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Obituary: Major Ronald Ferguson

Last Updated: Monday, 17 March, 2003, 12:56 GMT

For the major, publicity brought pitfalls

After more than a quarter of a century on the fringes of the Royal Family, Major Ronald Ferguson became a public figure himself in 1986, on his daughter Sarah's marriage to Prince Andrew.

Major Ronald was forced to witness his daughter's rise and fall from grace at the hands of the media. And in addition, he had to weather his own private scandals and public humiliations.

Major Ronald Ferguson was born with a military silver spoon in his mouth, and a polo stick in his hand. His father commanded the Life Guards, and was a talented polo player before World War II.

Ferguson's wife Susan left him for Hector Barrantes
Major Ronald spent 28 years in his father's regiment, the Household Cavalry.

A member of the Guards' Polo Club in Windsor Great Park since 1955, he was used to mixing in royal circles, on occasion entertaining the Queen and Prince Philip to dinner, while his young daughter Sarah slept upstairs.

When his wife Susan left him after 18 years for an Argentinian polo player, he brought up his two daughters alone, until he married for a second time and had three further children.

Royal wedding

Settled at Dummer, the Hampshire home of his childhood, Ferguson continued to mix with members of the Royal Family on the polo field. For 21 years, he held the honorary position of Prince Charles' polo manager.

Sarah Ferguson married Prince Andrew in June 1986
This involved making sure the Prince of Wales was "in the right place at the right time, wearing the right shirt".

Major Ron's life changed in June 1986 when Sarah married Prince Andrew and became the Duchess of York. At the time, as Britain's most famous father-of-the-bride, he appeared to take the attention in his stride.

After the huge ceremony had taken place in Westminster Abbey, the Major eschewed the big parties in London to celebrate instead at home in Hampshire.

Polo club upsets

The Major found that his new-found celebrity furnished him with dubious opportunities, but also made him first-class media fodder.

After two decades in the job, Ferguson ceased to be Prince Charles's polo manager, following a series of scandals.

Major Ronald supervised Prince Charles's polo stable
When he was caught frequenting a less-than-salubrious Marylebone massage parlour, the Major wrote humorously to a newspaper requesting a copy of their cartoon.

Unfortunately, he used Guards Polo Club writing paper. The club committee raised a collective eyebrow and the Major moved on to the Royal Berkshire Club.

Not long after his arrival, a young polo events organiser went to the papers, telling of her affair with Ferguson. The lady was Lesley Player, and Major Ronald could say only, "men get carried away sometimes".

Royal Berkshire members were not amused, and Ferguson was found himself, once again, out of a job.

Tireless mission

No longer welcome on the polo lawns of England, Major Ronald moved for a while to the States, but returned home and eventually opened a cricket school on the grounds of his Hampshire home, where he was intent on maintaining "proper cricket standards".

In 1996, Major Ronald discovered he had prostate cancer, and became patron of the Support Association.

Conducting radio phone-ins and addressing public meetings, the Major launched a campaign of public awareness as disciplined and energetic as his military days.

He continued to run his cricket school, despite his friends telling him it was doomed to failure.

Showing the same qualities of resilience displayed by his famous daughter, Major Ronald explained, "The more people who told me I was mad, the more determined I was to do it."