Ethics Quiz: The Duchess of York’s Website And The Duke of Plazatoro

The category is Celebrity Ethics, Royal Ethics or Marketing Ethics, depending on your point of view. Unfortunately for ethical clarity, how you answer today’s Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz may depend on which category you choose.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, is embarrassing the Royal Family again, only this time it isn’t by throwing snowballs at photographers or by not being as demure and lovely as the late Princess Diana. This time, the self-exiled and divorced Fergie is trading on her title to make a living as an internet huckster. She has a website that peddles a juicer for weight loss and “The Perfecter Ultra”:

The Perfecter Ultra Heated Styling Brush combines innovative ionic technology with pure black tourmaline heating plates for ultimate convenience in achieving salon quality hairstyles at home. Create silky straight styles or beautiful bouncing curls, reduce frizzies or add volume to thinning hair, the Perfecter Ultra is the remarkable styling tool that does it all.

The Duchess has also been appearing on QVC, the cable shopping network where shopping addicts, lonely recluses and easy marks hang out. Among the Royals, with whom she is already on the outs, this is considered…unseemly. Concludes Tom Sykes at the Daily Beast:

“Her website majors in its attempts to cast her shill as public service, saying, “One of my missions in life now is to help people fight their weight challenges so they can live longer, healthier and happier lives. Take it from me: you can do it!”  But the truth is, Fergie is selling her title, and getting paid a no-doubt healthy fee for her promotional activities.”

There’s little doubt that “selling her title” is a fair description.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

As Duchess of York, does Sarah Ferguson have an ethical obligation to behave like the symbol of the British Commonwealth that she and the rest of the Royal Family is, or can she ethically use her title as she chooses, including to sell junk on the internet?

This dilemma a cognitive dissonance cornucopia. Here’s that scale again:

Cognitive Dissonance

The Royals occupy a place of high status and regard in Great Britain…let’s say a +10 on Dr. Festinger’s scale. Actually, their ranking is probably lower than that—dangerously low, some believe. After all, they are nothing but symbols, living flags, and if they aren’t a source of pride, they are useless relics. The ugly Princess Di episode pulled them down the scale sharply, though the new Royals and fecund Kate Middleton have restored a lot of the lost ground.   A Royal who acts like Marie Osmond or William Devane threatens to pull the Royals down again, and if a Duchess has any responsibility, it is not to do anything that leaves the Royal Family in worse shape than it was when she joined it.  She also is caught in a Catch 22: if Fergie’s huckster ways diminish the prestige of her title, she won’t be able to huck as effectively.

The other view would be succinctly stated as “So what?”   

Here I must announce a bias born of both my late father and my wife, but for opposite reasons. My father frequently opined that the Royal Family was a waste of attention, money, celebrity and life, and old-fashioned Colonial Rebel that he was, proclaimed that he wouldn’t cross the street to shake hands with the Queen  if she were on his block with her Corgis. My wife, an Anglophile, believes the Royals have already befouled their reputation past the point of no return, and that there is no reputation for Sarah Ferguson to harm.

I think my wife’s view is mine as well,  recognizing that a British citizen’s view matters more than mine does. Sarah, if the stories are to be believed, is in dire circumstances, and her only route to income (to live in the manner in which she has become accustomed) is to trade on what she has, and her title is pretty much it. Yes, it would be considerate and responsible to give up the title if she is determined to become a female, red-headed Ron Popeil,  or like that guy with all the question marks on his suit, but without the title, she’s an ex-celebrity, and headed to Walmart.

I am also influenced by the fact that lesser British royalty endorsing products and worse is a sleazy tradition of long-standing, and probably qualifies as tradition.  Yes, “it’s traditional” is a variation on the Golden Rationalization, “Everybody Does It,” but an exception has to be carved out for the Royals, who themselves consist entirely of tradition.

