Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Is Poised to Take the Spotlight Post-Megxit
"The Queen's favorite daughter-in-law," Sophie, Countess of Wessex, will pick up Harry and Meghan's slack.
With Prince Harry and Meghan Markle set to wrap up their official royal responsibilities this spring, officials at Buckingham Palace have been tasked with altering the working royals' diaries and delegating commitments and appearances that had been earmarked for the Sussexes for later this year. While Prince William and Kate Middleton have kept calm and carried on, royal insiders are expecting Sophie, Countess of Wessex, to step into the spotlight and have a greater role representing Queen Elizabeth in the wake of the Sussexes' exit.
"Sophie has a very close relationship with Her Majesty and is the ideal candidate to step in right now," says my Palace insider. "She is very popular within the family and is thought to be the Queen's favorite daughter-in-law."
Ironically, when they married in 1999, Sophie and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the Queen's youngest son, were also intent on maintaining their careers while officially representing the Queen. At the time, Her Majesty said she was in favor of the couple's plan, but reportedly cautioned them that doing so could leave them "open to accusations of pursuing their royal status in pursuit of their own business interests," according to The Globe and Mail.
The Queen's warning proved prescient. After marrying Edward, the former Sophie Rhys-Jones continued to helm her own public relations firm, RJH, which she founded in 1997 with partner Murray Harkin. But in 2001, she was forced to step down as chairman after a tabloid reporter posing as an Arab sheik recorded her boasting that potential clients could benefit from her royal connections. "If anybody ever gets some kind of additional profile or benefit from being involved with us because of my situation, that's an unspoken benefit. It's not something that anybody promises, it's something that just occurs," she was recorded saying at the time. She was also caught on the same tape calling Prime Minister Tony Blair "ignorant" and opining that Prince Charles would never be allowed to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles as long as the Queen Mother was alive.
According to The Times, Queen Elizabeth was so upset over the incident, she launched a review of the commercial affairs of working royals to ensure no one else was in a potentially comprising position that could embarrass the monarchy.
Additionally, prior to marrying Sophie, Edward incurred the wrath of Charles in 1997 when it was discovered that the film crew following William around at St. Andrews University was working for Edward's aptly titled production company, Ardent. (All other media had agreed to give the young royal his privacy while in school.)
After Sophie's PR debacle in 2001, she and Edward agreed to end their careers and were given £250,000 as "compensation" for lost wages in opting to become full-time working royals, according to the Daily Mail. (Sophie's former firm eventually shuttered in 2006, £1.7 million in debt.)
Today, nearly 20 years after the leak of the "Sophie tapes," Sophie is considered to be an extremely reliable and desirable choice for a variety of official engagements in Britain and overseas representing the Queen. Last week, she spent her 55th birthday with Edward and the Queen at a reception for the U.K.-Africa investment summit hosted by William and Kate at Buckingham Palace.
Also, Edward is the only one of the Queen's children not to have gotten divorced. "[Sophie and Edward] have stayed below the radar all these years, which has been a great relief to the Queen," my source says.
One royal watcher pointed to Sophie's solo two-day trip to Sierra Leone last week as a sign of her proficiency at handling important royal duties. She was the first member of the family to visit the continent since Harry and Meghan's African tour in October. "That was a very clear signal that the Queen has the utmost confidence in Sophie," says my source. "She also gets on very well with Catherine. They often team up and they make a good team."
According to the royal insider, the former PR executive and mother to Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn, has spent years toiling for the Crown with next to no fanfare surrounding her engagements, but she seems to have upped the glamour quotient recently, which could indicate she's ready and willing for a higher profile within the family. "Sophie is a beautiful woman and has taken to wearing clothes by the designers favored by the Duchess of Cambridge a lot more often than she did in the past," my source says. "She's quite outgoing and warm. The Countess seems ready and willing to take on more responsibilities at this critical time, which would ease the Queen's mind quite a bit."
Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.