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Woman & Home
Amy Hunt

32 interesting facts about Duchess Sophie, including her close relationship with Queen Elizabeth and her normal upbringing

Duchess Sophie wearing gold earrings and a blue blazer.

Duchess Sophie, formerly the Countess of Wessex, is regarded as one of the most trusted and relied-on members of the royal family – but she tends to keep her private life out of the spotlight. Here are some of the most interesting facts and stories about Prince Edward's wife.

The Duchess of Edinburgh, as she is now known, married Prince Edward in the late 1990s, and has been a working royal ever since, completing royal duties and engagements on a full-time basis. But given that she tends to lay low outside of her royal commitments, you may not know too much about Sophie and her life both inside and outside the royal family.

For example, did you know she had an incredibly normal upbringing – and that she has a surprising link with the late Princess Diana (outside of their royal husbands)? If you're keen to know more about Sophie, here are some of the most fascinating facts about the Duchess, from her hobbies to the story behind some of Duchess Sophie's best looks, and even a royal scandal. 

32 interesting facts about Duchess Sophie that you might not know

She had a career before marrying Prince Edward – which she then gave up

(Image credit: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Prior to meeting her now husband, Prince Edward (the Queen and Prince Philip’s youngest child) Sophie lived a very normal life, having been born to an average middle-class family, and having grown up in the suburbs around London.

And of course, this means that she also had a job and a career prior to joining the royal family. While Sophie trained as a secretary at West Kent College, she later moved to work in public relations. 

She worked in a range of PR jobs, including a role at Capital Radio, and in 1996, she launched her own PR agency, RJH publications. She ran the firm with her partner Murray Harkin, for five years, before meeting Prince Edward. When the pair got married in 1999, she largely wrapped up her career.

Her first royal trip abroad was to Prince Edward Island

(Image credit: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

Sophie began royal duties soon after her 19th June 1999 wedding to Prince Edward, but it wasn’t until 2000 that she went on her first official visit overseas. And when she and Prince Edward did depart for their first tour abroad, it was certainly to a fitting destination - the couple actually headed to Prince Edward Island, a Canadian province.

She and Edward met with locals and made speeches at various points around the province and stayed for around a week. Sophie has since made countless trips abroad in her capacity as a royal.

She has *some* royal blood in her

(Image credit: Getty)

Though Sophie had a very normal upbringing with working parents, she has some royal blood way back in her lineage.

She is said to descend from King Henry IV, and is also related to the Viscounts (the fourth ranking in the British peerage system) Molesworth family through her grandmother, Margaret Patricia Rhys-Jones. Margaret was the great-granddaughter of the Rev. John Molesworth, who was the great-grandson of Robert Molesworth, 1st Viscount Molesworth. So while Sophie wasn't exactly royal, she does have some notable family history!

Sophie was granted access to Buckingham Palace before getting engaged

(Image credit: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images)

Duchess Sophie lived in London during her courtship with Prince Edward but was reportedly granted a rare privilege that many non-royals aren't given before the couple became engaged in 1999.

It is reported that Sophie was close with Queen Elizabeth II from early on in her relationship with Prince Edward, and because of this, was allowed certain privileges despite not being (in the royal's eyes) an 'official' member of the family, just yet. It is claimed that Sophie was permitted to use an apartment at Buckingham Palace before the couple became engaged, presumably to sleep in and prepare for events.

She is patron of a huge number of organisations

(Image credit: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

As a senior member of the royal family, Duchess Sophie is patron of an enormous amount of charities and organisations - over 70 in fact!

The patronages Sophie holds all relate to her own personal interests and passions, as well as those handed down to her from the late Queen, Prince Philip, and King Charles. 

For example, most of her patronages cover organisations that work for equality for women, military workers, organisations fighting against avoidable blindness, food and farming, those with disabilities, young people, and sports generally; for example, she is patron of England Hockey and the British Cycling Federation.

