Sophie, The Countess of Wessex
The Countess of Wessex (Sophie Helen Mountbatten-Windsor, née Rhys-Jones), (born January 20, 1965), is a member of the British Royal Family, the wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
The Countess of Wessex is most famous for her former career in public relations, and her marriage to the Earl of Wessex.
The Countess was born Miss Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, the daughter of Christopher Bournes Rhys-Jones, a retired tyre salesman, and his wife, Mary Rhys-Jones (nee O'Sullivan), a secretary of Irish birth, who died on 29 August 2005 at the age of 71. The Countess' first name was chosen by chance, because when she was pregnant, her mother overheard another mother call out "Sophie!" to her little girl and she decided that she liked the name. Her second name, Helen, comes from her father's sister who died in a riding accident more than ten years before she was born.
Early in her life, her family moved to Kent, where she began her education at Dulwich College Preparatory School, Cranbrook. She then attended Kent College School for Girls, Pembury, before completing her education at West Kent College.
Starting a career in public relations, Sophie worked for a variety of firms including Capital Radio, where she worked in the Press and Promotions Department and also PR companies The Quentin Bell Organisation and MacLaurin Communications & Media.
In 1996, she launched her own PR agency, RJH Public Relations, which she ran with her business partner Murray Harkin.
In January 1999, Sophie became engaged to The Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Their marriage took place on June 19, 1999 at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. Unlike previous weddings of the Queen's children, the wedding did not take place at either Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral, reflecting the couple's wishes to have a more low key ceremony.
On their wedding day, the Queen created the Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn (reflecting the origins of Sophie's family (in the Welsh border country). Thus Sophie took on the style Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward, Countess of Wessex.
Together the Earl and Countess of Wessex have one child:
The Lady Louise is the first grandchild of the sovereign in the male line not to be styled Prince or Princess with the style Royal Highness. This was in deference to the Earl and Countess's wish that their children would not carry royal titles and styles. Although the first born male of the couple could use the Earl's title of Viscount Severn, subsequent males and females would be styled Lady [N] Mountbatten-Windsor or, for males, the Honourable [N] Mountbatten-Windsor.
Countess of Wessex
The Countess of Wessex
|Reference style||Her Royal Highness|
|Spoken style||Your Royal Highness|
The Countess of Wessex began to take on royal duties after her wedding, though still worked at RJH under the name Sophie Wessex. However, the Countess soon came under criticism for appearing in public with clients of RJH at press launches, accused of using her royal status to promote her business.
A few days before her wedding, a scandal occurred when the Sun newspaper published a picture of the Countess in a topless pose with Capital Radio presenter Chris Tarrant. The picture had been taken when she still worked at the station. It later turned out that the photo was sold to the media for the highest price by a former "friend" of the Countess.
"Fake Sheik" Affair
In 2001, a News of the World newspaper undercover reporter, Mazher Mahmood, posing as a fake sheik recorded comments made by the Countess in which she made disparaging remarks about members of the British Government, and appeared to use her royal status as a business tool to gain clients. The comments were subsequently printed in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, and later by other media sources.
In an effort to prevent the publication of the remarks, the Countess agreed to give an interview to the News of the World, where she spoke of her views on the possibility of undergoing IVF fertility treatment. However, the News of the World printed their story with the headline: "My Edward's Not Gay".
By now the public perception of the Earl and Countess was badly damaged by the affair, in addition to similar criticism against the Earl of Wessex, that he was using his royal status to promote his television production company. Subsequently in 2002, the Earl and Countess of Wessex announced that they were to quit their business interests and concentrate on their royal duties.
In December 2001, the Countess was rushed to King Edward VII Hospital in Central London, after feeling unwell. It was later discovered to be an ectopic pregnancy. At hospital she underwent a two-and-a-half hour operation after the potentially life-threatening condition losing a lot of blood. She did however recover, remarking sadly of the pregnancy: "it was just not meant to be".
In 2003, it was announced that the Countess was again pregnant. She gave birth to her first child on November 8, 2003. The birth was again complicated, and the Countess was rushed to hospital losing a lot of blood after a placental abruption and putting both mother and child at risk. The Earl of Wessex was in Mauritius at the time of the birth, but returned immediately.
In August of 2005 rumours began circulating that the Countess was pregnant with the couple's second child, but these rumours proved to be without foundation.
Titles and honours
Titles & Styles
- Miss Sophie Rhys-Jones (1965-1999)
- Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward, Countess of Wessex (1999-present)
Her full title after her marriage is Her Royal Highness The Princess Edward, Countess of Wessex and Viscountess Severn.
Honorary military appointments
- Colonel-in-Chief, Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
- Colonel-in-Chief, The Lincoln and Welland Regiment
- Royal Colonel, 5th Battalion The Rifles