Sophie Countess of Wessex: BBC’s Sue Barker played key role in royal marriage to Edward


SOPHIE, COUNTESS OF WESSEX and Prince Edward celebrated 20 years of happy married life this year – but their first meeting was a chance encounter in which Sophie was a last-minute replacement for Sue Barker, a royal biographer writes. 

Sophie, Countess of Wessex and Prince Edward recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary, and released a delightful photograph together from Royal Ascot. The Earl and Countess of Wessex married in their 1999 royal wedding at St George’s Chapel Windsor, and soon welcomed their children Louise and James. However, their six-year long courtship actually began with a chance encounter in 1993. 

Royal biographer Ingrid Seward, in her 1995 book “Prince Edward”, delves into the details behind the beginning of the royal romance.

Ms Seward writes: “It was not Sophie Rhys-Jones Prince Edward was supposed to meet that morning at Queen’s tennis club in London.

“Britain’s former number one player, Sue Barker, was booked to appear with Edward at a photocall being held in aid of the Prince Edward Challenge which was raising money for local charities around Britain.” 

However, Sophie’s former PR boss Malcolm MacLaurin explained to the author how Sky Sports opposed Ms Barker’s appearance to promote another brand. 

Edward and Sophie; Sue Barker

The Earl and Countess of Wessex and Sue Barker (Image: Getty)

Sophie Rhys-Jones

Sophie and Edward in the early days of their relationship (Image: Getty)

Ms Seward continues: “With less than 24 hours to go, MacLaurin did not have enough time to find a celebrity replacement for Barker. 

“Driven by necessity, he press-ganged one of his own employees into coming along to be photographed with Edward, in Barker’s stead. 

“The girl he chose was Sophie Rhys-Jones.

“Thus in effect it was Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born media tycoon who owns Sky and is so distrusted by the Royal Family, who inadvertently brought about the meeting between Prince Edward and the woman who was to play such an important part in his life.”

Sophie and Edwards royal wedding Image Getty
Sophie and Edwards royal wedding Image Getty

Sophie and Edward’s 1999 royal wedding (Image Getty)

The author adds: “Edward had surreptitiously asked her for her telephone number that day they met.

“Sophie, an independent career girl with the experience and confidence to know when to follow her heart, responded to his princely attentions.

“Within a few weeks the couple were virtually living together.”

Sophie, Countess of Wessex and Prince Edward

The royal pair released images from Royal Ascot to mark their anniversary (Image Getty)

Edwad, Sophie, Louise and James Wessex

The Wessex family at this year’s Trooping the Colour (Image Getty)

The new couple’s  freedom  to see each other so openly also marked a huge change in the Queen’s mindset, Ms Seward writes.

The author explains: “That Edward should wish to have his girlfriend beside him as much as possible was perfectly natural.

“That the Queen should allow it to happen under her roof marked a significant change in attitude and approach.

Edward and Sophie timeline Image DX
Edward and Sophie timeline Image DX

Edward and Sophie timeline (Image DX)

“Both Sarah and Diana had moved into the Palace, but not until they were formally engaged. 

“Even then they were carefully accommodated at the other end of the principal floor so that appearances could be maintained. 

“Those strictures were set aside for Sophie. She was free to stay with Prince Edward wherever and whenever she wanted to.”

Lady Louise and James Viscount Severn with their parents earlier this month Image Getty
Lady Louise and James Viscount Severn with their parents earlier this month Image Getty

Lady Louise and James Viscount Severn with their parents earlier this month (Image Getty)

The royal author also claims that Diana and Fergie resented Sophie’s careful introduction to royal life.

She writes: “The Princess of Wales and Duchess of York only discovered how difficult royal life could be after they were engaged and already en route to the altar. 

“Sophie was being given a careful and subtle introduction, a fact which did not escape the notice of Diana and Sarah.

“Both would later complain (with more than an edge of resentment in their voices) that they had received no such help as they struggled to get to terms with their new situation.”