Sophie and Edward got engaged in the Bahamas

(Image credit: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

After being together for six years, Prince Edward and Sophie, who was then Sophie Rhys-Jones, got engaged, after Edward proposed during a holiday to the Bahamas. In their engagement interview, Prince Edward shared, "I managed to take her completely by surprise. She had no idea that it was coming, which is what I really wanted to do.

"I mean, the trouble is, everybody always speculating made it very difficult. Every time there was another round of speculation, I had to go very quiet again."

Sharing her reaction to the proposal, Sophie admitted, "I was slightly stunned for a minute, and then I realised I should actually answer the question, so then I said yes. I said, 'Yes, please.'”

She and Edward honeymooned at Balmoral Castle

(Image credit: Photo by: Robert Plattner/Oneworld Picture/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Many couples enjoy flying off to far-flung destinations for their honeymoon. But Sophie and Edward opted to keep it local (ish) during their 1999 honeymoon after their wedding at Windsor Castle – spending a couple of days at Birkhall Lodge, on the royal family's Balmoral Castle Estate, in Scotland.

At the time, some publications reported that the couple planned to head off to an undisclosed location abroad after a few days of recuperating in Scotland. But others reported that they returned to their new Surrey home after just a few days on the Scottish estate. Either way, we're sure that honeymooning in a royal castle makes for a pretty lovely holiday.

Sophie was the first royal to ever visit *this* country

(Image credit: Stuart C. Wilson - Pool/Getty Images)

Like other members of the royal family, the Duchess of Edinburgh often travels to various different countries to support causes close to her heart.

She has, for example, made a trip to Canada and the US in 2015, a visit to Malawi in 2017, a trip to Qatar in 2022. She even became the first member of the royal family to ever visit Baghdad in 2023, where she spent time visiting organisations who champion the rights of women and girls. There, she met with the President of Iraq, Abdul Latif Rashid, as well as the First Lady, Shanaz Ibrahim Ahmed, who also works to support the rights of women and girls.

She had some serious complications during her first pregnancy

(Image credit: Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images)

After falling pregnant with her eldest child, Lady Louise, in early 2003, Sophie unfortunately faced difficulties towards the end of her pregnancy, giving birth to her daughter prematurely in November 2023. As a result of a placental abruption, Sophie needed to undergo an emergency caesarean section whilst her husband Prince Edward was on an official visit to Mauritius.

Thankfully, the pair recovered well after spending a few weeks in hospital, and the birth of Sophie and Edward’s first child was officially announced on 27th November. 

She previously held the title ‘Countess of Wessex’

(Image credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage)

Prior to the death of Prince Philip, Sophie was known as the Countess of Wessex, while Prince Edward was known as the Earl of Wessex. Their son James was also given the subsidiary title of Viscount Severn.

However, a little while after the Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, died, this title was then bestowed upon their youngest son Edward, making he and Sophie the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh respectively. In 2023, King Charles handed over this prestigious title to his brother, as per their father’s wish.

She often supports eyesight charities inspired by her daughter

(Image credit: Andrew Matthews-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Lady Louise Windsor, Sophie’s eldest and only daughter, grew up with vision problems after being born with a condition called esotropia, which causes the eyes to grow outwards. Though Sophie has explained that her daughter’s vision is now “perfect”, her struggles as a child have inspired much of Sophie’s philanthropy work within the royal family, and she now actively campaigns against “avoidable blindness”.

For example, the Duchess is the global ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB), and regularly makes trips around the world – having visited India, Qatar, and Bangladesh – to visit those working on projects related to eyesight issues and avoidable blindness.

Sophie and Edward met whilst he was dating her friend

(Image credit: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh have been together for decades, but they first met all the way back in 1987. They were first brought together at Capital Radio, where Sophie was working – though at the time, Prince Edward was dating Sophie’s friend, so sparks didn't fly immediately.

However, six years later, the pair met once again during Edward’s Real Tennis Challenge event, for which Sophie was handling the publicity. It was during this time that the two properly bonded, and eventually begun dating. Reportedly, their first date was actually a tennis match and dinner at Buckingham Palace!

