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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Sophie: Life in the spotlight
The Earl and Countess of Wessex
The Wessexes have endured constant media attention
No sooner had she married Prince Edward on 19 June 1999, than Sophie Rhys-Jones must have started wondering how long her honeymoon with the media would last.

She had some experience of dealing with their inquisitiveness when she had to deal with their inquiries as a press officer at Capital Radio in London.

In the days before her wedding, she had to deal with the embarrassment caused by the publication of a topless picture of herself with Chris Tarrant, from the days when they worked together at the station.

The Earl and their Countess in their tennis gear
They couple fell in love after playing real tennis
It was at Capital in 1987 that she met Prince Edward. But he was dating one of her friends at the time, and it was not until the summer of 1993 that their romance finally got off the ground.

Sophie, a public relations executive, handled the publicity for the prince's Real Tennis Challenge.

The prince, who has seen his sister's and his two brothers' marriages end in divorce, had already been linked with a string of beauties but none came close to the altar.

Sophie, described by friends as gregarious, vivacious and down-to-earth, grew up in the Kent village of Brenchley, near Tunbridge Wells, where her parents, Christopher and Mary, still live.

Public relations

Her family, although wealthy, did not move in the "highest" social circles.

Sophie arrived in London in 1983 with her two A-levels to work for a public relations firm, followed by a three-year spell at Capital Radio, and a variety of other posts before she became the co-owner of a PR company, RJ-H.

Since her marriage at the age of 34, she has expressed a wish to be known as plain Sophie Wessex, although she and her husband do live in a 15million Victorian pile at Bagshot Park in Surrey.

Sophie and Edward wave to the crowds from their carriage on their wedding day
The couple had a full Royal wedding
But as a Royal bride, controversy was never far away.

When she helped to promote Rover cars at a motor show, she was accused of exploiting her title to promote one of her firm's clients.

And there were protests about the fox fur hat she wore at St Moritz.

But the countess's attributes have earned her the affection and approval of her in-laws. It seems the Duke of Edinburgh admires her sporting ability.

Apart from her talent for sailing, she is a keen skier and windsurfer and deep-sea diver. She also plays Real Tennis and is determined to become an accomplished horsewoman like the Queen and the Princess Royal.

Newspaper sting

Sophie is said to be "on-message", careful to avoid any notion that she is pursuing top-billing, restrained in her spending habits and fully conscious of the need for discretion.

That is, until a News of the World reporter posed as an Arab sheikh and potential client for her PR firm, which led to the publication by a rival newspaper, the Mail on Sunday, of a highly embarrassing article.

It reported alleged comments by the Countess containing unflattering descriptions of Tony and Cherie Blair, the Conservative leader, William Hague, and the Queen.

The BBC's court correspondent Jennie Bond, once described the countess as "cool, calm and collected". Qualities she will need if she is to survive under the relentless glare of the media.



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