Sophie Wessex and Diana had a rough start at the former's introduction into the family. Sophie tried to rise above the discrimination of being a "commoner" in the royal house and make a meaningful impact.
Sophie Rhys-Jones, Countess of Wessex, is the wife of Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth's youngest son and Earl of Wessex. The royal, a daughter of Christopher and Mary Rhys-Jones, grew up in Kent and trained as a secretary. She chose a career path in public relations, and while working in that capacity, she met her husband.
Sophie met her husband when he was scheduled to meet Sue Parker, a former tennis player, for a photoshoot for the "Prince Edward Challenge." The athlete could not make it, and Sophie stepped in and saved the day by taking the photoshoot with him. A relationship burgeoned.
In 1999, the couple met again at a charity event, and they kickstarted their relationship, which would end in marriage. Sophie did not become wife and countess of Wessex until five years later, when their burgeoning relationship took a step further and resulted in marriage in 1999.
When interviewed and asked why it took so long to propose, the prince explained that if he had proposed earlier, chances were high that Sophie would have declined. He said:
"It's impossible for anybody else to understand why it has taken me so long. But I don't think it had been right before and I don't think Sophie would have said yes. Hopefully the fact that she has said yes means I've hit the timing right."
DIANA AND SOPHIE'S FIRST MEETING
Sophie Wessex during a visit to RAF Wittering on April 24, 2019 in Peterborough, England | Source: Getty Images
Sophie, who started her career in public relations and worked in firms such as Capital Radio, grew up in a middle-class family with her father, a businessman.
The Countess of Wessex, who blended into the royal family after her marriage and ran her duties with all diligence, did not have it easy with some people who referred to her humble background. One such person was Princess Diana.
Diana, Princess of Wales sitting on a step at her home, Highgrove House, in Doughton, Gloucestershire, on July 18, 1986 | Source: Getty Images
While still the girlfriend of Prince Edward, Sophie and Diana had a chance meeting when members of the royal house had afternoon tea with the Queen.
It was reported that Diana cupped her face in her hands and stared hard at Sophie amidst the polite conversation and chit-chat. The countess felt threatened and had to take leave from her highness to exit the room and broke down in tears while Edward consoled her.
Britain's Sophie Countess of Wessex , wife of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, attends the Royal family Christmas Day church service at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk, eastern England, on December 25, 2011 | Source: Getty Images
It seemed like there was a cold war between the two young wives in the royal household, and it's believed that Diana could not comprehend how Sophie, from a low background, would "rub shoulders" with bonafide members of the royal household.
After the "tea episode," Sophie became careful of the Princess of Wales and tried not to get too involved with her. On the wedding day of Lady Margaret's daughter, at the church's steps, Diana tried to strike up a conversation with Sophie.
Sophie, Countess of Wessex arrives for the unveiling of a new statue of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on the Mall on February 24, 2009 in London, England | Source: Getty Images
Wary and alert, Sophie guessed Diana had an ulterior motive for this gesture; to create a moment where pictures of them together could be taken by photographers.
It seemed it was not only Sophie who was wary of the Princess of Wales and her unseemly attitude. A friend of the royal house made this statement concerning princess Diana and Sophie:
"Sophie's view was shaped by the royal one, that the princess was manipulative, cunning and conniving."
Princess Diana aboard the new P & O cruise liner "royal Princess" on November 15, 1984 | Source: Getty Images
The royal family allegedly brainwashed Diana, and Sophie felt sorry for how Diana had treated them. Princess Diana's private secretary for eight years, Patrick Jephson, also commented on how the royal house perceived her. She said:
"In their view she had put herself outside their charmed circle and was now relegated to the role of outsider."
It seemed that the members of the British royal house had a unanimous perception of Diana and thought her trifling and troublesome, and everyone steered clear of her.
DIANA AND SOPHIE'S COMPARISON
The Countess of Wessex during a visit to Plas Y Brenin, the National Mountaineering Center in North Wales on December 16, 2000 | Source: Getty Images
Starting in the royal family had its dips and lows for Sophie. The constant comparisons between herself and Diana by the press and people were terrifying to her. The press made it a point of call to compare the courtship period of Sophie and Diana with their spouses.
