SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please consider donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!

British RoyalsThe Wessexes

The Wessex Year in Review

Edward and Sophie, Earl and Countess of Wessex
Royal Family Instagram

It’s been a busy year for the Earl and Countess of Wessex. The couple, who normally operate with very little press coverage, have seen their roles transform this year with the departure of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex as full-time working royals.

This year the couple came more to the forefront with their royal duties. Edward and Sophie continued to champion their own individual causes: women’s rights, prevention of blindness, The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and other creative pursuits; but they also pivoted to supporting volunteers and frontline workers as the coronavirus pandemic came to the United Kingdom.

Let’s take a look back at the year in review for Edward and Sophie!

January

The Countess of Wessex kicked off the year as one of the few royals to make an overseas visit before the coronavirus pandemic shut down borders and travel. Sophie travelled to Sierra Leone.

Lady Louise joined her mother for her first royal engagement, visiting the National Sports Centre in Buckinghamshire. During the visit, Lady Louise participated in field hockey drills while Sophie met with the teams and coaches as they prepped for the season ahead.

Embed from Getty Images

Meanwhile, there was speculation in the press that senior royals, believed to be Princess Anne and Prince Edward, were calling for the resignation of The Queen’s private secretary for the way he’d handled drama surrounding The Duke and Duchess of Sussex and The Duke of York.

Edward and Sophie held a dinner for their charitable trust, The Earl and Countess of Wessex Charitable Trust. Sophie celebrated her 55th birthday on 20 January, and our Lydia Starbuck wrote a tribute to Sophie, the Royal Family’s quiet star.

Edward and Sophie joined The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Princess Royal for a reception at Buckingham Palace marking the UK-Africa Investment Summit.

Sophie travelled to Sierra Leone at the end of the month, one of the only royals to make an overseas visit before coronavirus pandemic halted international travel and shut down borders. Her visit to Sierra Leone focused on “addressing sexual and gender-based violence, supporting survivors, and championing women’s roles in peacebuilding.” Her second day of engagements continued with this messaging.

Edward kicked off the year with a conference at Warwick University for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award; he also attended a concert and reception by the National Youth Orchestra, another patronage.

Edward also took in a performance of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at the Criterion Theatre in London during an engagement with the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. He held a meeting with the Royal Air Force Waddington upon the relinquishing of a post.

At the end of the month, Edward attended a memorial event at the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead to mark the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

February

Sophie visited Munich, Germany, in February with a series of engagements aimed at the promotion of women’s programmes. She paid a visit to the Initiative for Munich Girls and attended the Munich Security Conference.

Sophie marked Children’s Hospice Week with a visit to Shooting Star Children’s Hospice in Hampton.

Edward, who has taken over The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award from his father following his retirement, worked to expand the award by certifying the Premier League with a license for its young players to earn hours towards their Awards. He travelled to Lagos and the Côte D’Ivoire on behalf of the awards, as well.

Edward hosted a reception for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award winners at St James’s Palace and a dinner for the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain.

Sophie also hosted a reception at St James’s Palace for Vision for the Commonwealth in her role as Global Ambassador of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness on 26 February.

Sophie’s work with the Central School of Ballet saw a new building named after her. The Countess of Wessex Studios opened at the end of February in a new, consolidated facility for the school, with its leaders remarking, “Bringing everyone together in one place has been a long-held aim and we are forever grateful to The Countess of Wessex for her support and enthusiasm as our Royal Patron.”

Embed from Getty Images

On a packed day of engagements, Sophie was profiled on The Royal Family’s social media as she jetted around (including at The Countess of Wessex Studios). Sophie also held engagements with St. John Ambulance, the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, the Royal Air Force Wittering, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

During her portrait sitting for St. John Ambulance, of which she is Grand President, she was snapped on the Royal Family’s Instagram Stories. Sophie also held a meeting with the Disability Initiative; and held a series of engagements with Blind Veterans UK, the Women in Business Committee, and hosted a dinner for Royal National Institute of Blind People at St James’s Palace.

The Countess attended a reception and lunch at the Embassy of Norway; and held meetings with the Women’s Network Forum and the 100 Women in Finance.

