Sparks ignited for the prince when he met then-28-year-old commoner Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1993. Edward had hired the PR consultant to promote a charity tennis event he was organising.
Romance blossomed and the pair started using secret codenames – Edward went by “Richard” – to arrange dates. When news of their relationship did get out, the Queen, 95, took the unprecedented step of allowing Sophie to stay overnight in the royal apartments at Buckingham Palace.
It took Edward six years to propose. Having seen the marriages of his older siblings Prince Charles, 72, Princess Anne, 70, and Prince Andrew, 61, fall apart, it “made [Edward] more determined to put caution before commitment”, wrote royal biographer Ingrid Seward.
His prudence paid off, with the prince’s marriage being the only one of his siblings not to end in divorce or become embroiled in a cheating scandal.
“They more or less lived together before getting married so they knew what they were getting into,” a friend told NZ Woman’s Weekly magazine.
Starting a family didn’t come easy for the couple. In 2001, Sophie was rushed to King Edward VII’s Hospital in London to undergo emergency surgery after the discovery of a dangerous ectopic pregnancy.
Two years later, in 2003, they finally welcomed their first child, Lady Louise, now 17, but not without complications. Sophie was struck down with crippling abdominal pains while Edward was visiting Mauritius.
She was rushed to Frimley Park Hospital, where she was soon diagnosed as suffering from acute placental abruption and needed an emergency caesarean. Almost dying from blood loss, Sophie spent several weeks recovering in intensive care.
Louise would also suffer from health problems after being born with esotropia, a condition that turns the eyes outwards and gives the person a “cross-eyed” appearance. She would grow up with vision issues until the condition was fixed with surgery in 2014.
In 2007, their son, James, Viscount Severn, was born, in a much less dramatic fashion than his sister’s arrival.
Much like their nephew Prince Harry, 36, and wife Meghan Markle, 39, the Wessexes initially railed against taking on full-time royal duties and tried a half-in, half-out approach, where they could earn their own incomes but still represent the Queen.
“We’ve all had that same spotlight shone on our lives,” Edward said, comparing his and Sophie’s lives to the Sussexes in an interview with BBC on June 10. “We’ve all been subjected to massive intrusion and all the rest of it. We all had to deal with it in different ways.”
Sophie launched her own PR company while she was being courted by Edward, which she carried on running until two years after their wedding. In 2001, she was forced to give it up after being caught up in her only scandal to date. The countess was trapped in a sting when an undercover reporter posed as an Arab sheikh and accused her of using her royal status to gain clients.
Sophie struggled to adjust to her new life as a full-time working royal.
“Certainly it took a while to find my feet,” she confessed in an interview with British newspaper The Sunday Times.
But in the subsequent decades, the couple has gone onto become some of the hardest working members of the royal family. In 2019, Edward carried out more official engagements than the Queen, while Sophie undertook more than Prince William, 38, and the Duchess of Cornwall, 73.
Sophie has focused her efforts on working with charities associated with disabilities, women’s rights, preventable blindness and agriculture.
“The countess is one of the unsung heroes of the royal family and in fact she’s been working on quite gritty subject matters for a lot longer than many people realise,” royal expert Emily Nash told Town & Country magazine.
WATCH BELOW: Prince Edward and Sophie Wessex share words about Prince Philip after his death. Post continues after video...
QUEEN'S NEW ROCK
Since the death of Prince Philip, Sophie has been a constant source of comfort to Her Majesty.
“She is trusted and relied on by the Queen in a way I couldn’t say applied to the Duchess of Cambridge or the Duchess of Cornwall,” an insider told British newspaper The Express.
Edward is set to follow in his father Prince Philip’s footsteps and become the next Duke of Edinburgh, following the death of the Queen. “It’s a very bittersweet role to take on because the only way the title can come to me is after both my parents actually pass away,” he told British newspaper The Telegraph.
After a tough year with much uncertainty, there is one thing the couple can always count on – each other. [Sophie and Edward] are the best of friends and have an incredibly strong partnership,” a friend said.
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