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SHE IS JUST DEVASTATED; Fergie told of mum's death in early morning call.

STUNNED Fergie was inconsolable over the death of her mother Susan Barrantes last night.

As she started the 8,000-mile journey to her mother's last resting place in Argentina, her private office said she was "absolutely devastated."

A close pal added: "She's in shock and quite beside herself with grief. In just over a year she has lost her two best friends - first Princess Diana, now her mother. It's an absolute tragedy."

Just as in Diana's death, Fergie received the grim news of tragedy in an early morning phone call.

The Duchess and eight-year-old daughter Eugenie were staying with Fergie's Italian boyfriend, Count Gaddo della Gherardesca, in Tuscany.

They spent a happy day celebrating the 12th birthday of the Count's daughter Constanza. Fergie went to bed. Then at 4am she was woken by a member of staff after a farmworker on Mrs Barrantes' Argentine ranch phoned with the news that the fun-loving 61- year-old had died in an horrific car crash.

A guest said; "Fergie had been laughing and joking at the party. What seemed like a perfect day was suddenly shattered at night."

Crushed by heartbreak 38-year-old Fergie - who called her mother "the most brilliant person I've ever met" - then had to make the hardest phone calls of her life as she passed on the terrible news to members of her family.

First she phoned her sister Jane, 40, in Australia, then her father Major Ron, 67 - Mrs Barrantes' first husband - and her mother's brother Brian Wright. She also phoned former husband Prince Andrew at Balmoral.

Wearing sunglasses Fergie left the count's home at Castagnetto Carducci yesterday afternoon with Eugenie and a nanny.

Before she left she made a tearful phone call to a friend in London declaring that her mother must be buried next to her husband Hector in Argentina. She said: "It's what she would have wanted."

Fergie arrived at Pisa Airport just before her 3.45pm British Airways flight left for Gatwick, driving the car under the aircraft wing before boarding.

After arriving in London, she was collected by a chauffeur-driven car to take her to Sunninghill, Andrew's home in Berkshire, where she was reunited with elder daughter Beatrice, 10.

Wearing a dark pinstripe jacket and with her hair tied back she looked pale and drawn with her eyes reddened by tears. Bravely holding back her heartbreak, she stared fixedly ahead as her car drew up at the house.

Fergie then prepared to catch a British Airways scheduled flight to Buenos Aires at 9.15pm. It was understood she would be travelling alone.

She is expected to arrive in the Argentine capital at 10.40am today. Her mother's funeral is scheduled for mid-day tomorrow at the family's El Pucara ranch 350 miles west of Buenos Aires.

Sister Jane was also flying to Argentina today from her home in Sydney. A friend said: "She is stunned by this news. She and her mother were very close. They were on the phone to each other all the time."

Earlier, the Queen cut into an official tour to Brunei and Malaysia to say prayers for Mrs Barrantes, who enjoyed a close relationship with the Royals for almost 40 years.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "The Queen and Prince Philip were told the news when their plane arrived in Kuala Lumpur. They are shocked and saddened, and will be in touch with the duchess, her family and the Duke of York."

Major Ron was devastated. He said: "It's an absolute tragedy. I'm so sorry and very upset. I feel particularly sorry for Sarah and Jane to have lost their mother."

His second wife, Susan Ferguson, said: "We all had great admiration for Susan. She was a vivacious and beautiful woman. I'm just so upset for Sarah and Jane."

Mrs Ferguson's daughter, Eliza, was last night helping comfort Beatrice and Eugenie, who were devoted to their grandmother.

Mrs Barrantes was heading home to her 1,000-acre estate from a shopping expedition in the nearby city of Trenque Lauquen in her green Rover 420 saloon when she collided with a Renault van.

She was killed instantly. In a chilling echo of Diana's death, it is understood she was not wearing a seat belt. By a tragic coincidence the Renault driver, 60-year-old Jose Maria Rodriguez, was a close family friend. He suffered a broken ankle.

