How Fergie and Lisa Marie Presley became the unlikeliest of pals
The memorial service was as extravagant as one might expect for the child of a cultural icon, who had a 100-seater private plane named after her when she was just a tot, four marriages and divorces to her name and half of Hollywood on speed dial.
Rock stars Axl Rose and Alanis Morissette and actor Austin Butler were among the mourners for Lisa Marie Presley, who died of cardiac arrest aged just 54 last month, paying tribute at Graceland, the Tennessee mansion she inherited from her late father, Elvis.
Yet among the A-listers, there was one unexpected attendee: Sarah, Duchess of York. Not only was she a guest at the ceremony on January 22 but one of the select few invited to speak.
Taking to the lectern to deliver a eulogy, the black-suited Duchess, 63, spoke of her love for Lisa Marie, whom she affectionately called ‘Sissy’, urging fellow mourners ‘to stoke our flames within to celebrate extraordinary Lisa Marie’.
‘Sissy, this is for you with affection,’ she said. ‘My late mother-in-law used to say that nothing . . . can begin to take away the anguish and the pain of these moments, because grief is the price we pay for love. And how right she was.’
Sarah Ferguson, 63, gave a touching tribute to her friend Lisa Marie Presley who died earlier this month aged 54
At which stage, many of those watching the service as it streamed on YouTube were surely wondering how the once ridiculed former daughter-in-law of our late Queen had come to be friends with the rather more edgily cool daughter of the King of rock and roll.
Yet the Mail can reveal that, little known to the outside world, their friendship was not a fickle showbiz one but a relationship built over more than 15 years, born of deep trust and support.
‘They hit it off on all sorts of levels,’ a friend of the Duchess told me last week. ‘She talks of them bonding like sisters.’
Both had seemingly enjoyed an active social life in the same circle, a friend of the Duchess explains, saying: ‘[Fergie] was part of a group of friends including Bob Geldof and his wife; and (guitarist) Jeff Beck, who sadly died recently, and his wife Sandra, through whom she met Lisa Marie.’
Sarah revealed the depth of their bond in the hours after her friend’s sudden death on January 12, when she wrote on Instagram: ‘I say hello to you every day, and I love you, my Sissy, and I will continue to say hello to you every day . . . You have been my devoted friend for many years, and I am here for your family to support and love them. I am deeply saddened, my Sissy, you are in my heart.’
Sarah was honoured to be asked to speak at Lisa Marie’s funeral, a friend told me. ‘She didn’t hesitate.
‘They allowed her to choose a piece, which she thought long and hard about, deciding that George Frost’s poem for his father, Sir David Frost, which includes the line, “It’s important to know that I have not gone, And I hope that, on you all, my light has shone,” was very appropriate.’
So how did they form such a friendship that endured over many years — and scandals?
Speaking at the service, Fergie said it was a ‘great honour’ as she described Ms Presley as ‘extraordinary’
For all their differences, there were many similarities between them. Both were born into privilege. Both experienced the heartache of divorce — that of their parents, and personally — and the horror of public scandal.
They shared a raucous sense of humour and a resilience to withstand setbacks. And while both were seen as brash, they also carried a certain gaucheness and vulnerability.
Just as Lisa Marie once said she felt ‘neurotic’ talking publicly, which made her feel ‘afraid’, the Duchess recently said she found it hard putting herself ‘above the parapet’.
Undoubtedly, both were also fond of a party and rather partial to a glass of champagne — as well as being accustomed to living in domestic splendour.
Although in recent years Lisa Marie had been living in a rented 7,440 sq ft home in Calabasas, California, she still spent Christmases in her childhood home, Graceland, a Colonial revival 23-room mansion with five staircases, arguably the second most famous home in the U.S. after the White House.
Their first encounter is thought to have been in America in the 2000s, when the Duchess was forging a career in writing and public speaking after her 1996 divorce from the Duke of York. But it was in the UK that their relationship blossomed.
Elvis Presley with his wife Priscilla and their daughter Lisa-Marie, pictured in 1970
In 2007, they attended a Led Zeppelin concert together in London, with Sarah, an ardent supporter of charitable causes, taking Lisa Marie to London’s swish Mandarin hotel the following day to discuss the prospect of helping ITV journalist Chris Rogers publicise his investigations into abandoned Romanian children.
Rogers would later recall that the two women had ‘partied into the small hours’ the night before, adding: ‘Lisa Marie explained that she had a bad cold and had dragged herself out of bed because the Duchess hadn’t stopped talking about the poor children in institutions since my investigation was broadcast, and she was determined to see the reports herself.’
The same year, Sarah enjoyed dinner at the China Tang restaurant in The Dorchester Hotel with Lisa Marie’s daughter Riley, then 18 and an aspiring model, and the Duchess’s daughter Beatrice, a year Riley’s senior and reportedly her friend.
Their connection must have deepened over their mutual understanding of fractured families. The Duchess’s mother, Susan, had gone to live in Argentina with her new boyfriend when Sarah was a teenager, leading her to ‘overeat for comfort’.
