Britain's Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson attends a screening in Los Angeles in this October 5, 2006 file photo. The Duchess, caught on camera apparently offering to sell access to her ex-husband, UK trade envoy Prince Andrew, said Sunday she was sorry for her "serious lapse in judgement." According to footage on the News of the World newspaper's website', Sarah Ferguson appears to ask for $40,000 in cash and 500,000 pounds ($718,500) by wire transfer, claiming she could introduce the undercover reporter to the prince. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT PROFILE HEADSHOT BUSINESS MEDIA)

London - Sarah Ferguson, who was photographed topless while sunbathing at a remote villa in the South of France 20 years ago, has expressed “total sympathy” for the Duchess of Cambridge.

The long-range pictures, which showed the Duchess of York having her toes sucked by American businessman John Bryan while lying on a poolside sun-lounger, were published by the Daily Mirror in August 1992.

The ensuing scandal hastened the end of her marriage to Prince Andrew and the couple divorced four years later.

Speaking yesterday from the United States, where she is on a promotional tour for her latest children’s book, Ballerina Rosie, she said of Kate: “I have total empathy and sympathy for her. I have been there and know what it’s like. Everyone is entitled to privacy. It is a devastating invasion of one’s personal inner space. It is deplorable, abhorrent and despicable.

“She is a beautiful young woman doing a great job for the country. Why should she be stripped of that moment with her husband?”

Twenty years ago, Ferguson was left to cope on her own, in contrast to the strong support the Duchess of Cambridge has received from Buckingham Palace in her battle with the French magazine Closer.

A Palace insider suggested to her at the time that it might be better to “get the pictures out into the open” in the hope that the furore would eventually die down. One friend claimed Ferguson was “thrown to the wolves”.

The friend said the Duchess had been staying at a villa deep in the countryside, miles from anywhere accessible to the public. “The paparazzi had dug a trench and lived in it for three days as if they were stalking an animal.

“She is very pale-skinned so never takes her top off. On this occasion she was just copying a friend. It was incredible that by chance they caught her. She has never done so again.”

The only compensation she received came a year later, when the French magazine Paris Match, which had also published the pictures, was ordered to pay her and Mr Bryan £84 000 damages. - Mail on Sunday