18 JULY 2007

Still on cloud nine after announcing her baby news, the Countess of Wessex added to the upbeat atmosphere at a Buckingham Palace garden party on Tuesday. Accompanied to the afternoon affair by her husband Prince Edward, the 42-year-old royal was wreathed in smiles as she showed off the beginnings of a baby bump in an elegant pale blue dress coat, teamed with eye-catching feathered headgear.

Sophie - who is said to be "fizzing with delight", at the prospect of a sibling for her three-year-old daughter Louise - has no plans to cut back on her duties if she can help it. And, as she circulated happily alongside the afternoon's hostess the Queen, the expectant mum showed no signs of tiredness, aside from leaning occasionally on her umbrella.

While her guests mingled in the grounds of the palace, the monarch revealed her love of another great British institution - Marks & Spencer. She stopped to chat to Maria Hugman, a 47-year-old post office worker at the House of Commons, and her children John, 24, and Claire, 27. When John said he worked in the food department at M&S in Croydon, the monarch's face brightened, he said afterwards. "She said how very well they did their food."

Photo: ©
The Countess of Wessex hasn't stopped smiling since it was announced that she's expecting a second child in DecemberPhoto: © PA
Photo: ©
Sophie's husband Edward, who attended the Buckingham Palace event with her, is also reported to be "absolutely delighted" about the pregnancyPhoto: © PA