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Before they were royal: The life of the Countess of Wessex

Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones was born on 20 January 1965 as the youngest child and only daughter of Christopher Bournes Rhys-Jones and the late Mary O’Sullivan at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford. She has an elder brother, David. One of her godparents was the late actor Thane Bettany, who was her father’s stepbrother.

Sophie grew up in Kent, to where her family moved while she was still very young, living in a 17th-century farmhouse in the village of Brenchley. Her education started at Dulwich College Preparatory School in Cranbrook, before moving on to Kent College School for Girls, in Pembury, before finalising her education at West Kent College. During her time at the West Kent College, Sophie started a friendship with Sarah Sienesi, who later became her Lady-in-Waiting. Sophie then started her training to work as a secretary at  West Kent College in Tonbridge, Kent.

Robin Peverett, Headmistress of Dulwich College Preparatory School, talking about Sophie, once said: “My memory of her is very much as a happy, popular, natural girl with lost of common sense, conscientious at her school work and good at sport.”

After ending her studies, Sophie started a career in public relations, working on a number of different firms. She began in 1986 at Capital Radio’s press department, before moving on to public relation firms, such as Quentin Bell Organisation and MacLaurin Communications and Media. She also worked for four months in Switzerland as a ski representative before working in Australia for one year. Additionally, she used her time abroad to backpack throughout Australia and the Far East, before returning to the United Kingdom in 1991.

In 1996, Sophie Rhys-Jones founded her own public relations agency, RJH Public Relations, that she administered alongside her business partner, Murray Harkin. RJH Public Relations became a very successful firm, and Sophie served as its chairman at the time of her marriage to Prince Edward, The Queen’s youngest child. Sophie had intended to continue working after joining the Royal Family; however, that plan would prove not to be so successful.

Sophie first met her future husband, Prince Edward, during a strategy session where she was working to support a Real Tennis charity event that the future Earl of Wessex was organising in 1993, and they started a relationship soon afterwards.

Their engagement wouldn’t be announced until 6 January 1999 and giving the circumstances the Royal Family was in at the time, many think it was appropriate of Edward to wait and be sure before proposing to Sophie. Both of his brothers had been given divorces just three years before, and his sister was already in her second marriage at the time.

The Earl and Countess at the wedding of Princess Madeleine of Sweden in 2013. By Frankie Fouganthin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26670918

Sophie and Edward, now the Earl and Countess of Wessex, married on 19 June 1999, at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, in a ceremony that broke all standards set by the marriages of Edward’s siblings, which were all very formal and big occasions in London. The couple has two children, Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn.

Since 2002, at the time of The Queen’s Golden Jubilee, the couple work as full-time royals supporting Her Majesty, and last month they celebrated their 19th wedding anniversary.

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