W.S. Gilbert  made grand fun of this habit in one of my favorite songs from the operettas in one of my  least favorite G&S shows, “The Gondoliers.” In a duet that is (stupidly) often cut, the Duke and Duchess of Plazatoro (Spanish royalty, but Gilbert liked to use imaginary faux-foreign dignitaries to ridicule English ones, hence “The Mikado”)  shamelessly explain how they survive as celebrity spokespersons and influence peddlers. The song is performed above. I couldn’t find a decent video that didn’t “update” the lyrics…as you will read and hear, they need no updating, and the fact that Gilbert’s lyrics still resonate over a  century later is evidence of his genius…if you want to write lyrics with modern references for an encore, fine. But Gilbert’s satire deserves respect and faithful performing.

The version sung in the clip is performed by John Reed, the last of D’Oyly Carte’s great patter baritones. Here are Gilbert’s lyrics…

Duke (Introduction)

To help unhappy commoners, and add to their enjoyment,
Affords a man of noble rank congenial employment;
Of our attempts we offer you examples illustrative:
The work is light, and, I may add, it’s most remunerative.


Small titles and orders
For Mayors and Recorders
I get — and they’re highly delighted —

Duchess:They’re highly delighted!


M. P.’s baronetted,
Sham Colonels gazetted,
And second-rate Aldermen knighted —

Duchess: Yes, Aldermen knighted.


Foundation-stone laying
I find very paying:
It adds a large sum to my makings —

Duchess: Large sums to his makings.


At charity dinners
The best of speech-spinners,
I get ten per cent on the takings —

Duchess: One-tenth of the takings.

I present any lady
Whose conduct is shady
Or smacking of doubtful propriety —

Duke: Doubtful propriety.


When Virtue would quash her,
I take and whitewash her,
And launch her in first-rate society —

Duke: First-rate society!


I recommend acres
Of clumsy dressmakers —
Their fit and their finishing touches —

Duke: Their finishing touches.


A sum in addition
They pay for permission
To say that they make for the Duchess —

Duke: They make for the Duchess!

Those pressing prevailers,
The ready-made tailors,
Quote me as their great double-barrel —

Duchess: Their great double-barrel —


I allow them to do so,
Though Robinson Crusoe
Would jib at their wearing apparel —

Duchess: Such wearing apparel!


I sit, by selection,
Upon the direction
Of several Companies bubble —

Duchess: All Companies bubble!


As soon as they’re floated
I’m freely bank-noted–
I’m pretty well paid for my trouble —

Duchess: He’s paid for his trouble!

At middle-class party
I play at écarté —
And I’m by no means a beginner —

Duke: She’s not a beginner.


To one of my station
The remuneration —
Five guineas a night and my dinner —

Duke: And wine with her dinner.


I write letters blatant
On medicines patent —
And use any other you mustn’t —

Duke: Believe me, you mustn’t —


And vow my complexion
Derives its perfection
From somebody’s soap — which it doesn’t —

Duke: (It certainly doesn’t!)

We’re ready as witness
To any one’s fitness
To fill any place or preferment —

Duchess: A place or preferment.

We’re often in waiting
At junket or fêting,
And sometimes attend an interment —

Duke: We enjoy an interment.


In short, if you’d kindle
The spark of a swindle,
Lure simpletons into your clutches —
Yes; into your clutches.
Or hoodwink a debtor,
You cannot do better

Duchess: Than trot out a Duke or a Duchess,

Duke: A Duke…

Both: Or a Duchess!


Spark, Pointer and Facts: The Daily Beast

40 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Duchess of York’s Website And The Duke of Plazatoro

  1. I couldn’t care less about the Royal family. Isn’t the reason we fought the Revolution was to get out from under all that? Besides, we have too damn many “royal” families in the States, and, between politicians and pseudo-celebrities, it’s about all I can take.

  2. Anglophilia is rampant in the U.S. I’ve never understood why. The only thing I find even funnier is lefty women’s obsession with the great Helen Mirren. Because she played the Queen being unhappy with her lot? Didn’t Dame Mirren get her start in film in Bob Guccione’s “Caligula?”

    I’ve always respected Michael Caine for 1. never turning down a part that payed (Dennis Miller: “Was watching my wedding video last night and damned if Michael Caine wasn’t in it.”) and 2. turning down a knighthood because he thought they were snobbish. Unlike say, Nick Faldo. Sir Nick? A knighted pro golfer? Give me a break.

