Ed­ward and So­phie:

They’ve en­dured their share of bad press, but now Prince Ed­ward and his wife So­phie are be­ing seen as the per­fect roy­als – qui­etly go­ing about their duty without the fan­fare of at­ten­tion-grab­bing head­lines. Wil­liam Lan­g­ley pro­files this hard-work­ing, dedi

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - So­phie & Ed­ward

are they the per­fect roy­als?

Are­s­plen­dent fig­ure in a shiny limou­sine, the 52-year-old Earl of Wes­sex glides through the or­nate gates of Bagshot Park into a world that seems barely to no­tice. Ed­ward looks the busi­ness in a heav­ily-braided RAF com­modore’s uni­form, and ev­ery­one in his en­tourage knows he will per­form the day’s du­ties im­pec­ca­bly.

As does the el­e­gant blonde he has just said good­bye to.

The prob­lem for those around the Queen’s youngest child is that his low-pro­file way of do­ing things at­tracts lit­tle at­ten­tion. While the younger roy­als draw big crowds and gen­er­ate ex­cited head­lines, Ed­ward tends to be por­trayed as the “In­vis­i­ble Prince” – but all this may be about to change.

A sub­tle power shift is un­der­way in the royal or­der, and Ed­ward – steered by his glam­orous wife, So­phie, Count­ess of Wes­sex – is at the cen­tre of it. Once out of favour, So­phie, 51, the daugh­ter of a tyre sales­man and a sec­re­tary, has bur­rowed her way back into the royal good books, build­ing a re­mark­ably close re­la­tion­ship with the Queen, and she now basks in an in­flu­en­tial new role as the 90-year-old sov­er­eign’s per­sonal stan­dard-set­ter.

The Queen rarely changes her mind about any­thing. Or any­body. So­phie’s early years as a royal bride were marked by a se­ries of dis­as­trous gaffes – she once found it nec­es­sary to as­sure the pub­lic that her hus­band wasn’t gay – which in­fu­ri­ated the Buck­ing­ham Palace old guard, and led to ques­tions about her suit­abil­ity for the role. Yet she learned quickly, pro­duced two chil­dren and amassed an im­pres­sive port­fo­lio of good works as a tes­ta­ment to her new in­tent.

Most im­por­tantly, she and Ed­ward have stayed to­gether. After see­ing her three older chil­dren’s mar­riages col­lapse, the Queen was des­per­ate to avoid an­other di­vorce. To­day, 17 years after their wed­ding, no whiff of mar­i­tal dis­cord seeps from the Vic­to­rian gables of Bagshot, their huge fam­ily pile west of Lon­don, and by all ac­counts they are close and happy.

The Queen has come to view the Wes­sexes as “model roy­als” – young enough to be rel­e­vant, old enough to know the rules, hard-work­ing and aware of the ex­am­ple they are ex­pected to set. Ever since he was a small boy, Ed­ward has been thought of as the Queen’s favourite child, but it is her grow­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for

So­phie that now in­trigues royal watch­ers and has put the Wes­sexes’ star into the as­cen­dant.

Bagshot is just a 20-minute drive from Wind­sor Cas­tle, and So­phie is one of the most reg­u­lar vis­i­tors to the Queen’s apart­ments, of­ten stay­ing for hours. They have a shared pas­sion for horses and mil­i­tary his­tory and, de­spite be­ing a gen­er­a­tion apart, hold near-iden­ti­cal views on the monar­chy’s place in the mod­ern world. Un­like many tra­di­tion­al­ist courtiers, they think of it al­most in terms of a busi­ness that must adapt to the de­mands of its cus­tomers. Some wince when the Queen refers to the royal fam­ily as “The Firm”, but So­phie – a for­mer pub­lic re­la­tions ex­ec­u­tive – knows ex­actly what she means.

