Over the last few days, Sophie, The Countess of Wessex, has been called Queen Elizabeth’s "second daughter"; and indeed, the depth of her clearly felt grief has been striking. According to royal expert Jennie Bond, who knew her before she married The Queen’s youngest son Prince Edward, the relationship between mother and daughter-in-law became stronger and stronger as the years passed.
“They genuinely liked one another, and they spent a lot of time together,” says Bond, who was the BBC’s royal correspondent for 14 years, and who has been reporting on The Royal Family for three decades. “They seemed to very much enjoy one another’s company. I think it was very much a two-way relationship: it wasn’t just about an adoration of the queen by Sophie, it was a mutual friendship.”
The former Sophie Rhys-Jones, 57, was working as a PR executive when Bond first knew her. “She was so down to earth, so charming, a really wholesome and lovely young woman. And she has become an extremely hard-working member of The Royal family, as well as half of a very successful partnership.” Edward and Sophie - who many expect to now become the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh - are the only pair in The Queen’s immediate family to have remained in their original marriage. Perhaps their longevity as a married couple - they’ve been married now for almost 23 years - and a shared experience of battling together through tough times as well as good, was a glue between the two couples. Certainly they were all close: when Prince Philip died last year, says Bond, it was a picture taken by The Countess of Wessex on a family day out in Scotland that was released by Buckingham Palace. “You can see in that photo how relaxed they are, and they’re relaxed because they’re so close to the person holding the camera.”
Sophie has been known to refer to The Queen as ‘Mama’, and the depth of her sorrow was evident on her face in the days after her death, especially when she joined other members of the family to look at floral tributes left outside Balmoral Castle, holding her daughter Louise tightly by the hand. Some believe it was Louise’s premature birth in 2003 that cemented the relationship between The Queen and her daughter-in-law. Sophie had already had a traumatic ectopic pregnancy a couple of years earlier, and then with Louise’s arrival both she and her baby almost died and had to be airlifted to hospital for the birth. “It’s almost unheard of for The Queen to visit anyone in hospital, but she did go to see Sophie,” remembers Bond.
Four years later, Sophie gave birth to a second child, a son called James. And, just as Edward and his older brother had been a ‘second family’ for their parents, born a decade after their older siblings, so the Wessex children provided a second, and different, experience of grandparenting. “I think, perhaps, The Queen was closer to Sophie and Edward’s children than she was to the older grandchildren,” says Bond. “She was young enough to be able to get down on the floor with them, but it’s possible she had a little more time than when the others were small children.” And then there was the fact that the Wessexes’ home Bagshot Park was geographically close to The Queen at Windsor. “Most weekends Sophie would take her children over to see their grandparents, and they’d go riding together. And later, especially after Philip died, Sophie has often gone over to keep her company. I heard they liked watching movies together - it was a very comfortable relationship.”
Perhaps, too, the bond had been strengthened after Sophie’s own mother, Mary, died in 2005. But more than anything, says Jennie, the relationship was helped Sophie’s personality. “She’s a very calm, kind, relaxed individual, and The Queen really appreciated those qualities.
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