Embed from Getty Images

Edward, as Chancellor of the University of Bath, held a meeting and attended a dinner in this role. He also attended the Army Foundation College Graduation Parade at Uniacke Barrack in North Yorkshire. He hosted a luncheon at St James’s Palace for his patronage, the British Paralympic Association.

March

Prince Edward visited Kent on behalf of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in early March and, as President of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, attended the Alliance Awards at King Power Stadium in Leicester.

Sophie continued with overseas travel on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with a trip to South Sudan at the very beginning of the month, the first member of the Royal Family to visit the country. She was screened for coronavirus upon arrival in the country. Her visit was held to mark International Women’s Day.

As royal vice presidents of the Royal Windsor Horse Show, the Earl and Countess held a meeting on 9 March, and on 10 March, Edward celebrated his 56th birthday. To mark the day, the couple carried out a series of engagements in Essex.

Edward and Sophie joined The Queen, The Prince of Wales, The Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex for the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey.

Embed from Getty Images

Following the coronavirus pandemic rapidly spreading around the world, Sophie’s visit to Jersey on 19 March was cancelled out of caution.

When the Clap for Carers initiative began, to thank NHS workers and other frontline carers, Edward and Sophie, accompanied by their children, Louise and James, appeared on the Royal Family’s social media clapping.  

Sophie also held meetings with her patronages: Defence Medical Welfare Service, the Vision Foundation, and the Women in Business Committee of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award; and had a telephone meeting with the Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.

April

Edward hosted an online ceremony for Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award winners since in-person events were cancelled. In the video, Edward was joined by British celebrities to congratulate the 12,468 young people who have earned an award in the past year.

Edward continued to carry out engagements on behalf of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and also held meetings for The Prince Philip Trust Fund for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, and the Worshipful Company of Fuellers.

Sophie cooked a meal for NHS workers at Rhubarb, a community kitchen centre, with the charity’s chief executive noting, “The Countess showed a genuine interest and compassion towards vulnerable people, asking questions and sharing and packing Easter eggs and delivered five parcels within the Borough of Surrey Heath. We hope there will be a more formal opportunity after the pandemic when we can invite clients, volunteers, and supporters to meet the Countess of Wessex.”

With the majority of their work now online, Edward and Sophie turned to telephone and video meetings. Sophie attended the International Civil Society Action Network’s online conference and held a meeting with the National Autistic Society, her patronage, to mark World Autism Awareness Week. She also met with the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and spoke with executives at the Scar Free Foundation.

The Countess also joined in on an “International Video Conference with women’s rights and peace practitioners of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership,” according to the Royal Family’s Court Circular.

May

Sophie officially opened the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Sunderland, with help from Ant and Dec. Edward officially opened the NHS Nightingale Hospital Wing of Jersey General Hospital. A few days later, Edward and Sophie and Princess Anne held video calls with veterans from the Second World War to mark VE Day on 8 May.

To mark International Nurses Day on 12 May, Sophie joined up with The Duchess of Cambridge on a series of video calls with nurses from around the Commonwealth. Sophie and Kate spoke with nurses from India, Australia, Malawi, Cyprus, Sierra Leone, London, and the Bahamas.

Embed from Getty Images

As new lockdown measures came into effect, putting The Queen and Prince Philip in self-isolation at Windsor Castle, it was announced that Edward and Sophie would continue to take on a more prominent role to fill in the gap left behind.

Sophie spoke with Dr Denis Mukwege, the founder of Panzi Hospital and held a meeting on behalf of her patronage, the Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association.

Edward and Sophie also released a video thanking the ‘unsung heroes’ of the pandemic at the Resilience Forums in Wessex. Sophie provided a reading for Westminster Abbey’s Abbeycast podcast to mark Christ’s Ascension at the end of May. The royals marked Eid by volunteering at the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking.

Edward also held meetings with the International Real Tennis Professionals Association and the Royal Wessex Yeomanry.

June

The Countess of Wessex continued virtual meetings with her patronages, including the Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association, the Royal Mencap Society, and the Scar Free Foundation. She also opened the ‘Lifeboat Process’ which was the second in a series of Women’s Network Forum webinars.

