Sophie, Countess of Wessex facts for kids

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Sophie
Countess of Wessex (more)
HRH The Countess of Wessex visits Belfast (closer crop).jpg
The Countess in 2018
Born Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones
20 January 1965 (1965-01-20) (age 54)
Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, England
Spouse
Issue
House Windsor (by marriage)
Father Christopher Rhys-Jones
Mother Mary O'Sullivan

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, GCVO (born Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones; 20 January 1965), is the wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Married in 1999, she worked in public relations until 2002 and now is a full-time working member of the British royal family who splits her time between her work in support of the Queen and a large number of her own charities and organisations. The Earl and Countess have two children: James, Viscount Severn, and Lady Louise Windsor, who are respectively eleventh and twelfth in line to the British throne.

Early life

Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones was born at Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, on 20 January 1965, the second child and only daughter of Christopher Bournes Rhys-Jones (born 1931), a retired tyre salesman and past president of the Old Brutonian's Association, his alma mater. Her mother was Mary (née O'Sullivan; 1934–2005), a charity worker and secretary. Sophie has an elder brother, David, and was named after her father's sister, Helen, who died in a riding accident in 1960. Her godfather, actor Thane Bettany, was her father's stepbrother; both men spent their early life in Sarawak, North Borneo, then a British Protectorate ruled by the White Rajahs.

Sophie was raised in a four-bedroom 17th-century farmhouse in Brenchley, Kent. She began her education at Dulwich Preparatory School, before moving on to Kent College, Pembury, where she was friends with Sarah Sienesi, with whom she subsequently shared a flat in Fulham and who later became her lady-in-waiting. Sophie then trained as a secretary at West Kent College, Tonbridge.

She began a career in public relations, working for a variety of firms, including four years at Capital Radio, where she was assigned to the press and promotions department, as well as public relations companies The Quentin Bell Organisation and MacLaurin Communications & Media. She also worked as a ski representative in Switzerland and spent a year travelling and working in Australia. In 1996, Rhys-Jones launched her public relations agency, RJH Public Relations, which she ran with her business partner, Murray Harkin, for five years.

Marriage

While working at Capital Radio, Sophie met Prince Edward, the youngest son of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, for the first time in 1987 when he was dating her friend. She met Prince Edward again at a charity event in 1993, and the two began their relationship soon afterwards. Their engagement was announced on 6 January 1999. Edward proposed to Sophie with an engagement ring featuring a two-carat oval diamond flanked by two heart-shaped gemstones set in 18-carat white gold. The ring was made by Asprey and Garrard (now Garrard & Co) and is worth an estimated £105,000. Sophie, who was reportedly close to the Queen from the beginning of her relationship with Edward, was allowed to use the royal apartments at Buckingham Palace prior to her engagement. The wedding took place on 19 June of the same year at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, a break from the weddings of Edward's older siblings, which were large, formal events at Westminster Abbey or St Paul's Cathedral. On the day of their marriage, Prince Edward was created a hereditary peer as Earl of Wessex with the subsidiary title of Viscount Severn (derived from the Welsh roots of the Countess's family). It is understood that he will be elevated as Duke of Edinburgh when that title reverts to the Crown. The couple spent their honeymoon at Balmoral Castle. Following their union, the Earl and Countess moved to Bagshot Park, their home in Surrey. While their private residence is Bagshot Park, their office and official London residence is based at Buckingham Palace. Due to renovations at Buckingham Palace in 2018, the couple temporarily moved their offices to St James's Palace.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex
The Earl and Countess of Wessex at Trooping the Colour in June 2013

The Earl and Countess have two children: Lady Louise Windsor (born 8 November 2003) and James, Viscount Severn (born 17 December 2007).

In December 2001, the Countess was taken to the King Edward VII Hospital after feeling unwell. It was discovered that she was suffering from an ectopic pregnancy and the foetus had to be removed. Two years later, on 8 November 2003, she prematurely gave birth to her daughter, Louise, resulting from a sudden placental abruption that placed both mother and child at risk, and the Countess had to undergo an emergency caesarean section at Frimley Park Hospital, while the Earl of Wessex rushed back from Mauritius. The Countess returned to Frimley Park Hospital on 17 December 2007, to give birth, again by caesarean section, to her son, James, Viscount Severn.

Activities

Public appearances

The Countess of Wessex's first overseas tour after her marriage was to the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island in 2000.

