Queen turns to Sophie, Countess of Wessex to step out of the shadows

Gordon Rayner
·5-min read
The Countess of Wessex is trusted by the Queen  - Mark Cuthbert/ UK Press
The Countess of Wessex is trusted by the Queen - Mark Cuthbert/ UK Press

She is said to be the Queen’s favourite daughter-in-law, and now the monarch is set to turn to the Countess of Wessex to fill the gap left by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in carrying out royal duties.

The 56-year-old Countess was one of the most prominent members of the Royal family in the days following the Duke of Edinburgh’s death.

She made the first public comments about his passing, repeatedly visited Windsor Castle and provided a photograph of the Queen and the Duke at Balmoral that Her Majesty chose to share with the world as a tribute to her late husband.

The departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from the UK, and the effective retirement of the Duke of York, has left a major hole in the roster of Royal family members available to carry out public duties, and the Countess has been groomed to step out of the shadows in the year since “Megxit”.

Her husband, the Earl of Wessex, 57, is also expected to increase his public profile as he prepares to take on the title Duke of Edinburgh when the Prince of Wales - who automatically inherited the title from his father - becomes king.

The Countess of Wessex took this photograph of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the top of the Coyles of Muick in 2003 - The Countess of Wessex
The Countess of Wessex took this photograph of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the top of the Coyles of Muick in 2003 - The Countess of Wessex

Decisions will also have to be made in the coming months about the future roles - if any - of Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

The Princess Royal, who prefers to go about her prodigious number of royal engagements away from the spotlight, could also be asked to carry out more public-facing duties.

She is currently the favourite to become the new Captain General of the Royal Marines, a coveted role passed from the Duke of Edinburgh to Prince Harry, who was forced to give up his military titles after confirming last month that he would not be returning to royal duties.

One royal source said: “Over the past 12 months or so the Countess has started to become more in the public eye.

“She has always carried out a large number of engagements, so I’m not sure there has been a conscious decision by the Palace to push things, but it’s true that people have started to notice her more.”

The Countess has made clear she is happy to increase her workload - last year she said: “I think we’ll all be busy post this virus. There will be many people affected who are going to need a lot of support.”

The level of trust placed in her by the Queen was reflected in the fact that she was sanctioned to speak to the media about how the sovereign was coping the day after the Duke of Edinburgh’s death.

Watch: Prince Philip - Edward & Sophie read tributes

She followed up the next day by describing the Duke’s final moments, and made regular visits to Windsor to comfort the Queen from her home in Bagshot Park, around 10 miles away.

Together with Prince Edward and their eldest child, Lady Louise Windsor, the Countess also carried out a public engagement last week when they viewed flowers left in Windsor by the public, which had been gathered and taken into the Lower Ward of the castle.

During the Duke’s funeral the Countess was given a prime position almost opposite the Queen, closer to the monarch than her husband the Earl.

The Countess, who married Prince Edward in 1999, has spent the past 20 years loyally and quietly serving the Queen, having had to rebuild her reputation after being caught in a tabloid sting making unflattering comments about politicians and speaking openly about the Royal family when she was still running her own PR firm in 2001.

In 2019, the last year before Covid restrictions struck, the Countess carried out 236 engagements - more than the Duke of Cambridge - while Prince Edward carried out 308.

In the same year the Duke of York carried out 274 engagements and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex carried out 284.

While the absence of the Duke of York and the Sussexes has made relatively little difference during a year of Covid lockdowns, the fact that they carried out more than 550 engagements between them in 2019 shows the size of the hole that must now be plugged by other members of the Royal family.

The Duke of Edinburgh was still involved with 743 organisations as patron, president or honorary member when he died, while the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had 19 patronages and the Duke had three ceremonial military titles.

All of them will have to be either reallocated to another member of the Royal family or allowed to fall away.

The Duke of York has 151 patronages, and a decision will have to be made about whether he is allowed to keep them if there is no realistic prospect of him ever returning to public duties following the scandal over his friendship with the paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Prince Andew has always been keen for his daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, to be given more prominent public roles, and while royal sources said nothing had been ruled out, they are not expected to become core working royals.

Watch: The wonderful life of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh