How Sophie Wessex rose through the royal ranks

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·7 min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Sophie, Countess of Wessex attends the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 at Westminster Abbey on March 09, 2020 in London, England. The Commonwealth represents 2.4 billion people and 54 countries, working in collaboration towards shared economic, environmental, social and democratic goals. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Sophie has risen to the forefront of the Royal Family. (Getty Images)

The Countess of Wessex is likely to play a more prominent role in the Royal Family while the Queen remains in isolation during coronavirus.

Reported to be a particular favourite of the Queen, down-to-earth Sophie has been dubbed a secret weapon of the family.

Sophie, 55, married Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest son, in 1999.

With his position further down the line of succession, they did not immediately give up their day jobs to get stuck into royal work.

But by 2002, they were both ready to put aside personal ambition, and in the year of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, they became full time working royals.

Despite a brief period of some controversy (she was reportedly caught out by a News of the World reporter posing as a sheikh in 2001) she has retained what appears to be one of the closest relationships to the Queen and become a key figure in the family.

KING'S LYNN, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 25: Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex with James Viscount Severn and Lady Louise Windsor attend the Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene on the Sandringham estate on December 25, 2019 in King's Lynn, United Kingdom. (Photo by UK Press Pool/UK Press via Getty Images)
Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex with James Viscount Severn and Lady Louise Windsor at the Christmas Day Church service in Sandringham. (Getty Images)

Sophie and Edward began dating in 1993 and announced their engagement in the same year they wed. The daughter of a tyre salesman and a secretary, Sophie worked in public relations and had trained at West Kent College.

According to biographer Ingrid Seward, Sophie’s value was spotted quickly by the Queen, who allowed her to use the apartments at Buckingham Palace before she was married to Edward. While it’s more common now, as Meghan moved in with boyfriend Prince Harry, it was rare in the early 90s.

Read more: Who are Prince Edward and Sophie, the Countess of Wessex?

It could have been the two women’s shared interests which helped cement her place with the Queen. They both have an interest in military history, and reportedly spend time together in the archives at Windsor Castle.

One royal aide said Sophie had filled a gap left by the Queen’s late sister, saying: “If Sophie wasn’t there, the Queen would only have a lady-in-waiting for those feminine chats she likes.”

Sophie has battled many personal problems. In 2001, she suffered an ectopic pregnancy, and had to be airlifted to hospital for surgery.

SANDRINGHAM, ENGLAND - UNDATED: (EMBARGOED: Not for publication before 0001 Saturday January 10, 2004)  This undated handout photo shows The Earl and Countess of Wessex holding their newborn daughter, Lady Louise Windsor, who was born prematurely in early November.  (Photo by HRH The Duke of York/Getty Images)
Edward and Sophie with newborn Louise in 2004. (Getty Images)
WINDSOR, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 16: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Sophie, Countess of Wessex and son James, Viscount Severn attend day 5 of the Royal Windsor Horse Show on May 16, 2009 in Windsor, England. (Photo by Indigo/Getty Images)
Sophie with her son James in 2009. (Getty Images)

Read more: How the palaces' meticulous diary plans stop one royal upstaging another

Two years later they welcomed Louise, their first daughter but that wasn’t without problems. Louise was born prematurely, by emergency caesarean and husband Edward was out of the country for the birth.

At 38, she was considered an “older mum” but had been determined to have children.

She’d previously told the News of the World: “If I'm lucky enough to have any, one of each would be nice.

“I certainly don't think I have left it too late. I would explore all avenues and I certainly wouldn't rule out IVF.”

She and Edward welcomed baby number two, James, in 2007. Though his birth was much smoother, he was admitted to Great Ormond Street Hospital at five weeks old with a mystery illness.

She told Harper’s Bazaar in 2015: “I don't recommend that to anyone. He was six weeks old, and we went through 24 hours of tests, which wasn't much fun for him. Trying to fill 10 phials of blood from a tiny baby isn't easy.”

Much of what the countess has gone through personally has informed the work she does for the Queen. She has worked to help Great Ormond Street fundraise for years since her son’s admission there. Her daughter’s eye condition could also be behind her commitment to ending avoidable blindness and her work with Vision 2020.

Queen Elizabeth II and The Countess of Wessex attend a church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk. (Photo by Joe Giddens/PA Images via Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II often asks The Countess of Wessex to travel with her to church. (Getty Images)
Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex watch the Women's 400m Freestyle Final, at Tollcross International Swimming Centre, during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.   (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)
Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex couldn't hide their sporting passion during the Women's 400m Freestyle Final, at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. (Getty Images)

Now with more than 70 charities and patronages to her name, the royal works with charities who focus on disability and on providing opportunity for young people.