    I say let Fergie do whatever she wants to do. As the G&S song shows, she’s not doing anything new. She may end up dead though (See eg. Princess Di). What Fergie’s doing is what the nobility do anyway. They do whatever they want do. Because they’re ENTITLED. Sure her’s is arguably an unseemly scam, but what else would you call what all the Windsors are running at the expense of the British taxpayers? At least the people who buy what Fergie’s pitching get something for their purchase price.

    I also think it’s funny and appropriately confusing that that young pop singer (I guess?) is also known as Fergie.

    • I agree about the Royal family, just a bunch of trained dancing monkeys in my opinion so who cares what they do.

      Like you I’m a big fan of Michael Caine. While others are flouting their ties to the RSC and RADA he is just working.

      My two favorite quotes from him.

      About Jaws 4.
      “I have never seen it, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.”

      and how he chooses scripts.

      “First of all, I choose the great roles, and if none of these come, I choose the mediocre ones, and if they don’t come, I choose the ones that pay the rent.”

      Mirren had been working in film and TV for almost 20 years before Caligula. Ive always enjoyed her work and the fact that she apparently doesn’t take herself too seriously and will make fun of herself. That and like Caine she works and works and works because she sees acting as a job.

      • That’s a very British attitude, isn’t it? My Mom’s cousin, George Coulouris, who lived in GB most of his life, gave me the same answer when I asked him about “The Man Without A Body,” in which he had several long scenes debating with an obviously rubber head of Nostadamus. “I loved that movie, ” he said. “I earned about 10X what Orson paid me for Citizen Kane!”

        • Michael Caine is as ubiquitous as Gene Hackman, although I remember him mostly from his “breakout” film which my dad was a big fan of (a no-prize if you can name it). Helen Mirren I think I only remember from Excalibur (as a villainous but sexy Morgana who would make any knight stray from the right path), and Mystery on PBS.

    • Sorry that second quote should be:

      “First of all, I choose the great roles, and if none of these come, I choose the mediocre ones, and if they don’t come, I choose the ones that pay the rent.”

    • ” lefty women’s obsession with the great Helen Mirren. Because she played the Queen being unhappy with her lot?”
      I don’t know about lefty women, but Mirren’s popular rep among most who followed the seven mini-series of “Prime Suspect” (1991-2006) which elevated police procedurals to a level of serious psychological reality it had never known before — since copied by nearly every show of that genre in both UK and USA — had nothing to do with royalty and very much to do with her acting ability. She’s excelled in just about every other genre as well, including action/adventure and pretty low comedy. Blaming the actor for playing a role you don’t like so well that the character offends you is … unrealistic.

  3. The Royal family is a tourist attraction , that’s it. Its no different then the National Zoo here is DC except that the animals get to wander about and throw poo at each other in public.

  4. I never really understood the hatred for her, but then again, I don’t understand the attraction of royalty. I guess not being glamorous enough was her sin? So, the royal family didn’t feel she was glamorous enough, so they want her to give back her title but they can’t just strip it from her without looking bad in public. Instead, they give her no income, but tell her she can’t work because that is beneath the nobility.

    In this case, She really does seem to be in a catch 22. They made her a Duchess, but denied her the land rents or pension that usually accompanies such a position (I take it that is the point). Her only option is to work and the easiest option is to cash in on her fame. If she gives up the title, she loses most of her attractiveness to her employers. I think her best option is to go back to work in PR. It was her profession before her marriage, so has experience in that field and her employment isn’t just because of her title. The title, however, would lend a premium to her pay. The only way you could really protest that is to say it is unseemly for a royal to work, but there are other titled aristocracy in England who have normal jobs.

    • The current Duke of Gloucester was going to practice full-time as an architect before the accidental death of his brother dropped him into the title, and The Princess Royal’s children have neither titles nor royal duties.

  5. I’m in between. I consider the House of Windsor to be at least mildly honorable, although a lot of that is due to George V and George VI, who saw their nation through the tumultuous World Wars and the end of the British Empire (not entirely a good thing and not without pain and problems). I also respect Elizabeth since she is technically a WWII vet, and Philip, Charles, Andrew, Edward the Duke of Kent, William and Harry as veterans. I also appreciate their role as ceremonial figures who don’t have to get too scuffed up with the business of politics and government.

