How did Fergie’s toe sucking lover end up being blackmailed over nude photos?

For a Lothario who has been adding to the gaiety of the nation for more than a quarter of a century, his arrival in London this week couldn’t have been better timed.

After all, with Brexit, Trump and hosepipe bans, we could do with some light relief. Who better than John Bryan, a ladies’ man if ever there was one, to provide it?

Next month it will be 26 years since the emergence of those infamous photographs showing him ‘sucking’ the topless Duchess of York’s toes (while she was still married to, but separated from, Prince Andrew).

But instead of slipping away diplomatically into society’s long grass, the bald American’s escapades have relentlessly continued.

The scandalous toe-sucking snap: Next month it will be 26 years since the emergence of those infamous photograph

How characteristic of Bryan to be suing his strikingly glamorous (and much younger) ex-wife for a divorce settlement of £1.6 million while simultaneously being blackmailed — as revealed by the Mail’s Sebastian Shakespeare diary — for a pay-off by a young and shapely Filipina threatening to publish ‘nude’ pictures of him online, which Bryan denies exist.

Only Bryan could today display the same financial swagger at 63 as he had in the Nineties when he was made bankrupt in the High Court in London after failing to pay debts of £60,000 to creditors, including the Duchess of York’s elder sister, Jane.

Bryan had negotiated with Hello! magazine for the rights to Jane’s wedding in Australia for £145,000, but pocketed £55,000 for himself. The court ordered him to pay it back.

Mercifully for Fergie, his arrival here isn’t the prelude to a new financial venture or romance, but just to attend a wedding in Dorset, where some of his family live.

Ever since her divorce from the Queen’s second son in 1996, Sarah has set out to make herself financially independent — failing so spectacularly, it must be said, that she now lives under Andrew’s roof at Royal Lodge, Windsor. At the same time, she has matched her former lover Bryan in escapades and adventures.

And yet it is the toe-sucking episode that keeps coming back to haunt her because of the ignominy it heaped on the Royal Family.

How often has it been observed by courtiers — among themselves of course — that had she and her ‘financial adviser’ Bryan married, they would have been ‘well matched’.

The Duchess, of course, now approaching her 59th birthday in October, has never remarried. It continues to be suggested that after the death of Prince Philip, 97, who has never forgiven her, she and Andrew might remarry.

No such matrimonial reluctance for John Bryan. In October 2005 he married a young Belgian girl less than half his age. He was 50 when, at a dinner party in Los Angeles where he has always lived, he was introduced to 22-year-old Astrid Nuyens.

She was a classically trained violinist and model and, as he told us at the time: ‘It was absolutely love at first sight — certainly as far as I was concerned. I was smitten the first moment I laid eyes on her. She’s not only beautiful but very talented.’

The topless Duchess of York. The picture emerged while she was still married to, but separated from, Prince Andrew

The topless Duchess of York. The picture emerged while she was still married to, but separated from, Prince Andrew

One is entitled to wonder just what it was that Astrid saw in him. But as one of Bryan’s long-term acquaintances explains: ‘John is the smoothest talker on the planet.’

As for Fergie, at around that time she had just received an advance of £1 million for her latest autobiography — her third. And the froideur that she had faced from senior royals was also thawing enough to be invited to have tea with the Queen at Balmoral.

For John Bryan, the future was looking decidedly bright. He had moved into the bankruptcy business — not his own, this time, but dealing with others. As he said then: ‘We take over bankrupt businesses and restructure them — and, rather unfortunately, that is why we have had such a great year, our most profitable since we started.’

Astrid, meanwhile, was being launched in the pop world as a singer and was about to release her debut rock/violin album called Taking Over. It wasn’t long before she was promoting her own clothing and shoe line, her own fragrance and starring in her own reality TV show in Belgium, called Astrid In Wonderland. She also became a U.S. citizen.

John Bryan must have thought he was in wonderland himself.

Indeed, to set up a special call centre to support Astrid’s expanding business interests, he found himself in the Philippines.

What should have been the burgeoning not only of the business, but also their marriage, turned out to be the beginning of its end.

Just how Bryan came to be connected to other women — most notably one named Ancy Dieto, who was 17 and would later claim to possess photographs of a naked Bryan — we may never entirely discover.

But as Astrid In Wonderland began to reach mass TV audiences in Belgium and Holland, and fan-mail started to pour in, other, less savoury messages also began to arrive.

They were, said Astrid, from ‘women who contacted me via email and my social media’. Some informed her ‘that they’d had affairs with my husband. It was horrible. That’s how I found out he was cheating on me’.

None was quite as graphic as Ancy Dieto’s alleged tale of seduction by the ageing ladies’ man.

