From the moment they alighted from their airplane Wednesday and were whooshed by limousine to Queen's Park for an official welcome by Ontario Premier David Peterson, they touched off an outpouring of affection and admiration.
The most earthy, extroverted couple of the monarchy, the Duke and Duchess of York are a public relations dream, generating the sort of excitement more associated with rock stars than royalty.
"They're young, they're hot, they're here and they're coming to a neighborhood near you," trilled a Toronto daily above its "Gawkers" guide listing the Yorks' schedule of public appearances.
"Sa-rah!" "Sa-rah!" chanted well-wishers in the crowd of 7,000 that lined the leafy, sun-dappled park while a military band played - naturally - the theme from Dynasty.
By far, it is the vivacious, red-haired duchess who is the main attraction.
"As everybody has come to see Sarah, I'm sitting on the wrong side of the car all the time," Prince Andrew, 27, said later in a speech, obviously proud of his wife's star presence.
Having shed 28 pounds and admittedly "polished up a bit," Fergie, 27, looked stunning in a knee-skimming scarlet Yves Saint Laurent suit and a broad-brimmed white hat.
Her famous titian tresses were arranged in a braid and topped by a huge white bow festooned with a red-silk maple leaf.
It is these endearing little gestures (the maple leaf is Canada's symbol; scarlet and white, its official colors) combined with her cheery, extroverted personality that have won over Canadians.
"I like her. She's relaxed and natural," said Calvin Smallbridge, a retired teacher, watching the royal couple do their ritual walkabout through the crowd Wednesday. "She's got a bit of personality, whereas Diana is more reserved."
Comparisons with the jewel in the crown, her sister-in-law, the Princess of Wales, are inevitable. In recent weeks, the cheeky British press has had a field day chronicling the giddy escapades of Fergie and Di.
It is the irrepressible Duchess of York who has been blamed for encouraging the introspective, high-strung princess to breach royal protocol.
At Royal Ascot in June, they poked a male friend in the rear end with their umbrellas and wolf-whistled at haughty Princess Michael of Kent (a.k.a. ''Princess Pushy"). "Let's get drunk," Diana was overheard joking to Fergie.
What's more, the Princess of Wales was the subject of a brief scandal in which the tabloids linked her romantically to bachelor banker Philip Dunne, an old skiing buddy and partygoing chum of the duchess'.
Further controversy was touched off when the Yorks, Princess Anne and Prince Edward hammed it up for charity in a mock medieval joust on a televised prank show, It's a Knockout. Fergie was spotted pelting Andrew with rubber chicken legs.
And if all this wasn't enough, Vanity Fair and W declared that the sisters- in-law were engaged in a royal fashion war.
"Absolute rubbish. All tabloid make-believe," scoffed James Whitaker, the well-known palace reporter for the London Daily Mirror, who was among the ''blokes on the bus" covering the Yorks' 25-day pilgrimage to Canada. ''The idea that they are rivals or that the Duchess of York is influencing the princess badly is total fabrication. They are both very independent and they both know their places. Diana, as the future queen, is on top of the pile, while Fergie is merely a royal duchess.
"It's also ridiculous to describe the trip as a 'test' for Fergie," he added. "It's simply part of her life as a royal. Oh, perhaps she is keeping her natural exuberance under control a bit, but I guarantee you'll see typical Sarah - a marvelous, outgoing, up-front sort of girl."
Andrew Morton, the royal correspondent for the London Star and author of the forthcoming book Inside Kensington Palace, agreed.
"Did you see her hollering 'Thank you for coming' to the crowds in Queen's Park?" he asked. "It was like Nell Gwyn selling oranges. But that's Sarah. She's wonderful."
Intrigued by the current tempests in the royal teapot, the hordes of reporters trailing the Yorks raptly watched their every move, hoping to discover what the couple was really like.
The consensus is that they are a happy, spontaneous pair who aren't above exchanging grins and winks or taking little playful pokes at each other.
"They're dotty about one another," said Whitaker.
On the evening of their arrival in Canada, the duke and duchess held a reception for 100 members of the media in the old, sprawling Royal York Hotel, where they were ensconced with their 12-person entourage.
Although it was the duchess' first official media reception, she seemed utterly unfazed by the scrutiny and appeared to be enjoying herself.
Holding a glass of Perrier in one hand, she breezed around the room, lady- in-waiting in tow, chatting animatedly with the guests, especially the Fleet Street crowd (or the "creme de la scum," as they sometimes call themselves).
The duchess was the more dynamic member of the team, and it was only when her husband joined her that he seemed to loosen up.
"He can be very arrogant," said Whitaker. "She's taught him some manners and matured him a little."
The days when Andrew would grab a can of paint and spray a group of photographers (as he did three years ago on a trip to Los Angeles) are over. Rather, he displayed impeccable manners and regal reserve as he escorted his wife on the outset of a hectic, 25-day tour of the commonwealth country he said he "knows the best." (In 1977, he spent two terms at the Lakefield
College School in Ontario.)