In December 2011, the Countess of Wessex joined her husband visiting troops in Afghanistan. On the same trip, the royal couple visited Bahrain, and received two gifts of jewels from the Bahraini royal family and Prime Minister. Given concern about human rights abuses in Bahrain, this gift attracted controversy, with calls for the jewels to be sold, and the proceeds used for the benefit of the Bahraini people. In February and March 2012, the Earl and Countess visited the Caribbean for the Diamond Jubilee, visiting Saint Lucia, Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Montserrat, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and Antigua and Barbuda. Highlights of the tour included the 50th Anniversary Independence Day celebrations in Saint Lucia, a joint address from both houses of the Barbados Parliament and a visit to sites affected by the recent volcanic eruptions in Montserrat. In June 2012, as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, represented the Queen during a three-day tour to Gibraltar. The couple attended a Queen's Birthday Parade and toured Main Street, in the historic old town.

In 2013, the couple visited South Africa and Sophie later made solo trips to India and Qatar as the patron of the sight-saving charity Orbis UK. In her capacity as patron of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight and ambassador for IAPB, the Countess visited numerous facilities in Qatar and India in order to raise awareness about preventable blindness. Her work on the issue has been described as influential in creating the Qatar Creating Vision initiative. She subsequently wrote an article on the subject which was published on the Daily Telegraph in October 2013. She made a similar visit to Bangladesh in November 2017. The Countess as Colonel-in-Chief of Corps of Army Music, visited The Countess of Wessex's String Orchestra at the Royal Artillery Barracks, in London. On 3 March 2014, the Queen approved the title of "The Countess of Wessex's String Orchestra" for the new Army String Orchestra in recognition of the Corps of Army Music's Colonel-in-Chief. In November 2014, the Countess was in Zambia representing the Queen at the State funeral of the late President of Zambia, Michael Sata.

The Countess of Wessex, Cheshire Show (2015)
Sophie attending The Royal Cheshire County Show in 2015

On 26 March 2015, she attended the reburial of Richard III of England in Leicester Cathedral. In May 2015, the Countess represented the Queen in the 70th anniversary celebrations to mark the Liberation Day of the Channel Islands. The Countess delivered a message from the Queen, who paid tribute to the island's continued allegiance and loyalty to the Crown.. The Countess visited Canada and the United States in November 2015. While in Toronto, she criss-crossed across the city, making stops at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and the UHN's Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital, of which she is patron. The two-day tour to Canada comes on the heels of a stop in New York City, where she paid an emotional visit to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The Countess also made an appearance at an Armistice Day service at the Queen Elizabeth II September 11th Garden, which was opened in commemoration of the 67 British victims of the attack. In the evening, Sophie attended the 100 Women in Hedge Funds Gala dinner in New York.

The Earl and Countess of Wessex were in Canada in June 2016, visiting Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The couple toured a variety of places in and around Regina, Saskatchewan before attending the Globe Theatre's 50th anniversary gala. In March 2017, the Countess embarked on a 4-day visit to Malawi as Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, visiting programmes to end avoidable blindness and champion young leaders. On 9 May 2017, the Countess represented the British Royal Family during King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway's 80th Birthday Celebrations. The Earl and Countess of Wessex represented the Queen at the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's Accession to the Throne of Brunei in October 2017. On 30 November 2017, the Countess visited the ‘Making for Change’ fashion training and manufacturing unit at HM Prison Downview as London College of Fashion's Patron. 'Making for Change' is a fashion training and manufacturing unit established by the Ministry of Justice and London College of Fashion in 2014. During her visit, the Countess met staff and prisoners, including female inmates, and awarded participants with certificates as part of their training programme.

An avid supporter of charities that deal with learning disabilities, the Countess made a solo trip to Belfast in January 2018 to visit a number of charities that she had supported through her work over the last decade including Mencap's children's centre. She also opened the new dementia-friendly unit of Northern Ireland Hospice, the first of its kind in the UK. The Earl and Countess of Wessex visited Sri Lanka in February 2018 to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of Independence, Sri Lanka–United Kingdom relations, the Commonwealth, education and young people.

Charity work and patronages

HRH The Countess of Wessex visits Belfast (39838996702)
Sophie playing with children in Mencap's children centre in Belfast, 2018

The Earl and Countess of Wessex established their foundation The Wessex Youth Trust in 1999 with a focus to help, support and advance registered charities which provide opportunities specifically for children and young people. In 2000, she became patron of a number of organisations, including Foundation of Light (formerly Sunderland A.F.C Foundation) which develops educational and community programmes in northern England, based around football. Moved by the death of her friend Jill Dando in 1999, the Countess became a trustee of UCL Jill Dando Institute, an institute of crime science established in her name in 2001.