Mrs Barrantes' 25-year-old nephew Rafael Barrantes, who was travelling with her, miraculously survived the crash. He was in hospital last night being treated for shock, cuts and bruises.

The force of the impact was so great the vehicles ended up 60 yards apart. Last night, police suggested one reason for the accident might be that both drivers were dazzled by headlights. The road is narrow and twisty with no white centre line.

Mrs Barrantes' Rover was completely crushed with the sleek car reduced to a barely recognisable lump of twisted steel and fittings.

TV pictures from the scene beside the two-lane Route 23 showed the front virtually destroyed, the roof crushed into the passenger cabin and the tyres ripped off.

The white Renault Traffic van was less badly damaged, with the front left-hand side of the driver's cab taking the brunt of the devastating crunch.

Local police chief Hector Dimas Molinuevo said: "It was a classic head- on crash. But it is difficult to say what happened because of the position of the cars."

Later, Mrs Barrantes body was taken from a morgue by her brother-in-law Martin Barrantes and laid to rest in a makeshift chapel at the family ranch.

The family of Mr Rodriguez said yesterday he could remember nothing of the crash. His wife and daughter Silvina were at his bedside. Silvina said: "We have not been able to break the news to my father yet because he and Mrs Barrantes were very good friends. It will upset him too much.

"We are very relieved my father will be all right. But it is extremely sad for all our family that Mrs Barrantes has died."

Alicia de Rebote Garcia, a friend of the Barrantes family visiting Rafael in hospital, confirmed that Susan and Mr Rodriguez had been firm friends over many years.

She said: "Susan knew a lot of people in the area but she was very fond of the Rodriguez family. She was a magnificent, trusted, well-loved woman. She was very loyal to her friends and loved Argentina and its people.

"She was always so happy here and did a lot of good work."

Fergie was exceptionally close to her mother who she regarded as lone of her best friends. She last saw her in July when Mrs Barrantes stayed at Sunninghill for a week.

The daughter of a leading entrepreneur in the steel industry, and the niece of Viscount Powerscourt, Mrs Barrantes had a privileged, but strict upbringing.

After an unremarkable education, followed by secretarial school, she married Ron Ferguson at the age of 18. Among her friends during her schooldays was Frances Roche, who later became the first wife of the late Earl Spencer and Princess Diana's mother.

It was this early friendship that paved the way towards a deep friendship decades later between her own daughter Sarah and Diana.

Major Ron's polo career consumed most of his marriage, taking him away from his family for long periods of time. Susan was devastated when she later discovered he had been unfaithful with one of her friends.

The death knell to the Ferguson's marriage was sounded in 1972, when the couple took a holiday to Corfu. It was here that Susan met Hector Barrantes, a brilliant Argentinian polo player. At the time, he was desolate over losing his wife, then eight-months pregnant, in a car crash.

Susan divorced Major Ron in 1973 and wed Hector two years later. He died of cancer eight years ago, leaving his wife considerable debts.

Earlier this year, Mrs Barrantes spoke of plans to turn her estate into a "polo clinic" and holiday resort. She also hoped to set up a polo school at El Pucara with multi- millionaire Peter Cadbury.

She remained on good terms with the Royal Family, and last year received a personal invitation from the Queen to her golden wedding celebrations.

Captions: CRASH WRECK

Mangled remains of Susan Barrantes' two-year-old green Rover 420. She was killed outright in smash

FINAL MEETING

Susan with Fergie, Beatrice and Eugenie at a charity golf day at Wentworth last July - their last time together

HEARTBROKEN

Sad Fergie and daughter Eugenie boarding a flight at Pisa airport yesterday as they returned to England

MANGLED VAN

The badly damaged Renault Trafic that hit Susan's car. It was being driven by a close family friend
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Article Details
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Author:Kerr, Jane; Brough, Graham
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 21, 1998
Words:1443
Previous Article:`STARR DROVE ME TO MONICA AFFAIR'.
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