The Earl of Wessex visited the Surrey Local Resilience Forum at the county’s Fire and Rescue Service headquarters. Sophie visited the Childline Call Centre in London, in her role as patron of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

On 19 June, Edward and Sophie marked their 21st wedding anniversary. Royal Central took a look back at their wedding day. We also looked at Sophie’s wedding flowers and her wedding dress.  

Sophie entered her niece-in-law’s photography exhibition, Hold Still, with a photo she’d snapped at the Shah Jahan Mosque during Eid in June.  

Edward met with the National Youth Jazz Orchestra’s students who were taking part in a virtual academy and met with staff and students at the Orpheus Centre Trust; Sophie visited the New Forest Fruit Company in Hampshire in her role as Honorary President of Linking the Environment and Farming.

Edward visited the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Strategic Coordination Group at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services Headquarters and the Guildford Crown Court.

Sophie gave a speech at the UN’s virtual conference for the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence. She said, in part, “My message, therefore, today is simple, and I hope I may speak for all Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence when I say: we must listen to the needs and wishes of all Survivors, and we must act accordingly.”

Sophie helped package personal protective equipment for frontline workers at a St John Ambulance Hub and later volunteered at a charity shop for Children’s Hospice Week. Edward joined in on a Surrey Heath Prepared Meeting via video link.

July

Edward and Sophie began the month by helping to package meals for NHS workers. Sophie penned a letter for the Royal Norfolk Show, sharing her memories as the event was cancelled due to the pandemic. She then joined members of the Women’s Institute at the pub; and launched an eye health award with her patronage, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. Edward met with Seafarer’s UK and continued to hold meetings with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award trustees.

Edward also attended a service for the Worshipful Company of Fuellers; held a video meeting with representatives of Herefordshire Council; and spoke to staff, volunteers, and patrons of Hope Support Services in Herefordshire.

Edward held a meeting with The Prince Philip Trust Fund for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead and met with staff of both the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Northern Ballet, two of his patronages, via video link.

Sophie met with the Awareness Foundation and the Vision Foundation; Edward visited the Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey. Sophie also held meetings with patronages Caring for Life and The Treloar Trust, as well as with the St. John Ambulance in the Priory of England and the Islands, the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative, and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

August

It was a quiet August for Edward and Sophie, but they still had a few engagements. Edward held meetings with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award trustees and the Tennis and Rackets Association

Sophie had no official engagements listed in the Court Circular, but she gave an interview to Good Housekeeping about the use of social media and her work with Childline and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

September

After their summer break, Edward and Sophie were back at work. Sophie paid a visit to her patronage, the Thames Valley Air Ambulance and later sat for a livestreamed sculpture session, with her likeness being captured for a piece by the Vision Foundation.

Embed from Getty Images

Edward held meetings with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, as well as Seafarer’s UK. Edward also attended a Business Recovery Meeting in Guildford and visited the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre. He later had meetings with the Sport and Recreation Alliance and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra, as well as the Royal Wessex Yeomanry.

Sophie attended a video meeting for 100 Women in Finance, of which she is a Global Ambassador.

Towards the end of the month, Edward and Sophie and Louise and James participated in the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean at Southsea Beach in Portsmouth.

Edward held a meeting for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award; Sophie carried out engagements in Surrey for the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations, of which she is patron.

At the end of the month, Edward paid a surprise visit to charities on the Isle of Wight to hear how they had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and how they were adapting to the changes.

October

To launch Black History Month in the UK, Edward and Sophie paid a visit to Vauxhall City Farm.

Embed from Getty Images

Sophie took part in the virtual London Marathon, held in October this year, for her patronage, Mencap. A few days later, she visited Stepping Stones School in Surrey to celebrate teachers on World Teachers Day. Sophie attended the Wilton Park the Elders’ Conference and the President’s Awards for the Chartered Management Institute.

Embed from Getty Images

Edward held a virtual meeting with the London Borough of Newham’s community leaders; he also carried out engagements in Lisburn, and later held a meeting with the executives at London Youth.

Sophie joined her mother-in-law for a video call with eye specialists to mark World Sight Day. Sophie joined in the call in her role as Global Ambassador of the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness. She also spoke at a UN event to discuss accelerating vision for everyone.

