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Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK

A royal love match

The commemorative stamp to mark the royal wedding

When Sophie Rhys-Jones, the blonde, blue-eyed and bubbly PR girl, bounced up to Prince Edward on a late summer evening in 1993, her first words were: "I'd love to have a hit."

Royal Wedding
She was referring to a game of Real Tennis but observers said it was quite obvious there was more on her mind. And it seems, the prince was only too willing.

Prince Edward had been participating in a Real Tennis summer challenge at Holyport near Windsor. Miss Rhys-Jones was organising the public relations.

The couple had rubbed shoulders before the match. Miss Rhys-Jones was asked to stand next to the prince in a promotional photo after tennis player Sue Barker dropped out. Prince Edward later invited Miss Rhys-Jones to discuss the event with him over supper at his second-floor suite at Buckingham Palace.

It was not until a few months later that the rest of the world got wind of their relationship. Immediately there was speculation about Prince Edward's intention to propose.

But royal watchers were in for a long wait.

Stating the case

The prince himself laid out his intentions at the time in a letter to newspaper editors: "I am taking the unusual step of writing to you directly in the hope of stopping your reporters and photographers from destroying that part of my life that I am entitled to regard as private, and more important, Sophie's life.

"We are not planning to get married, we only met each other in the past few months, but we are good friends," he said.

Keenly aware of the effect media coverage had on his siblings' marriages, Prince Edward consistently set the press straight - denying all reports of an impending engagement.

When asked in an interview with the Radio Times when he planned to get married, he irritably replied: "If you shut up, mind your own business and let me do it when I want, it is much more likely to happen."

Open courtship

Engagement or no engagement, it was clear Miss Rhy-Jones and Prince Edward were a couple.

[ image: At Ascot in 1995]
At Ascot in 1995
She often accompanied him to back to Buckingham Palace after an evening out and eventually she was given her own pass to the Palace so she could come and go at will.

Miss Rhys-Jones regularly spent evenings with the family at Windsor Castle and weekends at Balmoral, where she was even pictured horse riding with the Queen.

That the two were never pictured publicly showing their affection for one another is more a reflection of the fact that Miss Rhys-Jones, who runs her own PR firm, is well aware of the media and the potential for unnecessary publicity.

The couple's relationship was carried out discreetly. The two were mainly photographed arriving together at public functions or attending royal family occasions.

Last minute doubts

However, as the years went by, doubts increased as to the prince's intention to marry Miss Rhys-Jones.

Even Prince Philip is said to have reminded his son that if marriage was not in his plan, the prince was jeopardising Miss Rhys-Jones's chances of meeting someone else.

[ image: The prince's bodyguard accompaniedthem on dates]
The prince's bodyguard accompaniedthem on dates
Reports appeared of an ultimatum issued by Miss Rhys-Jones to the prince: marry me or else. But at the announcement of their engagement in January of this year, she pointedly remarked that she had done nothing of the sort.

"Contrary to popular opinion, we have never lived together," she said, "and I have never issued any ultimatums."

Prince Edward told the world his proposal to Miss Rhys-Jones had taken her by surprise. And asked why he had taken so long to pop the question, he said: "It's impossible for anyone else to understand why, but I don't think it would have been right before and I don't think that Sophie would have said yes."

People's couple

Prince Edward and Miss Rhys-Jones are a royal couple with a difference. Both in their mid-thirties, they are marrying late by Royal Family standards.

[ image: The engagement ring from royal jeweller Asprey and Garrard]
The engagement ring from royal jeweller Asprey and Garrard
But it also has been widely commented that at the age of 34 -after five years of acquainting herself with her future in-laws - Miss Rhys-Jones is more mature and experienced to make a success of her marriage into the British monarchy.

After the wedding, the couple's life will not undergo any dramatic change. Both intend to continue in their careers. They will live at Bagshot Park, a Victorian mansion in Surrey, which the prince has leased from the Crown Estate.

Prince Edward knows only too well that as the last of the Queen's children to walk up the aisle. All hopes are on his marriage to break the jinx that has plagued his siblings' marriages.

There is reason to be optimistic. In contrast to his eldest brother, Prince Charles's infamous response as to whether he and his future bride, Diana Spencer, were in love - "whatever that may mean" he said - Prince Edward was more prepared and confident.

He told reporters: "We are the very best of friends and that's essential and it also helps that we happen to love each other as well very much and it's great."

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In this section

Honeymoon over for Edward and Sophie

Balmoral honeymoon - then back to work

Royal couple join waxworks

Edward and Sophie begin married life

Radiant Sophie marries her prince

Sophie stunning in ivory silk

Traditional service for royal couple

Stars and royalty at wedding of the year

Something old, something new

Hats off to wedding fashion

Wessex titles for Edward and Sophie

Shoes hitch for Sophie

Marriage and monarchy move with the times

Fan fare: Monarchist memorabilia worldwide

Shattering the royal marriage myth