Asked by the BBC what he'd look for in a wife, Prince Andrew remarked, "I've not had any chances to think about it." No matter: His mother may be doing the thinking for him. By Queen Elizabeth's lights, randy Andy, fourth in line to the British throne, could do worse than to settle down with Sarah Ferguson, the 26-year-old daughter of Prince Charles's polo manager, the cousin of Elizabeth's assistant private secretary and possibly the sexiest descendent of King Charles II. "The queen has a soft spot for Sarah," says an intimate. "She has known her since childhood and is delighted Andrew has taken such an interest in her."

Andrew, who escorted the redmaned, freckle-faced "Fergie" last June to Royal Ascot, previously ran with Carolyn Herbert (jockey Steve Cauthen's ex-favorite) and models Katie Rabett and Vicki Hodge (who tried to peddle pictures of Andy carousing in the Caribbean). There were also rumors that he was back on track with Koo Stark, who has split from her husband, heir to a trading stamps fortune. Ferguson meanwhile was breaking off a three-year relationship with Paddy McNally, a 48-year-old divorcé with two teenage children, reportedly because McNally didn't want to marry her. Presumably Princess Diana helped her through that difficult period. So chummy are the two Sloane Rangers that Sarah was the only friend invited to lunch with Di on the Princess' 21st birthday.

Sarah was raised on her parents' $3 million Hampshire estate. But when she was in her teens, her parents divorced after her mother, Susan, ran off with an Argentinian polo star, Hector Barrantes. Sarah's first job after leaving school was as a secretary in London. "She was...scatty, with her head in the clouds," says a colleague. "She was all for parties and late nights. That's what happens when you employ someone with good social connections."

Sarah spent New Year's with the royal family at Sandringham, where she and Andrew reportedly snuggled in a remote hunting lodge. Sarah's blue BMW has been seen parked in front of Buckingham Palace, but wedding plans are nonexistent. "You must be joking," Sarah sputtered when asked the inevitable question. Says Andy, "When I do find somebody, it's going to come like a lightning bolt. You're going to know it then and there."