She’s also remarkably outspoken in her feminism. While Meghan may have dominated headlines for her comments about women and their role, Sophie has been making similar statements.

Read more: International Women's Day: The Royal Family's most feminist moments

In September 2019, she told Commonwealth leaders to secure a “feminist peace” and said she’d be reporting back to the Queen on it.

On International Women’s Day earlier that year, she told the Commonwealth’s Women Mediators in Buckingham Palace: “As someone who firmly believes in the equality of men and women, I feel drawn to your cause and to do what I can to help raise further awareness.”

Britain's Sophie, Countess of Wessex watches from a balcony the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph on Whitehall, London, on November 13, 2016. Services are held annually across Commonwealth countries during Remembrance Day to commemorate servicemen and women who have fallen in the line of duty since World War I. / AFP / JUSTIN TALLIS        (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Sophie doesn't hide emotion at events. (Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 8: Sophie, Countess of Wessex talks with guests during a reception at Buckingham Palace for Women Peace builders on International Women's Day on March 8, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Sophie, Countess of Wessex talks with guests at a reception at Buckingham Palace for Women Peace builders. (Getty Images)

During a visit to Juba, in South Sudan for International Women’s Day earlier this year she said: “My message to the men is to encourage you all to listen to your women folk and to support them to take their place at your side.”

Sophie’s royal tours have stepped up in recent years, and she has even made history with them. Her first tour was in 2000, when she and Edward visited Prince Edward Island.

With young children at home, Edward took on more of the tours for a few years, but Sophie joined him in 2011 for a trip to Afghanistan where they visited troops at Camp Bastion.

In 2012, they carried out an extensive tour of the Caribbean to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Three years on, she delivered a message from the Queen in the Channel Islands on Liberation Day.

Sophie has carried out more and more tours on her own, including an historic trip to Lebanon. The trip, in June 2019, was the first official royal tour ever.

In a message read out by Sophie, the Queen said she was “delighted” that her “daughter-in-law” was with them.

Read more: Sophie, Countess of Wessex rolls up her sleeves and packs food parcels for nurses on coronavirus front line

BEIRUT, LEBANON - JUNE 13:  Sophie, Countess of Wessex meets refugee women, young people and children at a Caritas Lebanon shelter which supports victims of sexual and gender-based violence, during the first official Royal visit to the country on June 13, 2019 in Beirut, Lebanon. (Photo by Victoria Jones - Pool/Getty Images)
Sophie, Countess of Wessex meets refugee women, young people and children at a Caritas Lebanon shelter. (Getty Images)
BEKAA VALLEY, LEBANON - JUNE 12: Sophie, Countess of Wessex talks to Asmaa (R) aged 25, and her daughters Sidra, aged 6 (2nd L) and Rim, aged 5 (front) on a visit to an informal tented settlement, during the first official Royal visit to the country, on June 12, 2019 in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. The Countess of Wessex announced her commitment to supporting the UK's efforts in the Women, Peace and Security agenda (WPS), and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI) earlier this year. (Photo by Victoria Jones - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Sophie, Countess of Wessex talks to Asmaa (R) aged 25, and her daughters Sidra, aged 6 (2nd L) and Rim, aged 5 (front) during the first official Royal visit to Lebanon. (Getty Images)

It was obviously a successful trip because she then became the first member of the Royal Family to visit South Sudan in March 2020.

On the trip, she met survivors of gender based violence, and men who are engaged in a programme to bring greater gender equality into their homes and communities.

Sophie is also chosen regularly to sit with the Queen when she travels to church on Christmas Day morning, leaving others to walk. And in a speech in 2019, she called the Queen “mama”.

She’s spoken herself about her close relationship with the Queen. She told Sky News: “We’re a lot more fortunate because we live so much closer to the Queen.

“So, when she spends a lot of time at Windsor at weekends, our children are more fortunate because they can go over and have tea with her on a regular basis.

“We’re over there most weekends riding, so she sees quite a lot of us - lucky her!”

Read more: The Queen and Duchess of Cambridge release touching messages to nurses

When the coronavirus pandemic took full hold in March 2020, the Queen told the UK her family was willing and ready to play its part.

It was only a matter of days before it became clear Edward and Sophie would be a big part of that. Sophie appeared on the Royal Family’s Instagram, filmed by daughter Louise, to give parents and homeschoolers tips and resources.

The Wessexes also appeared on social media in the first Clap for Carers.

She has made numerous private charitable visits, to homeless shelters, and volunteered with organisations near her Surrey home, making meals for NHS workers, and packing bags of food for nurses and midwives.

She also teamed up with the Duchess of Cambridge to call nurses from across the Commonwealth as part of the Royal Family recognition of International Nurses Day.

Sophie may not have begun her royal life as a working member of the family, but her quiet determination and hard-working attitude has made her indispensable now.