When she was younger she was once described as "someone you wouldn't notice in a crowd," this view has most certainly changed now that she is a member of the royal family. Sophie Helen, Countess of Wessex, the former Sophie Rhys Jones, was born on January 20, 1965. Her first name was chosen by chance, when her mother was pregnant she overheard another mother call out "Sophie!" to her little girl and decided that she liked the name. Her second name, Helen, comes from her father's sister who died in a riding accident 10 years before she was born.
She is the second child and only daughter of Christopher Bournes Rhys-Jones, a retired tire salesman, and his wife, the late Mary O'Sullivan. She has an older brother named David. Her family moved to Kent and she started her education at Dulwich College Preparatory School. She then attended Kent College School for girls, before completing her education at West Kent College.
As a child she dreamed of being a ballerina and she took lessons until she was seventeen. When she was a teenager she joined the Cranbrook Operatic Society and during the audition she has to sing solo in front of a critical producer; 'It was,' she remembers, 'the worst moment of my life,' Although her voice was 'rather shaky,' her dancing and acting skills were not and she was offered a part in the chorus of My Fair Lady.
At the age of nineteen she moved to London and embarked on a career in Public Relations. In 1996 she opened her own PR firm, RJH Public Relations, which she worked at until 2002. Although no longer involved in the day- to-day aspects she still retains a small business connection.
Edward and Sophie met in 1993, purely by chance and they were able to pursue their relationship largely away from the public eye until Andrew Morton entered her office, walked to her desk and said: "Sophie Rhys-Jones, can I be the first person to call you Your Royal Highness?" After a five-year courtship, the engagement of Sophie to Prince Edward was announced in January 1999. They were married on June 19 of the same year at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. It was the last royal wedding of the millennium.
On November 8, 2003 the couple welcomed their first child, The Lady Louise Windsor. As a granddaughter of the sovereign in the male line, she is entitled to be called Her Royal Highness Princess Louise of Wessex. However, at the time of her parents marriage, it was decided that any children would not use HRH Prince/Princess but would carry courtesy titles as the children of an Earl. This was so they could avoid the full burden of royal titles and the responsiblity that comes with them.
The Countess of Wessex's hobbies and interests include skiing, horse-riding, carriage driving, sailing and gardening. She is patron of over 40 charities and organizations and occasionally accompanies her husband on engagements, traveling with him to various parts of the world in support of The Duke of Edinburgh International Awards Foundation. She also holds honorary military appointments as Colonel in Chief, Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps and Colonel in Chief, The Lincoln and Welland Regiment.
The couple live at Bagshot Park, Surrey.
© Marilyn Braun 2005
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