    That said, I also think some of them are not too swift, that their treatment of Diana was poor, and I also note that a few of them throughout history have abused the privileges that go with their high office, notably Edward VII, who cut a huge swath through the female nobility, and Edward VIII, whose vacuous and selfish conduct (sometimes stupidly romanticized as a king who gave up everything for the woman he loved) came very close to destroying the institution.

    Sarah Ferguson (who I once saw at a distance but did not bother to shoot a picture of, though I am a master of the zoom lens and can capture jet fighters in flight WITHOUT the use of smoke) is not a royal by birth, only by marriage, and has already embarrassed herself pretty thoroughly between her own affairs and her rather poor control of her daughters, one of whom dated someone who went to my alma mater and withdrew because he was convicted of beating up another student so badly that he later died. Considering she also came pretty damn close to bankruptcy at one point, I can see her doing what she has to to survive, and considering that everyone knows exactly how she got where she is, I can’t see any mud sticking to the other royals.

      • A history lover, to be more precise, and a traditionalist. Yes, I am an Anglophile, I am mostly Irish and Italian but I do have some English in me and I have been to the UK seven times. The UK’s history is a long one, and checkered, but no more so than ours. Yes, their treatment of some of the subject peoples was less than wonderful at times. Yes, they blew it with the US as a colony, although it’s not as simple as the basic social studies teachers teach it. Yes, their treatment of Ireland, particularly under Cromwell, was bad, but again, it’s not as simple as US Hibernians cast it. They also stopped Napoleon from placing guillotines in every square in Europe, didn’t walk away from Germany’s curb-stomp of Belgium when they could have, and were the one light that stayed on in a Europe gone dark under Hitler.

        The US and the UK last fought against each other over 200 years ago, and the fault was about even. We’ve fought side by side more than a half-dozen times since. It’s time to let that enmity go. The British Empire ended over 50 years ago, and a lot of those nations that emerged have just swapped one set of problems for another, frequently problems of their own making (i.e. India and Pakistan fighting at least twice after the partition, South Africa’s stubborn refusal to phase out apartheid long after it’s time was done). It’s time to let THAT old canard go. And there has been a peace agreement in place for seventeen years that ended the Troubles. It’s decided. Northern Ireland is staying part of the United Kingdom. Anyone who doesn’t want to live under the UK’s rule is free to move out from under it, which, on an island the size of New Jersey, is not an onerous proposition. It’s time to let all THAT baggage go too.

        Oh, and this is a Very Special Message for you Irish Americans who are still hating on the UK for Cromwell, for the famines, for the Troubles, and for everything that went on since Richard of Clare landed in what was to later become Dublin, who maybe even sent money to the IRA before September 11th made terrorism in any form unacceptable to support here: Fuck you! Fuck you for supporting those who made common cause with the USSR and the Middle Eastern tyrants they supported, who were the US’s enemies. Fuck you for supporting guerilla war in towns and villages that got a lot of innocent people killed. Fuck you for supporting bombings in parks and stores that murdered indiscriminately. Fuck you for being all right with not just defying but targeting policemen and other officials trying to keep a modicum of public order. Most of all, fuck you for vicarious hate directed against those who did not wrong you when you yourselves were not wronged and probably never set foot in Ireland yourselves. If any of this was done on behalf of any other cause you’d call those who did it criminals, and you’d be absolutely right, but because you’re still carrying 400+ years of hate and you worship terrorists like Roger Casement and Michael Collins, who were great at shooting others in the back but not so great in a stand-up fight, you absolve yourselves and this criminal cause with criminal tactics. Not sure which rationalization this would fall under, but I’m damn sure it does. OK, rant over.

        • England’s fine. I just think the U.S. is better and I don’t see any reason to go all gaga over anything and everything that’s British. And I’m half Irish American. And probably part English on the other side. I’m fairly sure the potato famine was intentional genocide. But by the same token, as someone else has said, I don’t think the third world’s problem was too much colonialism, it was probably too little. I just consider Anglophila a problem when people are delusional about tea and crumpets and Burburry bags and Pippa’s ass in a wedding dress. At a minimum, it’s annoying. You sound more like an English history buff to me.

