Her Royal Highness 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 HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Countess of Wessex is most famous for her former career in public relations, and her marriage to the Earl of Wessex.
Sophie was born at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, the daughter of Christopher Bournes Rhys-Jones, a retired tyre salesman, and his wife, Mary O'Sullivan, a secretary of Irish birth. She is an eleventh-cousin once removed to her husband through their common ancestors Nicholas St John and Elizabeth nee Blount.
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 HRH The Prince Edward, the youngest son of HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Their marriage took place on June 19, 1999 at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
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, HRH The Countess of Wessex.
TRH The Earl and Countess of Wessex and Lady Louise Windsor
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 carry the title of a British princess or the style Her Royal Highness. This was in deference to the Earl and Countess' wishes that their children not carry royal titles and styles. Although the first born male of the couple could use the Earl's courtesy title of Viscount Severn, subsequent males and females would be styled Lord or Lady Windsor.
Countess of Wessex
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 client's of RJH at press launches, accused of using her royal status to promote her business.
A later 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 before her wedding, 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 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.
Titles and Honours
- Miss Sophie Rhys-Jones (1965-1999)
- Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex (1999-present)
- Colonel-in-Chief, Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps
- Colonel in Chief, The Lincoln and Welland Regiment