Meanwhile her father, Major Ronald Ferguson, was ‘morose’, she later recalled, and her elder sister moved to Australia, ‘so it was just me’.
Solitude was a state Lisa Marie must also have experienced as an only child: her father and mother Priscilla, now 77, divorced when she was five. Four years later, she saw her father dead from a heart attack on his bathroom floor.
And, of course, both have colourful romantic histories. At 20, Lisa Marie married her first husband, musician Danny Keough, at the Celebrity Centre International of the Church of Scientology in West Hollywood. Together they had Riley and her son Ben. The marriage lasted six years. In 1994, she married pop star Michael Jackson, but they divorced within two years.
Her third marriage, to actor Nicolas Cage, lasted only 107 days. However, she remained on good terms with Keough. While many might have found it bizarre, she even chose him to be best man at her 2006 wedding to fourth husband Michael Lockwood, the father of her 14-year-old twins Harper and Finley.
Yet the Duchess would have understood. She remained, after all, so close to Andrew — whom she has described as ‘an extraordinary person’ — that he was a guest at her 50th birthday at London’s Lanesborough Hotel in 2010, alongside Geir Frantzen, the frozen food tycoon she was rumoured to be dating at the time.
Lisa Marie was also at the bash, by this time a firm fixture in the Duchess’s social circle, because that year Lisa Marie and Michael Lockwood had moved to an 11-bedroom 15th-century country house near Rotherfield, East Sussex, to escape the ‘concentrated fishbowl of celebrity in LA’. The village is just a few miles from Scientology’s British headquarters in East Grinstead.
Ironically, as Lisa Marie fell in love with Britain, the Duchess became enthralled by America, perhaps referring in part to her friend when she said: ‘I love American people because they saved my life. When the British threw me out, the Americans embraced me and said, “it’s all right Fergie, we’ll have you, we’ll give you a second chance”.’
When in 2010 the Duchess was filmed in a newspaper sting accepting cash in return for access to Andrew — an event she described as a ‘major trauma’ — Lisa Marie came to her rescue.
‘She was steadfast towards the Duchess. She went out of her way to extend the hand of support then,’ says her friend. ‘I think she had the Duchess stay with her at a villa in Hawaii to escape the media spotlight.’
When Lisa Marie moved back to America in 2016, after an acrimonious split with Lockwood, she and Sarah kept in regular phone contact.
Fans waited outside in Memphis with their phones at the ready for the memorial to begin earlier today
Fans line up to enter Graceland for Ms Presley’s memorial service at the Graceland estate today
The two women are believed to have grown even closer over the scandal surrounding Prince Andrew’s friendship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, with Lisa Marie described as ‘a rock’ to the Duchess, who has stood by her ex-husband throughout.
Let’s not forget that Lisa Marie had found herself subject to similar scrutiny when she was married to Michael Jackson, who was twice accused of being a paedophile —allegations she never accepted. Jackson settled the first case out of court and was acquitted by a jury in the second.
Lisa Marie’s saddest moment, however, was the suicide of her son Ben, who died in 2020, aged just 27.
Although she and Sarah had largely kept their friendship private until then, such was the magnitude of the tragedy that the Duchess publicly voiced her support on Instagram, writing: ‘You stayed with me in my darkest moment and I am here in yours . . . love you my sister Lisa Marie . . . wherever, whenever I am with you, in all steadfastness.’
She referred to the tragedy at the memorial service, saying: ‘Mothers losing children, there are no words for it.’
A friend of Sarah’s explains: ‘The Duchess never forgot that at a difficult time she was there for her and reciprocated when Lisa Marie was going through tough times. She always tried to be there.’
In the weeks before her death, Lisa Marie and the Duchess were discussing how Sarah might support 33-year-old Riley’s career. ‘They were talking about what help the Duchess might be able to give Riley in terms of working in TV and films, which apparently she wants to get into,’ says a friend.
A fan gathers outside Graceland on Sunday to pay her respects to the princess of rock n’ roll earlier today
‘There is talk about turning the Duchess’s first novel into a TV show or film, and the Duchess was a producer on Young Victoria, so she has quite a lot of contacts in that world.’
Perhaps, too, they shared the thrill of becoming grandmothers. Sarah, already grandmother to Eugenie’s son August, two, and Beatrice’s daughter Sienna, one, described her ‘Granny heaven’ on Eugenie’s second pregnancy announcement a week ago, while Lisa Marie recently became grandmother to Riley’s baby daughter.
Her new status was only revealed to the world at the memorial, when Riley, who arrived with a baby, wrote in her eulogy: ‘I hope I can love my daughter the way you loved me, the way you loved my brother and my sisters.’
After paying her respects to her dear ‘Sissy’ at the memorial service, Sarah spoke of her deep affection for Riley and 14-year-old twins Finley and Harper, pledging to support them as they try to cope with the loss of their mother.
‘Action is the way we can go forward, we can light the flame,’ she said. ‘So for Riley, for Harper and Finley and the entire family, we march forward in support of you. All of us are with you. If you just put out your hand we will be there.’