updated 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/26/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

We love you, Fergie!" the crowds bugled when Sarah Ferguson and Britain's Prince Andrew toddled to the altar 28 months ago, and the press trumpeted her as "the dashing duchess...a breath of fresh air in the stuffy royal family." But where now are the bouquets of yesteryear? For the last 12 months, all through what had promised to be the happiest year of her life, British newshounds have been howling invective; one tabloid, calling Fergie a "fat frump," urged the royal family to "dump...the dreadful duchess" and her whole family "like a sack of rotting potatoes."

What went wrong? Just about everything the duchess said or did after Jan. 25, when the palace announced she was expecting. During a visit to L.A. a short time later, Fergie playfully conked Andy with a wine bottle made of papier-mâché and nattered in public about the castle loos—to flush, she said, you have to pull the lever up. Britons were offended. The usually staid Sunday Times declared that the Yorks had become the "Yuks," and cattily charged that Fergie dressed "as if she'd just won third prize for her Carmen Miranda impression."

Then at Klosters, Switzerland, the day an avalanche killed Major Hugh Lindsay, the daredevil duchess, four months pregnant, schussed down a "black" (extremely difficult) run, lost control and plunged headfirst into an icy stream. Her baby was unharmed, but the Queen was said to be "furious" at Fergie's "stupidity."

In May things turned royally blue. A scandal-sheet photographer snapped Fergie's father, Maj. Ronald Ferguson (middle, left), on his way out of a seedy massage parlor, and in the hue and cry that followed, London's shabbier rags reminded readers gleefully that Fergie was a member of "that frightful family."

The birth of Beatrice (top left) on Aug. 8 temporarily washed the slate clean in a national bath of sentiment and champagne, but the worst was yet to come. When Bea was only 7 weeks old, Fergie left her with a nanny and bolted off to Australia, where Andrew's destroyer was showing the flag (below, left). Scheduled to stay 10 days, she lingered for six weeks as H.M.S. Edinburgh sailed from port to port. Now the British public was truly outraged, and the Daily Express found words for the emotion: "This self-centered woman has abandoned her daughter like an unwanted doll."

Anger was refueled when Fergie's sister, Jane, walked out on her Australian husband, rancher Alex Makim, amid rumors (strenuously denied by Jane) that she was involved with a number of polo players. There was sympathy for Jane, who had married her Crocodile Dundee at 19 and lived 11 years in a ramshackle house without a toilet. But there was talk that she had been lured away from the simple life by her sister's high-gloss ways.

Is Fergie really the Wicked Witch of Windsor? Certainly not. She's an independent young woman of the world who adores her husband and stood by her father in his hour of need. But insiders say she's also a headstrong redhead who stiff-arms even the Queen's advice about how to play her royal role. In months to come, as Jane faces a possible divorce and bitter custody battle over her two children, Fergie's role will remain tricky. Many in the U.K. now wish someone else were playing it. How soon they've forgotten that they loved the lady for the same reason they now loathe her: She bloody well does her own thing.

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