Sophie was engaged to her husband for five years before they tied the knot in 1993, unlike Diana, who married Prince Charles five months after courtship.
One of the presumed reasons Diana "looked down" on Sophie was that she was from an aristocratic home, unlike Sophie. The latter was a commoner with her father running an import-export tire business.
Diana Princess Of Wales At Luanda Airport, Angola on January 13, 1997 | Source: Getty Images
Princess Diana was a fashion-forward icon with striking features, and Sophie was constantly set side by side with Diana. During her engagement, the tabloid would use similar pictures of both women and place them side by side. This did not go down well with Sophie.
Another thing these two women did not have in common was the way they handled the media. Sophie and her husband were very private, unlike Diana, who was not so tight-lipped and revealed details of her husband's affair and her infidelity. Paul Thompson, a London reporter on the royals, commented that:
"She and Edward have always been very private. Unlike Diana, she doesn't have a shine to the limelight."
Sophie, Countess of Wessex attends the Sung Eucharist for All Souls' Day service at Westminster Abbey on November 2, 2020 | Source: Getty Image
To her credit, Sophie, with her PR background, knew how to handle the press and create a good image. Diana was new to the media when she got married and did not know how to deal with them until much later. Thompson said, "Diana was naive when she dealt with the press; we won't be seeing that with Sophie."
On the occasion of her birthday, photographers stormed her office to get shots of the countess; Sophie's reaction was unlike what Diana would have done. Commenting on her reaction, Thompson recalled:
"She got out of the car, took the bouquets of flowers from well-wishers – Di would have never done that – looked the photographers straight in the eyes, gave them their pictures and then said, 'Thank you very much' and walked into work."
Princess Diana At A Banquet In New Zealand | Source: Getty Images
After the demise of Diana, society was ready to fill the void she left, and Sophie felt like the most suitable candidate as she was in favor of the public and royals. Jane Proctor, editor-in-chief of Tasker, a British society magazine, said concerning Sophie:
"People just want to fill a hole right now, but she is no Diana."
The Princess of Wales once compared the society's reception of herself and Sophie. It was recalled that "Diana reportedly once called her "little Miss Goody Two Shoes" and asked Fergie (Duchess of York), "Why is she getting such an easy ride? We were thrown to the wolves."
THE SCANDAL AROUND SOPHIE'S TAPES AND HER LIFE NOW
Queen Elizabeth II straightens Sophie, The Countess of Wessex's hat, while they wait to attend the Christmas Day service at the Sandringham Church, December 25, 2002 | Source: Getty Images
Things didn't go all that smoothly for Sophie as a royal as she once experienced some unpleasantness. A tape was reportedly released about Sophie and her partner in her PR firm (R-JH), Murray Harkin, about indiscretions spewed by both.
The countess made statements about public figures in the royal house and the political scene. She revealed her political standing and confidential information in her possession under her position as a royal household member.
Queen Elizabeth II and Sophie, Countess of Wessex attend a reception to celebrate the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust at Buckingham Palace | Source: Getty Images
The content of this tape was spread across ten pages of national newspapers and was a big deal for the royal family. Once accused of using her royal connections to benefit her business, Sophie quit it after her marriage and devoted her time to her kids, the royal house, and charities.
Sophie and her family have since bonded with the Queen after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. They became more affectionate after the monarch's demise and shared beautiful moments.
Talking about how she copes with the comparison between her and the late Diana, she said: "And I don't think I could have coped with that level of pressure or expectation. Everyone said: "Gosh, doesn't she look like Diana?" Then they thought: "This isn't going to be much good because she's not turning up every day in different outfits, opening children's hospitals," you know. I do some of that but not as much as they'd like."
Sophie, Countess of Wessex speaks during a reception to celebrate the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust at Buckingham Palace | Source: Getty Images
This year's platinum jubilee celebrations of the Royal Windsor Horse Show will be memorable for Sophie and Edward as their daughter, Lady Louise Windsor, will be the one driving the carriage of the Duke of Edinburgh.
With many charities and organizations she runs and the daily running of the royal home and her household, Sophie has her hands full and still manages to keep her head up.