She lived in the same apartment block Princess Diana had called home

(Image credit: Thomas Krych/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Though Princess Diana and Duchess Sophie didn’t know each other for very long (Sophie began dating Prince Edward in 1993, and Diana sadly passed away in 1997), their paths had unintentionally crossed years before their lives within the royal family.

When she began dating Prince Charles, Princess Diana lived at Coleherne Court, a large apartment complex in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London. She lived there for years with three other friends, before moving into Clarence House with Charles, then her husband-to-be. And interestingly, Duchess Sophie also called Coleherne Court home at one time! She lived there for a short time, before her wedding to Prince Edward in 1999. After this, the couple moved into their current home of Bagshot Park. Diana and Sophie reportedly had a rocky relationship, likely stemming from the vastly different treatment they both experienced when they entered the royal family.

She's one of the hardest working royals

(Image credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Sophie is one of the busiest members of the royal family, carrying out close to 200 royal engagements in an average year. In 2023, The Telegraph claimed that she carried out around she carried out 219 royal engagements, which puts her in the top five hardest-working royals.

She sits behind Princess Anne, who racked up an enormous 457 engagements in 2023, King Charles, with 425 engagements, her husband Prince Edward, who made 297 royal visits in 2023, and Queen Camilla, who finished the year with 233 royal engagements.

This puts her ahead of many other senior working members of the royal family, including the Prince and Princess of Wales.

Sophie’s primary residence is Bagshot Park

(Image credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

The Duchess of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, and their two children, Lady Louise Windsor and James, the Earl of Wessex, live in Bagshot Park, in Bagshot, Surrey. The home sits on the edge of the Windsor Estate (which also, of course, houses Windsor Castle).

The home was given to the couple by Queen Elizabeth II as a wedding gift, so the couple moved into the enormous 120-room property after their 1999 nuptials. The pair completed a huge, £2.8 million renovation before moving in, and have lived in the residence ever since, later welcoming their eldest child, Lady Louise, in 2003, and James, Earl of Wessex, in 2007.

She exclusively wears hats from one specific designer

(Image credit: Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Though Sophie may not be quite as well known for her royal fashion as her niece-in-law’s Catherine Middleton, or Meghan Markle, she is widely regarded to have developed a sophisticated and timeless sense of style during her first few decades as a royal and she's often stepped out wearing some of the most memorable royal hats.

And it seems she’s achieved that by favouring a few preferred designers – for example, hearing hats and fascinators by just one milliner only, Jane Taylor. Speaking to Marie Claire, the designer explained, "My first royal client was the Countess of Wessex [as she was then known], and it was quite nerve-racking. But she wears such lovely clothes and she always looks so fabulous, so it's quite easy to design for her. 

"Since she came to see me, she's never worn any other milliner's hats, which is a big compliment. I was really excited, honoured, and slightly nervous."

She regularly attends the most important royal functions

(Image credit: Yui Mok-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Though Sophie isn’t destined to become Queen one day – given that Prince Edward is now 14th in the line of succession – she is still a regular attendee at some of the most important royal events of the yearly calendar.

She regularly makes an appearance at occasions like State Banquets and Buckingham Palace receptions, as well as regular annual events such as Trooping the Colour. In fact, Sophie regularly stands in at ceremonial events that the King and the Queen themselves cannot attend.

She was regarded as Queen Elizabeth’s right-hand woman

(Image credit: WPA Pool / Pool Getty)

The Duchess of Edinburgh was known to be incredibly close to the late Queen Elizabeth II, with the pair having bonded almost immediately upon meeting. As Sophie grew into her royal duties, she soon became someone on whom the Queen could rely, often being called “a safe pair of hands”.

Of the Duchess, royal biographer Robert Jobson once told The Telegraph, “[Sophie] is probably the best example of an outsider coming into the family and learning on the job. 