            • Haha, no wife, and I’m sure Beth could come up with a lot of reasons why. I DID look at some of the parade stills from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, but not of the actual ceremony, which would bore me to sleep. I have watched the guard change, the Beating of the Retreat, the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph, the Lord Mayor’s Parade, and a few Royal Legion events commemorating this or that – the one at the Tank Museum in Bovington commemorating the beginning of WWI was particularly nice.

              If I had been a bit more organized last year I would have liked to have witnessed the Ceremony of the Keys, but you have to write months in advance for that and I was not as organized or as energized as I would have been due to my mother falling ill with the cancer that was eventually fatal. I would like to make it to the centennial of the RAF in 2018. I am very much into forces events, which honor those serving and those fallen, but I am not the least bit interested in women whose only claim to fame is they married a member of the House of Windsor. Maybe Kate will prove herself worthy of respect if she actually does something more than pop out an heir and a spare, but until then, she has zero value.

          • Well, that’s a matter of taste, and that’s allowed, of course. The U.S. is better in a lot of ways, starting with healthcare (the NHS sucks) and taxes (theirs are ridiculous). The potato famine was not intentional genocide a la the Holocaust, it was more like a confluence of several things (unexpected blight, overly rainy weather, non-existent disaster relief, misguided ideas about capitalism), although some landowners used it as an excuse to push tenant farmers out to make way for sheep ranching, which was more profitable, but again, that’s a long story that most people, especially Anglophobes, don’t understand the nuances of and wouldn’t care about if they did because facts sometimes get in the way of hate.

            I am more into museums and castles and cathedrals. We have some of the former, some of which even beat the UK, but some of theirs are unique and have unique stuff like the Elgin marbles. Castles unfortunately are a uniquely European thing. Cathedrals we also have, but the oldest continually used one in America is only about 4 centuries old (a no-prize if you know which one it is), whereas theirs sometimes go back 1,000 years or more. UK pageantry is also something unique, but I get that not everyone is into scarlet-coated guards and band music and also that we have our own unique way of doing parades and honoring those who served. Tea and crumpets? I suppose if one is shopping or at one of the museums (which have high-level restaurants) it’s a very traditional way to finish out the day, but it can get pretentious. Burberry bags? Can’t speak to that, but I think luxury accessories of any kind are a waste of money unless you are buying durability. Swooning over a highborn woman at a wedding I think is uniquely a female thing, and a thing I wish they’d get over.

            • … some landowners used it as an excuse to push tenant farmers out to make way for sheep ranching, which was more profitable …

              Actually, in Ireland it was mostly cattle; sheep were the profit centre for the Scottish Highland Clearances and the Tudor phase of the English Enclosures of the Commons.

    • Steve-O-in-NJ
      Concur on all points.

      BTW I’m a Monarchist, and as a dual UK/Australian citizen, owe allegiance to two separate monarchs, Queen Elizabeth II holds both titles though, so she’s the one with the conflict of interest, not me.

      God bless and keep the Queen, far away from us.

      Personally I’m a fan of E2R, as she was a near neighbour for a while when she was periodically GAFIAting. The job sucks.

  6. Who knows, maybe if we had a figurehead, low budget monarchy in the U.S. we wouldn’t have Presidents like our current one who begin ruling by fiat once “the bear is loose” and he doesn’t have to (because he can’t, praise Allah) run for re-election.

  7. Couldn’t the Royals simply remind Fergie of the precedents set for previous wayward family members by preparing a nice apartment for her at the Tower to while away her remaining years doing penance and tapestries? Or maybe send her to a nunnery? Oh for the good ole days…

    Wouldn’t parliament have censuring authority or even cease and desist authority as she’s wielding a title vicariously associated with government affairs and assigned as a government function (though and empty one)?

        • I don’t see why not, they just need a better design to mitigate the appearance as well as a better location. Misting systems can decrease local temperatire sometimes 10-15 degrees if done correctly. I’ve heard even more in very welol designed systems.

        • Oops, completely misread this and assumed you misfired a response…

          Hahah. I don’t mean the Royal Family members are individually stupid or even as a group they are collectively stupid. I mean the concept of a royal family is pretty stupid.

