In a surprising move, ‘shy’ Sophie Wessex has become the Queen’s closest confidant during this hard time.
In a surprising move, ‘shy’ Sophie Wessex has become the Queen’s closest confidant during this hard time.

Unlikely royal who’s become Queen’s ‘rock’

She is the lesser spotted royal - yet it is Sophie Wessex  who  has  become the surprise official messenger since Prince Philip's death on Friday.

It was the Countess of Wessex who explained what was rightly too painful for Her Majesty to convey just 48 hours after the death of her beloved husband.


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Watched by her slightly startled husband Edward, she said: "It was so gentle, like someone took him by the hand, and then he went. Very peaceful, which is what you want for somebody, isn't it?"

The day before, the 56-year-old Countess lowered her Range Rover's window to say the Queen had been "Thinking of others before herself, she's amazing."

What gave her response added poignancy was that she had clearly shed some tears.

That Sophie, whose husband is 12th in line to the throne, appeared to be leading the family's public response, was certainly no shock to those in the royal inner circle.

Her role in this devastating affair simply re-emphasised what is now accepted at court, that the unassuming daughter of a tyre company executive is now the closest to the Queen.

Or as one courtier puts it: "If you're asking who is Her Majesty's favourite child, it's none of them, it's her daughter-in-law."

That is not entirely the picture, adds another royal source, who points out that Prince Edward - not Andrew - has always been the Queen's favourite son.

The source said: "Edward happened to marry someone for whom his mother has great affection. Sophie is much more than a daughter-in-law, more of a daughter."

What lies behind this courtier's view is that the Queen holds Edward in very high regard, spending more time with him than with her other children, Andrew, Charles or Anne.

Edward - at 57, some 15 years younger than his oldest sibling, Charles - "is very good company, a lot more laid back than he appears in public," he explains.

"And unlike the rest, he doesn't ask her for anything or expect things from her.


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"Andrew always offloads the grievances he has about his position, or lack of it, while Charles looks at her in a rather sad, quizzical, way. And there's not much empathy or common ground with Anne, apart from the obvious [horses]."

The public perception of Edward is that he is a sensitive creature who would probably rather be a theatre producer than a working royal.

But since he - and Sophie - accepted the Queen's invitation to undertake royal duties full-time, he has devoted himself to the role, helping to run the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, much to the pleasure of Philip, who founded it in 1956.


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Edward has been described as Philip's favourite child, with his portrait said to have been the only one in his father's study, and the Duke took satisfaction from knowing Edward will take his title of Duke of Edinburgh after the Queen's death.

The source adds: "Edward has moulded into a quiet and efficient figure who does not seek attention or acquire headlines. He and Sophie are liked for being dutiful and uncomplaining." When Sophie met Edward in 1987 she was a PR for Capital Radio, but it was six years before they started dating.

They then began a romance in earnest, but went to great lengths to avoid photographers, especially when Sophie began staying overnight at Edward's three-room apartment in Buckingham Palace. When calling Sophie at her office, the Prince would use the name Richard - not that he fooled her colleagues for long.

Six years after they started going out, Edward proposed, with a £105,000 ($A188,634) ring from Crown jewellers Garrard.

Starting a family was not straightforward. In 2001 Sophie suffered an ectopic pregnancy.


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In 2003, the birth of daughter Louise was similarly dramatic. The baby was a month premature and Sophie lost four litres of blood, had a caesarean and was in hospital for 15 days. In 2007, she had another caesarean giving birth to son James.

Last summer, during the break before the second lockdown, Edward, Sophie and their children, now 17 and 13, were among the first to stay with the Queen and Philip at Balmoral, and the last to leave.

The Queen admires the way Sophie turned her life around after early mishaps.

She created a "royals for hire" storm and insisted on still working in public relations when she was newly married to Edward. In 2012, she was criticised for accepting jewels from Bahrain's royal family.

Yet now Sophie is viewed by the Queen as the royal family's safest pair of hands.

A senior royal aide said: "She is trusted and relied on by the Queen in a way I couldn't say applied to the Duchesses of Cambridge or Cornwall.

"She is like another daughter to Her Majesty, they are that close. And that view was shared by Philip, who admired Sophie for how she buckled down to her duties. The Queen is also mindful that Sophie's marriage has survived where her other children's relationships have failed, and she knows that is in no small way down to Sophie's dedication.

"She is aware, as Edward's mother, what a tricky creature he can be. And not only has Sophie flourished as a dedicated, albeit still relatively junior member of the royal family, she has brought up two teenagers who are well-balanced and enthusiastic about trying new things."

Sophie grew up in the Kent commuter belt, where her father, Christopher Rhys-Jones, worked for a tyre company, and her mother Mary, who died in 2005, was a secretary.


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One friend who knew her before her marriage, said: "In her early days of marriage, Sophie set herself a series of tasks - she's quite driven and focused like that - of learning how to ride, how to fish, how to shoot game and, more recently, drive a carriage."

Right from the start, Sophie has never allowed herself to be browbeaten by royal tradition, particularly if she feels it is old-fashioned.

In a 2012 cost-cutting measure, Sophie's full-time police protection was restricted to only when she is on official duties.

This infuriated her husband, but Sophie was fine with it.


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The pal adds: "She preferred not having a police presence 24 hours a day. It meant she could collect the children from school on her own, without any fuss."

Sophie also had the confidence to suggest the Queen might actually enjoy watching TV's The Crown.

A courtier said: "It was only when Sophie mentioned that everyone seemed to be talking about it - and why didn't they give it a try, that the Queen agreed for it to be shown at Windsor Castle one weekend when she and Sophie often have a TV date to watch old films.

"This time Edward was with them - but not Philip, who refused to be involved - and the three of them loved it, though the Queen kept interrupting to point out when things were wrong."

Watching The Crown was a rare deviation from the war films and historical documentaries which usually make up the viewing when Sophie drives over from Bagshot Park, the Wessexes' home in Surrey, to Windsor to join her mother-in-law on Saturday or Sunday evenings.


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Her friend adds: "Sophie is well read on her military history. She's proud of her knowledge of campaigns and she and the Queen can chunter on for hours about whether a general or admiral made the right move."

The calm, self-assured countess is a long way from the awkward figure who, early in her marriage, was still running her own public relations consultancy and caused an uproar when she posed beside a Rover 75, having secured a £250,000 ($A449,000) contract to publicise it.

When Sophie finally gave up her firm and committed herself to The Firm, there was doubt over whether she could ever erase the memory of such indiscretions.

"What helped to remove that doubt," says one royal observer, "was that the Queen had long spotted certain qualities in Sophie as a royal consort, probably before even her son did."


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So, given Sophie's seemingly unassailable position as the sovereign's favourite, how will she support the Queen in her lonely days ahead?

"Sophie will spend as much time as possible with the Queen, just the two of them," says the royal source.

"If the Queen feels like watching films as a distraction, then that is what they will do, or if she feels like sharing going through all the letters Her Majesty is receiving from the public, then she will.

"She is an expert at handling sensitive situations."

This article originally appeared on The Sun and was reproduced with permission






Originally published as Unlikely royal who's become Queen's 'rock'