"She’s very much the Queen’s favourite, and you’ll notice that whenever there is a family holiday or gathering, Sophie and Edward often stay a while longer than the rest."

She and Edward kept their wedding more low-key

(Image credit: MIKE SIMMONDS/AFP via Getty Images)

Duchess Sophie and Prince Edward married on 19th June 1999, at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle; the same venue as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding. 

Though it was an exciting occasion for the British public, Sophie and Edward made it clear at the time that they wanted a more relaxed, informal affair, and were determined that their nuptials not become a state occasion.

As such, the guest list was mainly made up of family members and friends, with no politicians, dignitaries or heads of states invited, unlike (then) Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding. The couple also asked that guests simply wear evening gowns to their big day, and that no one wear hats, again to mark the more relaxed nature of the proceedings.

She has two dogs and a pet tortoise

(Image credit: Mark Cuthbert-Pool/UK Press via Getty Images)

Much of the royal family have pet pooches, but the Duchess of Edinburgh and Prince Edward revealed that they also have a slightly more unusual pet living with them in their Bagshot Park home.

Back in June 2020, during a video call with a charity called The Orpheus Centre, Edward shared, "We have two dogs and we've also got a tortoise, who basically rules the house!" It’s certainly a more unique pet choice, but we’re sure both the dogs and the tortoise have plenty of room to roam around in the royal couple’s home!

Her office and official London home is Buckingham Palace

(Image credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Though Sophie and Edward’s main family home is Bagshot Park, located between Surrey and Berkshire, the couple also have an official residence at Buckingham Palace. 

The enormous central London palace offers Sophie and her husband a place to stay, and a place from which they can conduct their official business as royals when they are in the capital. It’s likely that much of Sophie and Edward’s official staff are based at Buckingham Palace, and that the couple stay at the royal property when in London for work or other family events.

She was once caught up in an awkward scandal

(Image credit: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

After marrying Prince Edward, Sophie made some attempts to maintain her former career in PR alongside her duties as a royal. However, this took a turn in 2001, when convinced to attend a meeting with a man she thought was an Arab Sheikh. 

While Sophie reportedly believed that they were meeting for work purposes, the meeting was actually taped by a reporter from News of the World, and it is alleged that the Duchess made some less-than-ideal comments about certain members of the royal family.

It was later announced that the Duchess of Edinburgh would focus solely on their royal duties, rather than any business ventures – presumably to avoid any risk of such an event happening again.

Sophie worked in the skiing industry before becoming a royal

(Image credit: Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

Before meeting Prince Edward, Duchess Sophie worked in Switzerland as a ski representative. Whilst there, she met her partner at the time, whom she reportedly considered moving to Australia with. Instead, she spent a year travelling and working in Australia, before returning home to the UK.

To this day, the Duchess of Edinburgh is still a keen skier, and she and her family often enjoy skiing trips, mostly in Switzerland, and often in exclusive resort towns such as St. Moritz.

She and King Charles share a common interest

(Image credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

One of Duchess Sophie's primary passions (which she champions as a royal), is agriculture and farming. She particularly invests her time in encouraging young people to pursue careers within British farming and is the Honorary President of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), which supports sustainable food production.

And this, of course, is an interest that Sophie and her brother-in-law King Charles share. The monarch has long championed organic farming and regenerative agriculture, being particularly outspoken about protecting and maintaining the land and everything in it.

She was visibly emotional after the death of Queen Elizabeth

(Image credit: Owen Humphreys-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Duchess Sophie and Queen Elizabeth II were known to be particularly close, and when the late monarch passed away on 8th September 2022 at Balmoral Castle, Sophie shared multiple public displays of emotion during the mourning period that followed.

The 58-year-old was visibly emotional during the Queen's funeral at Westminster Abbey, wiping away tears with a tissue during the service. She was also moved to tears when inspecting flowers left by mourners outside Balmoral Castle, with images showing her bending down to look at the floral tributes with her hand to her mouth.