The Yorks' packed agenda, which will take them from Ontario to Manitoba, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, includes not just the usual grueling round of public appearances, but such fun stuff as a canoe trip and a Niagara Falls cruise (though their helicopter had engine trouble en route to the falls). After 10 days of official engagements - none of which is scheduled for today or tomorrow - the couple will spend 12 days privately, camping and whitewater rafting on an unspecified northern river.
Prince Andrew, a canoe enthusiast, introduced his wife to the perils of paddling on an outing Thursday to historic Old Fort William, a reconstruction of a fur-trading center in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Fergie, whose red hair spilled over her shoulders in a tangle of curls, wore a colorful floral print silk dress, gold necklace and white gloves - attire more suited to tea than canoeing.
Nevertheless, she enthusiastically pitched in to paddle the canoe along the Kaministiquia River as an eight-craft flotilla of dignitaries trailed behind.
Local politicians, bagpipers and well-wishers in period costumes were among the 3,000 who greeted the royals at the entrance to the fort while photographers jostled one another on the wharf to record the event.
As the visit wore on, Fergie and Andy repeated their royal routine: brief speech, noisy walkabout (where Fergie collected a mass of bouquets, several souvenir Canadian flags and one Archie comic book), quick buffet lunch (fruit, cheese, and bear and moose pate), and a stop at a canoe shed to watch an artisan fashion a birch-bark canoe. They were presented with matching paddles and leather-webbed camping chairs.
"Now, that's it," said the duchess as she and her husband plopped down in the chairs, to the delight of the photographers.
The Thunder Bay excursion offered a preview of jaunts to come: On Thursday, the couple will celebrate their first anniversary at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump near Fort Macleod in Alberta.
Only a year ago, the Yorks were married in royal splendor at Westminster Abbey while an estimated 500 million people watched on their television screens.
Following months of pre-wedding hoopla, it was assumed that the newlyweds would fulfill their royal obligations while otherwise fading from the spotlight.
After all, Andrew, a naval lieutenant and a remote fourth in line to the throne, had settled down and married a suitable woman, the daughter of Prince Charles' polo manager. The days of "Randy Andy" making headlines with models and a porno actress ("Andy's Candies") were long gone.
As for the jolly Sarah Ferguson, with her 40-inch hips and frumpy clothes, she was deemed no match for the glamorous, model-thin Princess Diana, her B.F. (Sloane Ranger prepspeak for "best friend").
Indeed, the new Duchess of York was considered nothing more than a convivial sidekick whose function would be to cheer up the hypersensitive young princess.
The scenario was not played out as planned. The energetic, fun-loving Yorks became stars rather than supporting players in the ongoing saga of the House of Windsor (or "Dallas at the Palace," as the tabloids prefer).
Although Andrew has changed - he reportedly is less pompous and boorish - it is Fergie who has undergone the most startling metamorphosis.
She lost weight and revamped her wardrobe, tossing out her unbecoming flounces and ruffles and ordering sleek new clothes from Yves Saint Laurent and Alistair Blair, among other designers.
A self-assured, adventurous girl-about-town before her marriage (her past love affairs, jobs, skiing and riding prowess were chronicled endlessly in the press), Fergie continued to display her independent streak after she joined ''the firm."
Even now she holds her job as an editor at a small Swiss publishing firm, working out of an office in Buckingham Palace while her husband spends weekdays as a helicopter-pilot instructor at a naval base in Dorset. (On weekends, the couple live in a rented country estate, Chideock Manor, nearby.)
The duchess learned to fly a Piper Warrior, earning the name "Chatterbox One" from the air traffic control tower.
An uncomplicated woman who likes horses, polo, parlor games, good food, champagne and the usual trappings of British country life, Fergie has endeared herself to the royal family, especially Queen Elizabeth.
It is not unusual for the queen to invite her to her private apartments for supper or for morning rides at the family estates of Balmoral or Sandringham.
Sarah's open, unaffected personality has earned her comparisons to the Queen Mother, perhaps the most beloved member of the royal family.
To be sure, Fergie is still learning the ropes of royal life. No doubt in the next two weeks she will cut up a bit in an unguarded moment. (On a walkabout at Toronto City Hall on Friday, she mugged for the cameras and drew appreciative whistles when she climbed atop a concrete barricade so the crowd could see her better.)
Already, Fleet Street scribes are sniping about the unflattering red pup- tentlike ball gown she wore to a gala government dinner in Toronto on Thursday. And Canadian reporters have noted that at two daytime engagements, the duchess has gone bare-legged despite being decked out in hat and white gloves.
But for the most part, the Brits - not to mention the Canadians and Americans - seem smitten with the rambunctious duchess.
"She's going through the School for Royals and will eventually pass with a first-class degree," said Andrew Morton, the correspondent who broke the story of the Andy-Fergie romance. "She's smashing. I adore her. And for that matter, so does just about everyone else."