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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.

Royal Wedding
Her family's only line back to "blue blood" is a distant ancestor called Viscount Molesworth, a 17th century diplomat. But what Sophie lacks in royal lineage, she has most certainly made up for in worldly experience and professional success.

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.

[ image: Parents Christopher and Mary Rhys-Jones]
Parents Christopher and Mary Rhys-Jones
Her father, Christopher, the son of a teacher, is a retired salesman for a tyre maker. He once said he added the hyphen to the family name because he thought it made it sound more upmarket.

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.

Big break

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.

[ image: Miss Rhys-Jones in the early days of her relationship]
Miss Rhys-Jones in the early days of her relationship
Her colleagues' memories of her time there are glowing. Programme Controller Pete Simmons said: "She got on with everyone and we all adored her. She was always game for laugh and really down to earth."

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.

PR business

Although unemployed, Sophie had a good circle of friends and was often seen at parties in the country.

[ image: Miss Rhys-Jones had a coat of arms designed for the wedding]
Miss Rhys-Jones had a coat of arms designed for the wedding
With her good set of social and professional contacts, she landed a job with PR firm Brian MacLaurin and a year later, joined with business partner Murray Harkin to set up her own public relations company, R-JH.

Today, as the company's chairman, she has an illustrious client list including celebrity magazine OK!, the Lanesborough Hotel, and Mayfair designer Thomas Goode.

Working relationship

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.

[ image: Miss Rhys-Jones is often compared to Princess Diana]
Miss Rhys-Jones is often compared to Princess Diana
Their meeting sparked off the prince's interest in Sophie. Their relationship began soon after.

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 nave 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."

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