It was announced on 9 October that Sophie came into contact with someone suffering from coronavirus, and following the appropriate protocols, self-isolated at her home.

Edward held meetings for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and the Worshipful Company of Fuellers. Sophie held meetings with the Shire Horse Society and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists.

Edward spoke to the head of Integrated Urgent Care and staff members at Dorset Healthcare. He also spoke with staff at Dorset Waste Partnership and Highways; then joined senior representatives for a briefing during the Dorset Local Resilience Forum. Edward also spoke with frontline workers and volunteers from across Dorset.

Sophie presented The Queen’s Award for Enterprise to Babbasa, and met with its staff via video link; then spoke with the staff at Stand Against Racism and Inequality in Bristol. She also met with staff of the Bristol Temple Meads Railway Station for its 180th anniversary and attended a meeting of the Women’s Network Forum via video link. She gave a speech to Women Peacebuilders at the “Pitches for Peace: Rethinking Inclusive Peace Processes” international conference in her role as Champion of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

Sophie then undertook a virtual royal visit of Libya on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with engagements related to the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum. She also virtually toured the United Nations Refugee Agency Community Day Centre for refugees and asylum seekers in Tripoli.

November

Sophie held a reception for the 20th anniversary of the United Nations’ Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. She then attended a service at Westminster Abbey, to remember those who have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Edward held meetings with the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (with Commodore David Eagles). Sophie held a meeting of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations via video link and attended a webinar for the Women’s Network Forum.

The couple carried out virtual engagements in Plymouth, including speaking with staff at the City Council, speaking to staff at Hamoaze House and the Theatre Royal Plymouth. Edward met with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and The Prince Philip Trust Fund for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead.

Sophie also spoke with students and staff at the University of Surrey in honour of World Science Day for Peace and Development.

On Remembrance Sunday, Edward and Sophie joined members of the Royal Family for a smaller Armistice Day service. They later attended the Armistice Day Service of Remembrance at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Embed from Getty Images

Edward joined in the Lancashire Resilience Forum via video link, and later met with volunteers and business owners in the area via video. He also met, via video, with the Clifton and West of England Zoological Society Limited leaders and attended the Oxford and Cambridge Society of Philadelphia Annual General Meeting.

Sophie joined in a cooking initiative with Girlguiding and BBC Children to support their fundraising initiative. She baked 55 scones to ‘act her age’ as the challenge directed. She also lent her voice, along with The Duchess of Cornwall and other European royals, to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Sophie also met with leaders at the Leeds Children’s Hospital.

Edward met with Creative Youth, while Sophie met with the Member of Parliament for Totnes to discuss the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. Sophie also met with business women in Surrey for ‘The Magnificent Women of Lockdown,’ and attended a session of the Defence Human Security Advisory Course.

At the end of the month, Edward attended the General Assembly of the Commonwealth Games Federation via video; he also met, via video, with Emergency and Civic Services in Merseyside and People-Centred Services in Merseyside.

December

Edward showed his support for small, locally-owned businesses by shopping in Berkshire. Edward and Sophie also helped pack up food with volunteers at Food Wise TLC in Surrey.

Sophie joined her patronage DisInitative at Camberley Resource Centre to help prepare food and decorate for Christmas and helped decorate for Christmas at the Shooting Star Children’s Hospice in Hampton Hill.

As The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge ended their Royal Train Tour at Windsor Castle, Edward and Sophie joined other senior members of the Royal Family for a photo outside the castle and to attend an outdoor, socially-distanced party for volunteers and key frontline workers in the area.

Embed from Getty Images

Edward and Sophie also joined in a ceremony for the Corps of Army Music, of which Sophie is Colonel-in-Chief, to receive a royal title.

Edward held several meetings with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award while Sophie attended a Surrey Lieutenancy Business Discussion as part of the Women’s Network Forum. Edward also paid a visit to Reading to visit Read College and the University of Reading. He attended a meeting with the 2nd Battalion The Rifles.

About author

Jess is a communications professional and freelance writer who lives in Halifax and has a passion for all things royal, particularly the British Royal Family.