          They may however install the drawn and quartered body parts of various traitors outside the palace…

          • Or a few severed heads. On stakes.Hey, the Muslims in East London could go for that! I see cultural harmony right around the corner.

  8. After all, they [the British Royal Family] are nothing but symbols, living flags, and if they aren’t a source of pride, they are useless relics. … the Royals, who themselves consist entirely of tradition.

    It appears that you do not appreciate their very real function in the Westminster System. The monarch has a number of stabilising effects, not least in stopping any politician from truly being at the top (which even worked on Mussolini in 1943, albeit late in the day), and among other things the other family members work as a supply of replacements.

    The tradition and pageantry are the sugar-coating, not the substance and raison d’etre.

    W.S. Gilbert made grand fun of this habit in one of my favorite songs from the operettas in one of my least favorite G&S shows, “The Gondoliers.” In a duet that is (stupidly) often cut, the Duke and Duchess of Plazatoro (Spanish royalty [emphasis added], but Gilbert liked to use imaginary faux-foreign dignitaries to ridicule English ones, hence “The Mikado”) shamelessly explain how they survive as celebrity spokespersons and influence peddlers.

    That is a misreading, probably based on an unfamiliarity with the phenomenon actually being mocked. They weren’t Spanish royalty but Spanish nobility, and the British aristocracy was being mocked there, much as in others of those operettas. It was notorious how often aristocrats got put on company boards for the sake of their reputations. To give them their due, many tried to do their duty in supervising proper consuct, to maintain their reputations as stock in trade if nothing else; the trick for company promoters was to find one who could be distracted or swayed, not to find a dishonourable one who would go along (such a one might displace a seedy promoter!). But an attentive reading of the lyrics would yield all this.

    • The distinction between royalty and nobility is valid and correct, as well as worth keeping in mind. It’s an important distinction, though to an American, one is as useless and silly as the other.

      Lord North said that lawyers were America’s aristocracy. Now that’s really disturbing.

    • By the way, speaking of attention, do you ever actually pay attention to the purpose of these little essays, or just search for side issues to complain about? Should Fergie be trading on her royal connection, or not?

      • What complaining? I was just addressing the issue – the side-issue, if you will – that your supporting material just there actually related to something else. I thought that readers deserved to have an accurate background, just as in my other comment pointing out that cattle rather than sheep were more of a driver for Irish evictions. I was no more complaining here than I was there trying to rebut the idea that there were indeed Irish evictions. If I didn’t let your blurring stand, it was no more than refusing to “do the right thing for the wrong reason”; it doesn’t undercut your main point, at least nothing like as much as effectively “trying to prove too much” would – and that’s where you yourself left things. Fiat veritas, ruant coeli.

        And you have reminded me that I have waited rather long, after a bout of ill health extended my delay to calm down, to highlight where a comment of yours elsewhere misstated my position.

          • My rough rule of thumb is only to contribute when I genuinely have something to contribute, i.e. some new information or insight that might otherwise go missing. I see little point in “me tooism”. When I don’t know, I listen, with the result that I rarely come out with material errors (I am under no pressure to deliver here, as you may be).

            Since you specifically asked, I don’t see the lady in question as being more than peripherally royal, what with her divorce and the facts that the “Royal Dukes” always have been somewhat peripheral and that their behaviour has if anything served to inoculate the main line from being associated with them, i.e. that ship sailed long ago. That means that any reflection she casts on royal status is in the eye of the beholders, and only really matters to the extent that any of those matter to the Royal Family; but as I understand it she isn’t working a British circuit so much as a U.S. one, so it is as unimportant as Paris Match commentary on the Royal Family in the 1960s (when Princess Margaret was a far more central figure).

            As far as the ethics of working goes, she could only be spared that necessity by being given a separate chunk of the Civil List, which came in centuries ago to buy out the royal position as influential landowners; that is under parliamentary control for constitutional reasons, so it’s not something under royal control at all. She should not be deprived of a livelihood simply as a convenience, nor without alternative arrangements being put in place even if it were a serious issue. “It nearly broke the family’s heart / When Lady Jane became a tart / But they clubbed together and bought her a beat / On the sunny side of Jermyn Street.”

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