Friday, June 11, 1999 Published at 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
PR girl turns princess
Sophie Rhys-Jones runs her own PR business
If ever there was a girl who epitomised middle England and its Home Counties lifestyle, it is Sophie Rhys-Jones.
Born on 20 January 1965 in Oxford, Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones grew up in the west Kent village of Brenchley. Sophie, her parents and elder brother David lived in four-bedroom 17th century farmhouse remains the family home until today.
Her mother, Mary O'Sullivan, comes from a family of mainly Irish shopkeepers and farmers. Mrs Rhys-Jones, a charity worker and secretary, has her own royal connection. As a young woman she once danced with Prince Philip at a society ball.
Schooldays in the country
Sophie was an energetic, robust child, excelling in tennis, hockey and netball at school.
Her prep school head, Robin Peverett, now retired and a holder of an OBE for his services to education, said: "My memory of her is very much as a happy, popular, natural girl with lost of common sense, conscientious at her school work and good at sport."
Sophie became a day girl at the £1,400-a-term Kent College for Girls in Pembury, where she also enjoyed riding, ballet and amateur dramatics.
She had a mildly wild reputation among her peers, mainly borne out of stories of her and two other pupils stealing alcohol from their fathers' drinks cabinets for quiet tipples in the library.
Sophie left Kent College with 8 O-Levels and enrolled at West Kent College Tonbridge on a two-year A-Level and secretarial course, where she is remembered by friends and teachers for her lively personality and sporty streak.
Soon after leaving college at 18, Sophie started work as a secretary for a London public relations firm. It was a year later, in 1986, that she landed her big break - in the press department at the city's popular Capital Radio.
About the same time, she became involved in a serious relationship with businessman Jeremy Barkley, 11 years her senior. But it was not to last. After their amicable split, Sophie moved jobs to become a manager with the ski company, Bladon Lines.
She was posted for four months to the Swiss Alps resort of Cras Montana where she met ski instructor Mike O'Neill. She moved with him to his native Australia but the romance came to an end.
Sophie took advantage of her time abroad by backpacking around Australia and the Far East with friends before heading home to England in 1991.
Although unemployed, Sophie had a good circle of friends and was often seen at parties in the country.
Today, as the company's chairman, she has an illustrious client list including celebrity magazine OK!, the Lanesborough Hotel, and Mayfair designer Thomas Goode.
It was her work that caught the eye of her future husband, Prince Edward. Their first formal meeting was at a strategy session to discuss a Real Tennis charity event that the Prince was organising in 1993.
Sophie's looks have often been compared to the late Princess Diana. But the two women could not be more different.
While Diana married a man 12 years her senior at the naïve age of 20, Sophie is a mid-30s career woman who intends to maintain her professional life even after marriage.
On her engagement to Prince Edward, she was asked how she felt about joining the Royal Family. Her answer was simple and honest: "It is slightly nerve-racking in many ways. But I am ready for it now and I am fully aware of the responsibilities."