SARAH FERGUSON, the Duchess of York, was riding along a city street yesterday when she noticed a pedestrian wearing a bright red holiday sweater with a reindeer on the front.

She pulled out her camera and asked the stranger if she could take his picture. He all but rebuffed her.

"I had thought he might be funny because he was wearing a funny jersey," she explained later.

"He just said, 'In America, we call it a sweater not a jersey.' I said, 'okaaay.' He said 'yes' but he was not really happy about it."

Welcome to Philadelphia, duchess.

For the record, it's OK to call her Sarah instead of duchess. She responds to either.

As she has been depicted in the press, Ferguson, 50, is warm and friendly. When I caught up with her yesterday at the Four Seasons, she had her arm draped around a reporter and was posing for a picture, before settling down to do yet another interview to promote the new movie, "Young Victoria," which she helped produce.

The film, which opens today, is about the life of Queen Victoria, who ascended to the throne at age 17, and her passionate love affair with Prince Albert.

Ferguson, who over the years has written books, been a celebrity spokeswoman for Weight Watchers and a television personality, was drawn to the film because of the affinity she felt between Victoria and Albert's relationship and the one she had with Prince Andrew, whom she married in 1986 at age 26.

Prince Albert was everything to Victoria, who had been isolated at an early age and was surrounded by people trying to influence her for their own purposes.

"When I got married," Ferguson said, "I immersed myself in their love story because I was alone." Her husband was often away at sea as an officer in the Royal Navy.

"I missed him absolutely terribly . . . I became completely and utterly driven by this story and why no one has every done a movie about it," she said.

Ferguson's own 10-year-marriage foundered amid reports of infidelity and the surfacing of photos of her in the company of other men. The royal couple divorced in 1996 but remain on friendly terms. Ferguson even resides in the home Andrew shares with their two daughters, Beatrice, 21, and Eugenia, 19.

"She [Victoria] fought for their love, and Andrew and I let ours go," Ferguson said. "We both regretted that we didn't fight hard enough . . . circumstances broke us up."

She and Andrew spent many nights apart, but that wasn't the case with Victoria and her husband.

"For 21 years, they never were parted at all. When he died, she knew she would never get half of her body and soul back," Ferguson said. "She wound his watch and put out his nightclothes for the rest of her life."

Victoria and Albert had nine children and were married for 21 years before he died of typhus.

By all accounts, they were deeply committed to each other, but could their love have survived the maelstrom of the modern-day Fleet Street?

Ferguson said the British press "destroyed me."

"It is very hard to be in the public," said Ferguson, who was brutalized by the press, which nicknamed her the Duchess of Pork because of her size at the time.

Describing her failed marriage, Ferguson told me she's content with things the way they are.

"Our happy ending is very happy. It's just different to what everybody has been brought up to believe is a happy ending," she said.

My time with the duchess was almost over. I had one last question. Is there anything she'd do differently in her life?

"I'd like to learn to play the game of chess better like Victoria did and I'd learn to play the institution better and I'd still be married to Andrew."

"Get back with him," I whispered.

Instead of answering, she shot me a look that seemed to say, "That ain't happening."

I left it at that.

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