The Count­ess has re­cently spo­ken of how much more as­sured she now feels around the Queen. “The art of talk­ing

So­phie now basks in an in­flu­en­tial new role as the 90-year-old sov­er­eign’s per­sonal stan­dard-set­ter.”

mean­ing­fully is one that has to be learnt,” she said in an in­ter­view on her 50th birth­day. “It’s some­times hard to make peo­ple think the con­ver­sa­tion you’ve had with them has been worth­while, but the Queen is very good at that. In the early days, I used to rush around as quickly as I could, but when you ob­serve the Queen, she does things in such a mea­sured way, so I try not to bounce into a room, but do things in a more el­e­gant way.”

“So­phie,” says for­mer BBC royal cor­re­spon­dent and author Jenny

Bond, “has be­come a per­fect fit within the royal fam­ily.”

With the as­sur­ance has come a con­fi­dence – even an out­spo­ken­ness – that few thought she was ca­pa­ble of. Late last year, ad­dress­ing a glit­ter­ing gath­er­ing of some of the wealth­i­est busi­ness­women in New York, So­phie de­clared: “I am rare, be­cause I am one of the few ladies in the Bri­tish royal fam­ily who has had a pro­fes­sional ca­reer and run their own com­pany.”

This was widely seen as a jibe at

Kate Mid­dle­ton, the Duchess of Cam­bridge, whose min­i­mal CV and re­laxed sched­ule of pub­lic en­gage­ments So­phie is said to dis­ap­prove of. Last year, the Wes­sexes jointly logged 572 en­gage­ments, com­pared to just 184 by the Cam­bridges, with Kate man­ag­ing only 62.

Re­ports of ten­sions between the Count­ess and the Duchess have been fur­ther fu­elled by sug­ges­tions that So­phie is pri­vately scep­ti­cal of the Cam­bridges’ much-pub­li­cised pledge to give their chil­dren, Ge­orge and Cather­ine, “nor­mal” lives. Cer­tainly, So­phie ap­peared to be up­ping the ante dur­ing a TV in­ter­view ear­lier this year in which she claimed her now 12-year- old daugh­ter, Louise, had reached school age be­fore she re­alised her grand­mother was the Queen. “It was a shock to the sys­tem,” said So­phie.

“She was com­ing home from school and say­ing, “Mummy, peo­ple keep telling me Grandma is the Queen.”

Nei­ther Louise nor her eight-yearold brother James have royal ti­tles, and the Wes­sexes have made it clear that they ex­pect both chil­dren to work for a liv­ing. So­phie takes moth­er­hood se­ri­ously: “I have watched her on sev­eral oc­ca­sions,” says In­grid Se­ward, ed­i­tor of Majesty magazine, “and she al­ways seems willing to give that bit more. Yet it can be a lonely ex­is­tence, al­ways ex­haust­ing, and you sense what So­phie wants more than any­thing is to be at home with her chil­dren.”

But it seems So­phie is not averse to steal­ing Kate’s style se­crets. Un­til a few years ago, the Count­ess was con­sid­ered one of the royal fam­ily’s less ad­ven­tur­ous dressers, heav­ily de­pen­dent on boxy, over-padded Sloane-era stan­dards, which made her look – in the cruel words of one fash­ion critic – like a Bul­gar­ian flight at­ten­dant. To­day, she sashays con­fi­dently around so­cial Lon­don in out­fits by New Zealand-born Emilia Wick­stead (who just hap­pens to be a favourite of Kate’s) and Alexan­der McQueen (ditto).

To­day she sashays con­fi­dently around so­cial Lon­don in out­fits by New Zealand­born Emilia Wick­stead.”

She has lost weight, and fol­lows a fe­ro­cious fit­ness pro­gramme which in­cludes Pi­lates, swim­ming and long-dis­tance cy­cling on a $2000 car­bon-fi­bre race-bike de­signed by Bri­tish Olympic cham­pion Chris Board­man. It’s a rig­or­ous sched­ule, in prepa­ra­tion for her rid­ing in Septem­ber’s 700km char­ity cy­cle ride from Ed­in­burgh to Buck­ing­ham Palace, to cel­e­brate the Di­a­mond an­niver­sary of her father-in-law the Duke of Ed­in­burgh’s awards scheme. “I am now train­ing hard and try­ing to get to grips with the kit, the fit­ness level, the seat(!),” says

So­phie, “the aching shoul­ders, wrists and back­side, the ter­ri­fy­ing roads, the hills and, worst of all, the cleats! Yes I have fallen off sev­eral times, but the bruises are fad­ing and each time out gets a lit­tle bet­ter.”

