Countess of Wessex reveals heartache over losing her mother in thoughtful W.I. speech

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·Royal Correspondent
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The Countess of Wessex has opened up about her personal heartache over the death of her mother more than 15 years ago, saying she "missed out on so much".

Sophie recalled her sorrow during a speech made to Women's Institute members at their annual meeting, in which she went on to comment that the effect of the pandemic on women was "not fair". 

She said her mother Mary was an "only child, having lost her father to illness when she was just five", and then losing her stepfather, who died on a ship bound for India in 1943, of a sudden heart attack.

She said: "Her mother, my grandmother, sadly but understandably, never got over those tragedies and struggled to form close relationships with anyone after her terrible experiences."

Sophie, who is mother to two children, Lady Louise Windsor and James, the Viscount Severn, went on to tell the WI about her "mummy's very naughty sense of humour" and how her friends were the most important thing, after family.

She said: "She was a very good tennis and bridge opponent. She couldn't sing for toffee, take a decent photo, or sew.

"She had absolutely no confidence in herself whatsoever."

Sophie admitted that she misses her mother even though she died some years ago. (NFWI)
Sophie admitted that she misses her mother even though she died some years ago. (NFWI)

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Sophie also remembered a moment of finding her mother unloading the laundry from the washing machine into the fridge, and the only two occasions she saw her cry - when radio soap opera Waggoners' Walk came to an end, and when Lord Louis Mountbatten was killed.

She said: "She died aged 71 in late August 2005, when my daughter Louise was less than two years old.

"To this day, I miss her very much and there are moments where I hear some music she loved or I do something I know she'd have wanted to hear about, which make her early departure very hard.

"She has missed out on so much, and I'm particularly sad that she hasn't seen my children grow up or seen how my work has grown and developed.

"She would have loved that I am talking to you today."

Sophie, 56, has long been involved in issues around women's equality and worked with survivors of violence and conflict. During her speech, she also touched on her work during the pandemic, saying she is seeing the "very real impact" of COVID-19. 

Britain's Sophie, Countess of Wessex, speaks to members of the Bagshot Women's Institute during her visit at The Half Moon pub, following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Windlesham, Britain July 8, 2020. Stuart C. Wilson/Pool via REUTERS
The Countess of Wessex with members of the Bagshot Women's Institute during her visit at The Half Moon pub, in July 2020. (Stuart C. Wilson/Pool via Reuters)

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"For women's greater equality in the workplace it is ongoing struggle to gain equal pay for doing the same work as male counterparts, get representation in senior management and on boards, and to help women into industries that are very male dominated. 

"Sadly, since lockdown when the majority of people work from home, some of the work has been undone, and so much that has been really positive in recent years has gone backwards," the royal said.

She said women remained the main carer, adding they "have had to absorb greater childcare needs, whilst being an income generator, cook, carer, cleaner, and teacher" and take on caring roles for sick and elderly relatives.

She said: "While children and partners compete for the dodgy wifi connection, the mother in the family has to work her office commitments around everyone else.

"I've had a number of conversations with people who have said their working day has only just begun when the children have gone to bed."

She credited many male family members for doing their share, but added "when all is said and done, women have borne the brunt of the pandemic". 

The countess, who is married to Prince Edward, the Queen's youngest son, said the situation abroad was also difficult, as she reflected on her work in conflict-affected areas with female peace-builders.

Britain's Sophie, Countess of Wessex (R) and Princess Anne (2nd L) watch as Queen Elizabeth cuts a Women's Institute Celebrating 100 Years cake, at the centenary annual meeting of The National Federation Of Women's Institute, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Britain June 4, 2015.   REUTERS/Chris Jackson/pool
Sophie and Princess Anne laugh as the Queen struggled to cut a 'Women's Institute Celebrating 100 Years' cake, at the Royal Albert Hall in 2015. (REUTERS/Chris Jackson)

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She said: "It's not fair that as 50% of the population, 93% of women have had to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace, that they are overlooked for promotion, often not paid the same as their male counterparts, and struggle to get ahead.

"It's not fair that the very people who try so hard to keep the peace in their communities are not heard nor taken into account when peace treaties are negotiated. When it is men have perpetrated the violence and get to sit around the table and argue what is important to them, while ignoring those who can do so much to help them find a way forward for the good of all.

"It is not fair that in the main it is women and girls who are subjected to acts of sexual violence, who cannot seek support or help, have to live with the terrible stigma that tears families apart, often bringing up unwanted children born of rape and dealing with the awful physical internal trauma that multiple rape creates without the timely medical intervention."

She concluded: "Be proud of yourselves as members of the WI, be proud of other women in your life, and be proud of women everywhere.

"Never, never lose heart.

"We are resilient, resourceful, reliable and we make a positive difference to the lives of others."

Sophie is a senior working royal, and carries out engagements on behalf of the Queen.

She is reportedly very close to the monarch and has previously spoken about being able to go over for tea with her children, when the Queen is at Windsor Castle.

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