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Britain's Duchess of York broke down and wept Saturday during her first public appearance since she was pictured cavorting topless in the south of France with her American financial adviser.

The estranged wife of Queen Elizabeth's second son Prince Andrew was addressing a meeting of the Motor Neurone Disease Association, of which she is patron, in the central English city of Birmingham when her face crumpled and tears began to flow.The flame-haired duchess, popularly known as Fergie from her maiden name Sarah Feguson, was applauded by the 400-strong audience as she moved away from the rostrum and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief while she regained her composure.

The duchess had started to weep as she described an incident that put into perspective all her troubles since photos of her in intimate poses with American businessman John Bryan were published last month around the world.

In her speech, she told of a visit to a woman who is totally paralyzed by motor neurone disease. The woman told how a wasp had landed on her nose, but she could do nothing because she could not move.

The duchess told the audience: "This put everything into perspective for me. It made me think I have to get myself together and go on and on until we find a cure."

Later the duchess received a standing ovation and began to smile again as she left the room.