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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK
Conflict of the media royals
Countess and Earl of Wessex
Edward and Sophie have careers in the media
By the BBC's royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell

It has been a problem waiting in the wings. Buckingham Palace officials have been deeply uneasy for many months about the potential for the professional careers of the Earl and Countess of Wessex to cause serious embarrassment to the monarchy.

Not that there is any objection, in principle, to two people on the fringes of the royal family having careers.

In fact the idea that so-called "minor" members of the family should have jobs and make their own way in life is one that would be widely supported within the Palace.

The problem is the nature of the careers pursued by Edward and Sophie.

They work in the... often shallow and invariably incestuous atmosphere of the media

If Edward was an accountant (as recommended by his father after he walked out on the Royal Marines) and Sophie worked in medicine or education, then the potential for all-round embarrassment may be considerably less.

But Edward and Sophie have not chosen such "sensible" jobs. They work instead in the often shallow and invariably incestuous atmosphere of the media.

He runs his own television production company. She runs her own public relations business.

Uncomfortable proximity

They are roles which regularly place the youngest son and daughter-in-law of the monarch in uncomfortable proximity to situations where their actions may be misunderstood and, at worst, compromise the dignity of the monarchy.

The fact that they both run their own businesses adds considerably to the problem.

Edward and Sophie, as the principal shareholders and senior executives in their respective companies, both have to shoulder the responsibility of sustaining existing business contracts and drumming up new ones.

Neither [business] can be said to be spectacularly successful

Not an easy thing to do, even for the leading players in the highly competitive worlds of TV production and public relations.

And neither RJH Public Relations (Sophie's PR business) nor Ardent Productions (Edward's TV production company) are leading players or could be described as spectacularly successful.

If Edward Wessex were a notably successful television producer he would not have had to fall back on making money from television programme after television programme with a royal theme (something, in the early days of Ardent TV, he promised he would not do).

Misguided exchange

And if the professional skills and expertise of Sophie's business were held in the highest regard, one might suppose that she would not have felt the need to engage in those exchanges with the fake sheikh at the Dorchester Hotel, in the belief that the sharing of such royal intimacies would help her to secure what she believed was a very large contract.

Can you be both an HRH and a PR girl about town?

The Earl and Countess of Wessex both enjoy the rank and status of people who are styled His/Her Royal Highness.

They keep a grand house at Bagshot Park in Surrey and enjoy many of the privileges which are still accorded to members of the British royal family, even the less-important ones.

They have, though, in the choice and conduct of their professional lives once again raised serious questions which senior figures at Buckingham Palace are now having to anguish over.

Can you be both an HRH and a PR girl about town or a film-maker specialising in royalty?

After the past week there are few at the Palace who would say with any confidence that you can.

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See also:

05 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Sophie faces storm of criticism
25 Oct 99 | UK
Edward: Leave Sophie alone
05 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Cabinet minister criticises Sophie
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