Belgian singer, actress and socialite Astrid Bryan poses with John Bryan before they split

Belgian singer, actress and socialite Astrid Bryan poses with John Bryan before they split

She was working in a street market selling trinkets when, she claimed, she met Bryan through an internet dating website and stayed with him in a hotel in Cebu City in the Philippines. ‘He said he would marry me in two years and buy a house for me and my grandparents,’ she claimed. ‘I gave myself to him.’

Her lawyer used more colourful language. ‘John promised that he would marry her, deflowered her and dumped her coldly,’ claimed Inocencio de la Cerna.

It’s not hard to imagine Astrid’s mind racing when, among the deeply distressing emails she was receiving, came a particularly troubling one.

It was from Ancy Dieto, who said she had been shocked to discover that her American saviour was in fact already married.

As Astrid recalled: ‘She wrote that John had promised to marry her. I could not believe it at first, but soon I got proof.’

For his part, Bryan, by now in his mid-50s, denied then, and denies still, that he bedded the young Filipina, insisting that her claims are ‘absolute rubbish, nonsense’.

He acknowledges he did meet her, but only to interview her for a job. She was, he says, simply an employee at the call centre.

His side of the story is that she was sacked from her job by the manager, and that it was then that her demands for money started.

Only after the blackmailing began, and he went to the police, did he reveal in an affidavit that he’d already been paying her sums of money — ‘support’, he called it — enabling her to ‘study business, to go to school and to find business opportunities in the Philippines’.

In his sworn legal statement, he added: ‘After I stopped giving her support, she started to harass and threaten me through emails that she would post my nude pictures and videos online and will tell my wife that we had an affair.’

He gave her, he said $1,000, to buy a Sony laptop but eventually called the police when she made a demand for two million pesos (£28,000) to be delivered to her by his secretary.

The police set up a ‘sting’ with marked banknotes in the lobby of the Marriott hotel in Cebu City and she was arrested, charged with extortion and spent some time in custody. She is now free.

After her arrest she was quoted as saying there were no compromising photographs. Through tears she said: ‘There is no video, only a photo of me with my arms around him.’

This week, after arriving in London, Bryan told a friend that his former wife, Astrid, had been aware of the sums of money he had paid to Ancy and was ‘fine about it. That was her nature. She said: “Get it done.” ’

Bryan believes he was the target of organised crime. ‘They saw him as a celebrity because he appeared on TV in his wife’s show,’ said the friend.Understandably, for Astrid, whatever the exact details of the seedy transactions, it was too much, and two months after separating from Bryan in June 2013, she began divorce proceedings.

Some might have expected Bryan, for whom image and status have always been important, to leave his marriage at that. But, having played a role in developing Astrid’s career, he felt entitled to share in the fruits of her success.

In fact, he did share in her success. As Astrid puts it: ‘I paid him a lot of money to walk away.’

But not enough, it seems. For Bryan mounted a subsequent court action for £1.6 million, in lieu of earnings which, he asserted, she never disclosed during their divorce action. He claimed she had concealed the true nature of her assets. But he lost, leaving her lawyer, Keith Fink, to crow about Bryan: ‘The guy’s a bully. He’s nothing without her.

‘He unfairly took shots at her. Astrid fought back and creamed him in court and exposed him.’

Now 35, Astrid has remarried to Belgian-born film director Bram Coppens. How ironic, though, that this major crisis in Bryan’s life should have begun unfolding in 2010, the very year Fergie was blundering into the biggest post-Bryan crisis of hers.

As he was in in the Philippines, the Duchess was filmed offering ‘access’ to Prince Andrew for £500,000 to an ‘Indian business tycoon’ who turned out to be an undercover reporter from the now defunct News of the World.

In the duchess’s eyes the fall-out from this episode has been so calamitous for her that, eight years on, the former £2 million-a-year Weight Watchers ambassador is currently suing News Group newspapers for £40 million compensation for loss of earnings and damage to reputation.

No claims for damages followed the toe-sucking episode — which Bryan years later tried to clarify by claiming he was only ‘licking her instep’ and the ‘upward thrust of the tongue perhaps touching her big toe’. It didn’t help that while this was going on in the South of France, Fergie’s daughters Beatrice and Eugenie, then toddlers, were playing happily nearby in the villa’s swimming pool.

Earlier that year, 1992, she had separated from Andrew after less than six years of marriage.

She was 32 and Bryan — her so-called financial adviser — was 36 as they set off, with the little princesses in tow, to carouse their way halfway across the world from Thailand to the French Riviera.

With incredibly bad timing, the Duke and Duchess of York, although separated, happened to be staying with the Queen and the rest of the Royal Family at Balmoral when the ‘toe-sucking’ pictures were published.

Later, Fergie recalled the moment when her in-laws read the newspaper accounts and photos of her and Bryan. ‘It would be accurate to report that the porridge was getting cold,’ she wrote in her memoir.

‘It never feels quite right to be gazing at your brother’s wife when she hasn’t all her clothes on.’

These days, both she and Bryan seemed to have entered a period of calm. But with their form, anything can happen — and probably will.