In 2003, after quitting her business interests she became more involved in charity works and started to carry out solo engagements on behalf of the royal family. She started to support charities that focus on communications difficulties, including Southampton General Hospital, and the New Haven Trust in Toronto a learning centre for children with autism. She also became patron of Tomorrow's People Trust which helps the disadvantaged to find work, housing and a place in society. The Countess became patron and ambassador of Meningitis Now, a charity that supports people who have experienced meningitis, and raising awareness of the disease. In February 2003, she became patron to The Scar Free Foundation, a medical research charity raising and investing funds in wound healing, burns and cleft research. In 2003, she succeeded Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother as patron of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists. The Countess, who was a Brownie as a child, became the new president of Girlguiding UK in 2003. She took over the presidency following the death of Princess Margaret in February 2002. She established the Women in Business Group in 2003 to support the Duke of Edinburgh's Award reach more young people and help them develop skills that can transform their futures. The Countess became Brainwave's president in 2003, a charity providing therapy for children with developmental delay. In June 2003, she became royal patron of the Greater London Fund for the Blind which raises funds for smaller charities for visually impaired people in London. The Countess has been National Autistic Society's royal patron since August 2003. She took over this role from The Princess Royal. In 2004, she joined St John Ambulance as Grand President and heads the work of St John's County Presidents who provide a variety of support for their local St John members. She has supported ChildLine for many years, and became their first patron in 2005. In 2006, she lent her support to the Born in Bradford research project, which investigated causes of low birth weight and infant mortality between 2007 and 2010. In September 2006, she was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The Countess is a keen supporter of agriculture, farming and food production and held the position of Show President of the Royal Bath and West Show in 2010 before becoming Vice Patron in 2011. She is also Patron of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations and has been Patron of The Border Union Agricultural Society since its bicentennial year in 2012. The Countess also works to support the ‘Campaign for Wool’ which was set up by The Prince of Wales and aims to promote the use of British wool. In 2013, the Countess became the first ever Patron of London College of Fashion. In June 2013, she was appointed global ambassador for The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award Foundation, an umbrella body co-ordinating organisations running The Duke of Edinburgh's Award worldwide. She has been the chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Women's Network Forum since January 2014, a committee that was founded by her whose goal is the advancement of gender balance and equality by influencing business leaders, inspiring the next generation and sharing best practice. In June 2014, the Countess was appointed the patron of Ubunye Foundation based in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. This is a rural development trust dedicated to unlocking the potential of rural communities.

On the Countess's 50th birthday, she became Vice-Patron of The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, a charitable foundation established in 2012 for Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. In February 2015, the Queen gave a joint reception to celebrate the patronages and affiliations of the Earl and the Countess of Wessex as well as their 50th birthday at Buckingham Palace. Elizabeth, accompanied by the couple, met key supporters, staff, volunteers and alumnus from the charities of which they are patron or president, as well as representatives from their various military appointments. In November 2015, 100 Women in Hedge Funds announced that the Countess will serve as Global Ambassador of 100WF’s Next Generation initiatives.

In September 2016, the Countess took part in a cycling challenge from the Holyrood Palace to Buckingham Palace for the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Diamond Challenge. The ride raised more than £180,000 for the DofE's Award, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary. The Countess received a diamond pin to mark her completion of the Diamond Challenge. Farming organisation Linking Environment And Farming (LEAF) in October 2016 named the Countess as its new Honorary President. LEAF’s mission is to be the leading global organisation delivering more sustainable food and farming. In November 2016, she was announced as Women of the Future's official ambassador which supports and celebrates the successes of young women. In December 2016, the Countess participated in ICAP charity day in order to raise money for Shooting Star Chase, a children's hospice of which she has been a patron. At the same month, after the Queen stepped down from her position as patron of numerous charities, Sophie replaced her as the principal patron of NSPCC, Blind Veterans UK and British Cycling Federation.

The Countess was elected president of the Devon County Agricultural Association in February 2017. In May 2017, as Patron of the British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association the Countess attended its 90th anniversary as well as the athlete awards dinner. The Ice Maiden, five British Army women, received royal patronage from the Countess for their ambitious coast-to-coast ski expedition across Antarctica in October 2017. The team aimed to inspire women and girls everywhere to challenge perceptions and grow their ambitions. In January 2018, the Countess became the Royal Patron of the Nursing Memorial Appeal. The Appeal aims to create a memorial dedicated to the 1,500 nurses who gave their lives in First and Second World Wars. In February 2018, Westmorland Agricultural Society welcomed the Countess as its president.

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Royal family on the balcony
The British royal family on the balcony at Buckingham Palace

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