Sophie quietly and unobtrusively became one of the unknown treasures of the royal family

The Countess of Wessex, clustered on her heels, red-rimmed as she studied the floral tributes and loving letters, seemed lost in thought.

Her deep sadness was evident in this and every other picture of her seen in the days following the Queen’s death.

And that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Sophie and her mother-in-law were so close that she became like a “second daughter”.

In fact, after losing her mother, Mary Rhys Jones, to stomach cancer in 2005 at the age of 71, she used to call the Queen “Mama” affectionately.

They spent a lot of time together. Sophie and her husband Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest son, live with their two children a stone’s throw from Windsor Castle in Bagshot Park. Walking their dogs together was a favorite time in the past. They also shared a love of military history, spending hours researching ancient documents at the Royal Archives in Windsor.

The Countess of Wessex, clustered on her heels, red-rimmed as she studied floral tributes and lovable letters, seemed lost in thought.

The Countess of Wessex, clustered on her heels, red-rimmed as she studied floral tributes and lovable letters, seemed lost in thought.

The seeds for their intimate relationship were sown in 2002 after the Queen lost her first sister, Princess Margaret, and then her beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, within weeks. It was a relief to have another family member in her life.

The heartbreaking death of her lover Philip last year further increased the closeness between the Queen and Sophie, with the King often inviting her to take her late husband’s place with her in the back of the car.

This unwavering affection and respect explains why Sophie, when the Queen’s nearest and dearest gathered in Scotland last week to mourn her untimely death, was the only non-blood relative – with the exception of Princess Anne’s husband, Sir Tim Lawrence – who was at the forefront the center of the intimate family group.

For Sophie, 57, she quietly and unremarkably became one of the royal family’s unsung treasures. Sophie was not born into an aristocracy. I always worked for a living.

‘As the countesses go, she is pretty grounded. This is something the royal family needs.

There is even plenty of talk that Sophie and Edward – who are set to become the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in keeping with Philip’s wishes – could be “promoted” to second in command of William and Kate. How far they both got after their shakiest starts. In some ways, Sophie and Edward were the Harry and Meghan of their era.

After losing her mother, Mary Rhys Jones, to stomach cancer in 2005 at the age of 71, she used to call the Queen

After losing her mother, Mary Rhys Jones, to stomach cancer in 2005 at the age of 71, she used to call the Queen “Mama” affectionately.

Like the Sussexes, they insisted on trying to break the mold and forge lucrative business careers – he is in public relations and he is in television production – along with their royal duties.

Sophie was then dramatically involved in a humiliating “sting” orchestrated by the News of the World after speaking with a “fake sheikh” posing as a potential client. Her recorded follies about senior politicians were quite embarrassing.

For his part, Edward has been criticized for trying to make money from his royal connections on his business ventures. Unlike the Sussex family, Sophie and Edward both ended their businesses and took on the duties of the royal family, rebuilding their reputations within the royal family.

The Countess is now the second-most hard-working woman after Anne, and has won praise for choosing to work on preventable blindness and the cause of sexual violence in war.

A senior British government source told me her advocacy for the cause was “invaluable”.

And they add, “She is not afraid to walk away from the questions that should be asked of officials and put her feet in the fire.”

Baroness Steadman Scott OBE, Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, speaking to me in her personal capacity, I have known Sophie for 18 years through a charitable foundation that helps the long-term unemployed. When she first came to visit us, she didn’t want any fuss or fuss and just told them to make sure the place is clean and the toilet is clean. She appeared on her own and sat chatting. It’s normal,” she says.

There is even plenty of talk that Sophie and Edward - who are set to become the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in keeping with Philip's wishes - could become the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh.

There is even plenty of talk that Sophie and Edward – who are set to become the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in keeping with Philip’s wishes – could be “promoted” to second in command of William and Kate.

She also has a sense of humor too. We attended the awards ceremony together and while we were walking in one of them the wolf whistled [at her]. She turned towards me and said, “Is this for you?”

Sophie’s image has also changed over the years. The short skirts and ill-fitting suits she had long favored as a young PR manager have been dispensed with from the High Street. In the past decade, she’s lost weight after going to the gym and cycling, and has upped her game in the fashion stakes.

She enlisted the help of stylist Pandora Delevingne (mother of model and actress Cara) and now favors Susanna London and Emilia Wickstead ensembles to accent her physique and English rose complexion.

Indeed, Sophie, who was privately educated from a powerful middle-class family in Kent (her father is a retired tire salesman) became the real royal bargain and what the Queen considered one of the most secure pairs of hands in The Firm.

A long-time friend, Benny Mountbatten, ex-wife of the Queen’s cousin Lord Ivar Mountbatten, told me: ‘She has played her brilliantly and has devoted herself to doing everything right. ‘At the same time as performing all her royal duties, she is a practical mother [to Lady Louise, now 18, and James, Viscount Severn, 14] And the most loyal and supportive friend you could ever wish for. Finding the time and balance to do it all right is really quite genius. I think it’s wonderful.

She confirms that Sophie has a core group of girlfriends from her pre-royal days. It keeps them all very close. She is the godmother to quite a few children and they all feel the same, and that she is someone they can call at any time for advice or guidance.

The queen’s son-in-law, with whom she has a particularly close relationship, could have changed her but she did not. She has never forgotten her roots.

Another friend, jewelry designer, Belinda Scott, whose daughter Camilla Haden, was Sophie and Edward’s bridesmaid when they married in 1999, agrees. She previously told me: “She is a very loyal friend, and she has left everything to help.”

You can sit with her and she will focus and arrange everything with you. It is very practical and logical.

Sophie is fiercely dedicated to protecting her children, having endured serious medical complications during Louise’s delivery and ectopic pregnancy.

She went through a lot to get her family and she and Edward never depended on nannies. They’ve always had a rule that when working, one is home with the kids as much as possible, says Benny Mountbatten.

Because the Queen lived close by, she spent a lot of time with Louise and James when they were growing up, often watching Mr. Tumble on CBeebies when they were little.

Sir Andrew Strauss, a former English cricket captain, was introduced to Sophie at the school race after he met through her sons.

Sophie, who was privately educated from a powerful middle-class family in Kent (her father is a retired tire salesman) became the real royal bargain and what the Queen considered one of the most secure pairs of hands in The Firm.

Sophie, who was privately educated from a powerful middle-class family in Kent (her father is a retired tire salesman) became the real royal bargain and what the Queen considered one of the most secure pairs of hands in The Firm.

“Sophie is fully engaged with all the WhatsApp groups of parents,” he says. It must be tough when you are involved in school matters as another parent, but on the other hand, you are a member of the royal family. You get the impression that they are determined to raise their children as naturally as possible.

Royal sources tell me that Sophie has become a confidant of the new Princess of Wales, who sees Sophie as admiring the way she balances royal duties with motherhood. And Sophie has William’s seal, too.

“The next few years are going to be very important for this country,” Mark Foster Brown, a close family friend and head of the Wessex Youth Trust, told me in an interview before the Queen’s death. Sophie has never asked for the spotlight, but as we enter the next stage of the monarchy, it will be critical for me [then] The Duchess of Cambridge has a female voice board.

“And she simply cannot be better than someone like Sophie.”

Few will disagree.

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