It's official. That cute York baby at last has been baptized into the Church of England. At 3:30 on a cold December afternoon, a select congregation of 100 peers and plebeians—the latter, as a rule, making up in trust funds what they lacked in titles—assembled in the Chapel Royal in London's St. James's Palace to see 19-week-old Princess Bea, sporting a thatch of unmistakably red hair, christened Beatrice Elizabeth Mary. Fifth in line for her grandmum's throne, the daughter of Andrew and Fergie, the Duke and Duchess of York, was having none of that stiff-upper-lip stuff. When the holy water (specially flown in from the River Jordan, of course) was dripped on her brow by Dr. John Habgood, Archbishop of York, the littlest royal "absolutely bawled her lungs out," her grandpop Maj. Ronald Ferguson told a friend. Fergie, dressed in an emerald green Yves Saint Laurent suit, managed to quiet her firstborn, only to have Prince Andrew, at the mercy of a head cold, take up the slack. He "blew his nose loud and long like a ship's foghorn," recorded the Daily Express, "into an embroidered handkerchief."
Among the baptism's attendees were four generations of Fergusons and Windsors, including Diana and Charles, and Bea's five—count 'em, five—godparents, none of whom, surprisingly, is a royal. They are Fergie's old pals Carolyn Cotterell, 32, a former flatmate, and Gabrielle Greenall, 28, a skiing buddy; the Duchess of Roxburghe, 35 (her hubby is said to be one of the richest men in Scotland); Viscount Linley, 27, a carpenter, Princess Margaret's son and the Queen's nephew (but not a by-the-books royal); and Peter Palumbo, 53, a developer, head of Britain's Arts Council and friend of Fergie's father. Among those notably absent: Prince Edward, a theater production assistant off helping to open The Phantom of the Opera in Vienna, and Princess Anne's hubby, Mark Phillips, vaguely reported to be "on equestrian business" in Scotland.
Little Princess Bea showed up at the silver baptismal Lily Font (brought over from the Jewel House at the Tower of London for the occasion) in a hand-me-down. Her cream-colored Honitonlace christening gown was tatted for Queen Victoria's eldest son, the future Edward VII, and it is said to have taken four hours of needlework to fashion each square inch of the garment's wild rose pattern. The gown has been used, unisex style, for every royal baptism since its 1841 debut.
The Children and Gentlemen of the Chapel Royal, a 16-member all-male choir, competed with Bea's howls and Andrew's honks in harmonized renditions of "All Things Bright and Beautiful," "Jesus Good Above All Other" and "Away in a Manger" during the 30-minute ceremony. Afterward, guests repaired to Buckingham Palace for a celebratory spot of "tea"—which turned out to be a bubbly brew poured from bottles. And as the fizz died down in the crystal flutes, so did some of the Fergie Fury that has gripped England since the royal mum left her newborn (or Baby Yorklet) with a nanny in September and joined Andy for a six-week jaunt around Australia. Having shed some 28 lbs., Oprah
style, written two books for children (see page 72) and tossed a good old-time baptism, Fergie seemed to have won back a lot of her public. "One Beautiful moment," gushed the Daily Express.
Given such encomiums, it seems possible that Fergie's pluck might have changed her luck again. The duchess is set to get back in the cockpit of her Piper Warrior plane and has two skiing weekends planned for the New Year. As for motherhood, Fergie just may have done her bit for a time. A friend says that "bouncing a little baby on her knee for hours on end is not really her idea of fun." But her chums suspect that Fergie will be better when her daughter is older. "She likes to think up games and play with kids," says the friend. Hang in there, Bea!
—Margot Dougherty, and Terry Smith in London