Sophie and her family often spent weekends at Windsor Castle

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Queen and Prince Philip spent most of their time at Windsor Castle, and Sophie has previously shared that she, Prince Edward, and their children Sophie and James would often spend lots of time with their grandmother and grandfather there, given that it's just a 20-minute drive from their home of Bagshot Park.

Sophie once told The Sunday Times, "I guess not everyone’s grandparents live in a castle, but where you are going is not the important part, or who they are. When they are with the Queen, she is their grandmother."

She was raised in a very normal family

(Image credit: Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images)

The Duchess of Edinburgh may now spend her time in palaces with royals and politicians, but her upbringing was actually incredibly normal. 

Sophie was born in Oxford and raised in Kent, and her mother Mary worked as a charity worker and secretary. Her father Christopher was a sales director for a tyre and rubber goods company, and she has an older brother, David.

The family lived in a regular four-bedroom home in a small Kent village, and had no immediate royal connections. But Sophie does however have something in common with her royal husband and in-laws, as she she attended private schools throughout her life.

She didn't take to royal life easily

(Image credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage)

The former Countess of Wessex is a seasoned royal by now, and always looks happy and at ease with her official duties. But it wasn't always this way – in 2022, she told the Sunday Times that she didn't enjoy royal duties at first, and confessed that she wanted to be the one running the events she was attending, given her prior career in PR, and not just "the icing on the cake".

Of her former career, she said, "Certainly, I missed it to begin with. Certainly, it took me a little while to find my feet. But I’ve met some incredible people during the time I’ve been doing royal duties. I’ve learned a huge amount about an awful lot."

She was very close to her mother

(Image credit: Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage via Getty)

Sophie's mother, Mary Rhys-Jones, passed away in 2005 at 71, and the Duchess has been open about her sorrow over the loss of her beloved mother since then.

During the National Federation of Women's Institutes annual meeting in 2021, she shared that she still thinks about her mother often. "To this day, I miss her very much and there are moments where I hear some music she loved or I do something I know she'd have wanted to hear about, which makes her early departure very hard," she says.

Mary died when Sophie's daughter Louise was just 2 years old, and before her son was born. To this, Sophie also said, "She has missed out on so much, and I'm particularly sad that she hasn't seen my children grow up or seen how my work has grown and developed. She would have loved that I am talking to you today."

She suffered a ectopic pregnancy in 2001

(Image credit: Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)

Duchess Sophie and the Duke of Edinburgh suffered a difficult loss when Sophie went through an ectopic pregnancy in 2001, which is a pregnancy which grows outside of the uterus and can be incredibly dangerous to a woman's life. 

The Duchess required life-saving surgery as a result. At the time, Prince Edward shared with reporters at the hospital, "It's obviously a very traumatic time and my wife has ... It's quite the most painful thing that anyone can undergo.

"It's a pretty traumatic experience. As the pain reduces, so the relief will increase."

Sophie is a skilled equestrian

(Image credit: Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sophie is one of the many members of the royal family who is known to love (and be pretty good at) both horse riding and carriage driving – a hobby she picked up from her late father-in-law Prince Philip, who was known to love the sport.

In 2021, one friend said that during the pandemic, "Sophie set herself a series of tasks. She learned how to ride properly and now rides with the Queen at least once a week. She took up carriage-driving to be close to Philip."

In fact, her daughter Lady Louise has also inherited this passion from both her mother and her grandfather, and is regularly seen carriage driving in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

She often drives herself to royal events

(Image credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Proving that she's one of the most down-to-earth royals around, Sophie is known for driving herself to and from royal events.

Back in 2020, the Duchess of Edinburgh drove herself to the Half Moon pub in Windlesham, close to her home of Bagshot Park in Surrey, to discuss how the hospitality industry was coping during the Covid-19 pandemic, and to meet with members of the local WI.

When asked at the visit whether she wanted a gin and tonic, she said, "I'm driving - otherwise I would have been joining you. On local engagements I drive myself most of the time."

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