Yet the real dif­fer­ence with So­phie is the one she has made to her hus­band’s stand­ing in the royal fir­ma­ment. Born when the Queen was 38 – un­usu­ally late by royal stan­dards – Ed­ward was a meek, un­sporty child, who strug­gled at school and was ridiculed when he “won” a place at Cam­bridge Univer­sity with grades far be­low those usu­ally ex­pected. More mock­ery fol­lowed when he dropped out of a Royal Marines of­fi­cer train­ing course after just three months, hav­ing found it too tough.

With sim­i­larly lit­tle ap­petite for the rou­tines of royal life, he went into the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness, work­ing for An­drew Lloyd Web­ber as a pro­duc­tion as­sis­tant on shows such as Cats and Phantom of the Opera. Ac­counts dif­fer as to what Ed­ward ac­tu­ally did in this ca­pac­ity, with some col­leagues later scoff­ing that his job was merely to make the tea and at­tract pub­lic­ity.

He later launched his own TV pro­duc­tion com­pany, but it made a calami­tous de­but with a royal-themed gameshow, The Grand Knock­out Tour­na­ment, fea­tur­ing teams spon­sored by his sis­ter, Princess Anne, and brother, Prince An­drew, which was panned by crit­ics.

His con­so­la­tion was meet­ing So­phie, a blonde PR girl from a mid­dle-class fam­ily who was in the process of launch­ing her own com­pany. Dis­as­ter fol­lowed when she fell for a news­pa­per sting and was lured by a fake client of­fer­ing lu­cra­tive fees into mak­ing in­del­i­cate com­ments about the Queen, who she de­scribed as “an old dear”, and Cherie Blair, wife of the for­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter, who she called “hor­rid, hor­rid, hor­rid”.

In 2001, nurs­ing their bruises, the cou­ple gave up on the busi­ness world and em­braced a full-time royal role. But they re­mained mar­ginal fig­ures in the royal glam­our stakes, stuck with the per­cep­tion that he was bor­ing, she was frumpy and both were on the make.

It took a near-tragedy to bring about a change. In 2003, while eight months preg­nant with Louise, So­phie be­gan to haem­or­rhage and was air­lifted to hos­pi­tal, where it was dis­cov­ered she had pla­cen­tal abrup­tion, and an emer­gency cae­sarean had to be per­formed. Ed­ward flew home from Mau­ri­tius, where he had been on of­fi­cial duty, to learn that his wife had been in a life-threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion.

While the cou­ple have rarely spo­ken of the ex­pe­ri­ence, those in their cir­cle have no doubt that it changed them pro­foundly. “To put it sim­ply, they be­gan to count their bless­ings,” says a for­mer mem­ber of their staff. They re-com­mit­ted them­selves to royal du­ties, shed the ves­tiges of their “fast­buck” lifestyles, and set about re­pair­ing their strained ties with the Queen.

So suc­cess­fully has all this been ac­com­plished, that Ed­ward and his wife are seen as the new tem­plate for the mod­ern royal cou­ple, and in Court cir­cles, it is hard to hear a bad word said about them – per­haps be­cause the words that now mat­ter are the ones So­phie is whis­per­ing to the Queen.

LEFT: So­phie and the Queen share a laugh at the Royal As­cot races in June this year. The Count­ess has de­vel­oped a close re­la­tion­ship with her mother-in-law.

RIGHT: So­phie and Ed­ward after at­tend­ing the Or­der of the Garter Ser­vice at Wind­sor Cas­tle in 2015.

ABOVE: The Count­ess of Wes­sex dur­ing a train­ing ses­sion for Septem­ber’s 700km char­ity cy­cle ride.

LEFT: At 51, So­phie is a pic­ture of el­e­gance and as­sur­ance with a more ad­ven­tur­ous fash­ion style – one that is said to have been taken from the Duchess of Cam­bridge.

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