
In response to her mom's tweets about how proud she was of Eugenie and Beatrice's appearance at the Jubilee, she said, "well mum is so supportive of me and Bea, and we do everything as a family." The Duchess of York "keeps us going and gives us confidence with everything we do."
The now 27-year-old royal had been dating Jack Brooksbank for years, since before she moved to New York for a year, after meeting in 2010 on a ski vacation in Verber, Switzerland, when she was 20 and he was 24.
"We spend a lot of time on Skype," Brooksbank told the Daily Mail in 2013, during the time they were long-distance. "It's great. We are still very much together." The high-end nightclub manager proposed earlier this month while the couple were on holiday in Nicaragua and the wedding is planned for this fall at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle (where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will say "I do" on May 19).
Fergie, whose latest pet cause is the British Heart Foundation, is naturally thrilled for her daughter. She filled her Twitter feed Monday with happy photos of the couple, using the hashtag #jackandeugie.
"We love Jack and I am so excited to have a son, a brother and a best friend," read one sentiment. "Eugenie is one of the finest people I know and so together it will be pure harmony."
Eugenie's dad feels the same, the Duke of York saying in a statement, "We are overjoyed at the news today that Eugenie and Jack have got engaged. Jack is an absolutely outstanding young man and Eugenie and he have got to know each other over a number of years, and I'm really thrilled for them."
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
In their first interview as an engaged couple (and Jack's first-ever TV interview), Eugenie told the BBC it was "so exciting" to finally have the news out there, meaning she was finally able to wear her sapphire engagement ring out in public.
The only people who knew before the public announcement were their parents, her sister, his brother and, of course, Eugenie's grandparents.
"It was very, very nice that [the queen] was so happy for us," Jack said, turning to his fiancée. "It's very, very special to be a part of your family now."
"We had the same passions and drive for life," Eugenie recalled meeting Jack during their ski vacation in 2010. "Love at first sight," Jack added, at which she nodded happily in agreement. Asked if she ever wondered why it took seven years to get a proposal, Eugenie joked, "maybe," but quickly added, "I knew...I knew."
And an entire nation wishes them well. That's where the royalty once again comes into play.
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