(LONDON) -- Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has spent most of her adult life in the public spotlight, first as the wife of Prince Andrew and then as a favorite target of the British tabloid media.
Several decades later, another new royal bride, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, became the target of the tabloid media when she wed Ferguson's nephew, Prince Harry, in 2018.
"I believe that everybody has a right to their own voice and there should be no judgment on race, creed, color or any other denomination," Ferguson told Good Morning America about the press' treatment of Meghan, who joined Harry in stepping down from their senior royal roles last year and moving to California.
"I personally would never be able to judge another, so I just am not like that," she said. "I wish Harry and Meghan so much happiness and I know that [the late Princess] Diana would be so proud of her sons and their wives."
Ferguson -- whose latest chapter in life is as author of a new novel, Her Heart for a Compass -- was a close friend of Princess Diana's, her sister-in-law in Britain's royal family. Though the two were pitted against each other in the British press, she calls Diana her best friend.
Diana, the mother of Princes William and Harry, died in 1997 after a car crash in Paris, but Ferguson said she keeps her friend's memory alive to this day.
"She's in my heart," Ferguson said of the late princess, whom she calls her "laughing friend."
"I always say it doesn't matter whether you get the love back or you don't get love back or she's here or she's not here, you can love anyway and keep the kindness," she said
"I loved Diana and I will always love her even if she isn’t here in person. It’s a really lovely thing to have," she said.
Ferguson, now 61 and a grandmother of one with another on the way, said she also imagines what life would be like now with Diana, whose two sons have five children between them.
"If she was here, we'd be racing to the bouncy castle with our grandchildren," said Ferguson. "The funny thing is we’d be with our grandchildren running in the egg and spoon race. She was always a better, faster runner than me."
Finding her voice through writing
Ferguson drew on her own journey in the spotlight to write her first novel, which is set in the Victorian era and is based on her distant relative, Lady Margaret.
"Lady Margaret is an extremely wonderful, strong, very resilient redhead who fights for her heart ... against extraordinary confines of what is seen as noble and duty," she said. "I think I couldn't write that and I couldn't explain it if I hadn't had a hint of fighting my own journey through my own compass of my own heart."
"She didn't have a voice," Ferguson added. "So it's about literacy, empowerment, empowerment of a woman's voice that has been shut away."
Ferguson said she is just now learning in her own life to speak up and not be a self-described "people pleaser," saying, "I don't believe I've really spoken out until now, properly."
In the novel, Margaret is portrayed as having a complicated but honest relationship with her mother, a relationship Ferguson said she never got to have with her own mom.
"When she left me, I was so young," said Ferguson. "And then my sister went to Australia, so I became the head of the house around 13, 14 years old, and I think that that's possibly why I still have the rebel in me."
Ferguson spoke with GMA while doing one of her favorite activities, horseback riding, which she said she relied on as a child for stability in her life.
"My ponies really helped me so much when my mother went to live in Argentina because they were my friends," she said, describing them as "consistent" and "steadfast." "They don't go anywhere and they didn't answer back. They are just so special."
Taking life 'one step at a time'
Though she had a complicated time as a member of Britain's royal family, Ferguson remains an ardent supporter of the monarchy.
"I am a number one fan of the monarchy," she said. "And I stand very strongly for the extraordinary steadfastness of the queen."
She also speaks fondly of Prince Andrew, whom she married in 1986 and divorced a decade later, though the two remain very close.
"He is a great man and [our wedding day] was the best day of my life," she said. "I would do it all over again because he was a very good-looking sailor, but I fell in love with him and I think love conquers all."
Andrew, who shares two daughters with Ferguson, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, has faced intense scrutiny over his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died in prison in 2019.
Andrew, the third child of Queen Elizabeth, spoke out in a 2019 BBC interview and categorically denied allegations he had sex on multiple occasions with an American teenager who's claimed she was trafficked to the prince at the direction of Epstein. Shortly after the interview, Andrew announced that he would step back from public duties, "for the foreseeable future" amid heavy criticism.
When asked how she has found resilience in the face of personal drama and tabloid scandal, Ferguson said she has learned to "take one step at a time."
"You just look at it. What do I need to learn from this? How do I feel? [You] apologize profusely to yourself, to others, mostly to yourself for letting yourself down, perhaps, and you move forward and you get on and you take one step at a time," she said. "I have destroyed myself many times, but the most important thing is to get up and get going."
Ferguson also gives credit to the American public for helping her regain her footing after she and Andrew divorced. She credits Americans with welcoming her and supporting her through different ventures, including working with WW, formerly Weight Watchers.
"That's why I want to say thanks to the American people, because they have given me a life," she said. "And they've given me a chance to be able to have a platform to talk and to be able to say, 'Be yourself.'"
Speaking of her ability to continually evolve both personally and professionally, Ferguson added, "I'm 61. I'm just starting my life. "