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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 10:40 GMT
Tragic year for Sophie
The Earl and Countess of Wessex
Annus horribilis: Fresh woe for the earl and countess
The loss of an unborn baby in an ectopic pregnancy marks a tragic end to a miserable year for the Countess of Wessex.

There will be much sympathy for Sophie, who underwent a two-and-a-half hour operation after the potentially life-threatening condition was discovered.

But it comes after a series of public embarrassments for the countess and her husband Prince Edward, who in their own "annus horribilis" have been strongly criticised for their dual role as royals and business people.

In April, Sophie was embroiled in controversy when she was the victim of a newspaper sting over her public relations company R-JH.

Frank interview

She was secretly recorded at meetings in which she made frank comments about public figures to a reporter posing as a sheikh.

The affair saw Sophie widely attacked for allegedly using her royal status to win lucrative contracts.

In a subsequent attempt at damage limitation, Sophie gave a newspaper an interview in exchange for it not publishing full details of the tapes.

The interview - which included the countess's views on the possibility of undergoing IVF fertility treatment - was then splashed across the newspaper under the headline "My Edward's Not Gay".

Further attacks

In October Prince Edward also hit the headlines when it was discovered that his production company, Ardent, had broken a media agreement over the filming of Prince William at university.

A newspaper then printed a letter said to be from Prince Edward, 37, to a colleague in the television industry, in which he stressed how important his royal connections would be in making a documentary about the royal family and racing.

Further attacks on Sophie in the press have even extended to her "impulse buy" of a fox fur hat in St Moritz, and to the couple's ability to afford their home - a 15m Victorian pile at Bagshot Park in Surrey.

Even before she married Prince Edward on 19 June 1999, Sophie's private life came under intense scrutiny in the media.

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 a radio station.

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



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