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Wednesday, January 6, 1999 Published at 13:00 GMT


Sophie's choice

Prince Edward pictured the year he set up Ardent Productions

After five years of courtship, Sophie Rhys-Jones has had plenty of time to get to know her prince. But what do we the public know about her chosen spouse, a private royal who has fought off media mockery to make a life for himself outside the royal circle?

[ image: Happy couple: Engaged at last]
Happy couple: Engaged at last
Prince Edward was born on 10 March 1964, the last royal birth at Buckingham Palace. Prince Edward's eldest brother Charles was already 15 years old and his sister Anne was also a teenager. Only Prince Andrew, aged four, was of the same generation.

The Queen was 38 when Edward was born but 12 years into her reign she was able to cut back on her royal duties and devote more time and attention to him than she had to any of her other children.

[ image: The prince is the Queen's youngest child]
The prince is the Queen's youngest child
Edward developed a close relationship with Prince Charles in spite of the age gap. Influenced by Charles's dislike of Gordonstoun School, with its emphasis on outward-bound, character-forming education, Edward was reluctant to go.

But once there, he settled in easily and showed his theatrical leanings early on by taking part in school plays.

Edward eventually became headboy, and achieved a respectable academic record - nine O- and three A-levels. Generally considered the cleverest of the Queen's children, his subsequent place at Cambridge University to study history was thought to be justified on merit.

[ image: Edward at 13 enjoyed Gordonstoun school]
Edward at 13 enjoyed Gordonstoun school
Following the family tradition, Edward joined the Royal Marines while a student but after graduation from university, he shocked his father - and the media - by deciding to drop out. He was the first male royal to reject a conventional career in the services. The question now was - what was he going to do?

Almost immediately, Edward was asked to write and narrate two television programmes on the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, a project helped to concentrate his ideas on his future.

[ image: Edward at 20: Theatrical leanings]
Edward at 20: Theatrical leanings
His next appearance was also for charity - "It's a Royal Knockout" - an event he may prefer to forget. He persuaded Princess Anne and the Duchess of York to take part in the popular TV game show but heavy rain left the royals wallowing in mud and many felt the whole enterprise had demeaned the royal family - including, it was reported, the Queen herself.

Showbiz career

While the press mocked him, the successful West End composer Andrew Lloyd Webber offered Edward a job as a production assistant in his Really Useful Company. He jumped at the chance and began a humble beginning in showbiz. The press lost interest and the prince was happy to be out of the limelight.

Once his courtship with Sophie Rhys-Jones became public knowledge in 1993, the Prince took another unprecedented step. He issued an open letter to editors, denying reports that they had made plans to marry and asking for them to stay away.

"I am very conscious that other members of my family have been subjected to similar attention and it has not been at all beneficial to their relationships," he said.

'Edward formerly known as Prince'

In same year, Prince Edward set up his own production company, Ardent Productions, and decided to drop his HRH title while at work. Dubbed the Edward formerly known as Prince, the press once again took a cynical view of the prince's activities after he used his contacts to write and present a series of royal documentaries.

They included Crown and Country, a view of Britain's history through its monuments, Edward on Edward, about the life of his uncle Edward VII and a documentary on the restoration of Windsor Castle after the 1992 fire. But he has been involved in non-royal programmes, too, such as a short television documentary series of programmes on real tennis and the fictional series Annie's Bar, based on MPs at Westminster.

Last year he gave himself a pay rise, bringing his salary to a reported £119,125 - although the business had hit a financial low with debts believed to be running at £1.2m.

The prince has shown himself to be a man who knows what he wants but admitted on Wednesday that only he knows why it took him so long to decide to marry the girl he has been courting for more than five years.

"It's impossible for anyone else to understand why it has taken me this long."

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