Despite being an extremely well-known member of the royal family, Sarah Ferguson had been barred from certain traditions for decades.
This Christmas, for the first time in over 30 years, she was permitted to walk with the rest of the family from the royal estate in Sandringham to the nearby church for a morning service – a holiday tradition that's taken place for decades. Royal experts tell Fox News Digital what the change could mean for Ferguson, and how her place in the royal family after scandal differs from that of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
As royal expert Hilary Fordwich explained, "Rarely does the royal family make mistakes in terms of appearances. What might seem to an outsider as a casual stroll on Christmas Day to the church service at St. Mary Magdalene in Sandringham, Norfolk, is actually a carefully choreographed, highly public promenade."
It's been widely reported that Ferguson, who separated from Andrew in 1992, was banned from the walk and other royal events after photos were released that same year of financial adviser John Bryan sucking her toes. After that, Fordwich claimed that Prince Philip "couldn't bear to be in the same room" as her.
Fordwich suggested that King Charles extended the invitation to Ferguson for several reasons, one being that "He was ‘doing unto others’ as heralded during his Christmas address regarding ‘compassion’ in order to broadly reiterate his affection and fondness for Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie."
She continued, "He was also demonstrating that extended family is important to him and his inviting her signifies a restoration of her place in the royal family… He was projecting that under immense pressure and strains the family together have endured by valuing certain qualities that, since her ousting in the '90s, Fergie has demonstrated. The family rallied around Fergie after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent surgery. He wanted a heartwarming end to a challenging year for her."
The invitation extended by King Charles toward Ferguson is "in stark contrast" to the royal family's treatment of Harry and Markle, who stepped down as working royals in 2020. This could be because Ferguson has "never burned bridges with the family," and instead has been "steadfast in her support of them all."
Fordwich explained, "Fergie’s qualities are those valued by the family. She never complained after her ouster. With the demise of Prince Andrew, she emphasized her support, showing resilience in face of adversity with her health issues."
The expert suggested that instead of considering that Ferguson's "rehabilitation" might give hope to Harry and Markle that they may someday be welcomed back similarly, royal family fans see this as a "strong sign that those who don’t throw the family under the proverbial bus are welcomed back."
Also, in contrast to Harry and Markle, "Fergie spoke about her special bond with the queen, describing her as her ‘total idol.’ The reflection of Fergie’s relativity was also announced by the late Queen Elizabeth, who had a lot of affection for her and deemed her worthy of the Royal Windsor funeral. [The queen] always respected her mothering of the two princesses and that she ‘stood by her man,' Prince Andrew."
As for King Charles, Fordwich said his relationship with Ferguson has "improved over the years" as the Duchess of York "has demonstrated a great degree of loyalty." The reigning monarch "has appreciated that she’s never spilled the beans, nor overtly cashed in negatively" and "his acceptance of her is a reward for her loyalty."
Former royal photographer Ian Pelham Tuner told Fox News Digital that Queen Camilla also had a hand in Ferguson's comeback.
Turner pointed out that Camilla extended an invitation to Ferguson to recuperate in Balmoral after she had a mastectomy in June, saying, "I believe her compassion for Fergie to be given respite and support helped part of the healing process both medically and from a family point of view.
He continued, "Camilla and Sarah have both faced the indignities in the past, causing upset to palace officials, and I think it is quite natural, now that the queen has the power and influence, she has introduced a much more public and private compassionate approach to the royal family when dealing with ‘awkward situations.’"
Helena Chard, royal photographer and British broadcaster, agreed with the sentiment, saying, "Both Queen Camilla and Fergie understand how it feels to be shunned by the royal family and media and then work hard to repair negative fallout. They also realize they will never achieve full acceptance from some people, but they just rise above it, do good and get on with their lives."
She told Fox News Digital, "Both ladies have similar gregarious characters, a huge amount in common and a mutual respect. They offer genuine warmth, empathy and a dedication in helping people, as does King Charles III. They both offer calming support and stabling influence to their family and are devoted to their charity work, both campaigning to raise awareness of certain conditions such as osteoporosis and cancer."
As she claims, "The majority of the U.K. public are thrilled and were happy to see her beaming away this Christmas at Sandringham. Relatable Fergie is definitely in vogue."
Meanwhile, the reception toward Harry and Markle isn't nearly as warm.
As Christopher Andersen, author of "The King," suggested to Fox News Digital in November, Charles is primarily upset with Harry because he wrote about Camilla in his memoir, "Spare."
"My feeling is that Charles can so easily turn his back on Harry because Harry committed the one unforgivable sin: Harry dissed Camilla in his book, ‘Spare,’ branding her a ‘villain,’" Andersen said.
"He could have trashed [Prince] William and the monarchy all he wanted, but King Charles is wildly, blindly devoted to Queen Camilla," Andersen said. "King Charles III angers easily, and he holds grudges."
He also discussed the fact that Harry and Markle missed Charles' birthday celebration in November.
"The fact that Harry and Meghan weren't even invited to the king's milestone 75th birthday really speaks volumes about just how irreconcilable the Sussexes and the Windsors are," said Andersen. "You can only burn bridges so many times."
He added, "The bottom line is that the Sussexes and the rest of the royal family will continue to have nothing to do with each other for the foreseeable future, full stop."
Fox News Digital's Stephanie Nolasco contributed to this report.