In a dramatic world exclusive interview and photoshoot with HELLO! Lady Frederick Windsor, wife of Lord Frederick Windsor, tells how she cheated death in a terrifying car crash in November 2017 and how the kindness of the royal family has aided her recovery. "It's very strange, when something huge happens to your body, you don't immediately feel the pain," the 38-year-old actress, born Sophie Winkleman, tells HELLO! "I felt lots of warmth and a strange kind of serenity. I felt like my soul was rising up and seeing everything… Yes, I did expect to die. It was extraordinary."
Sophie, a mother to two young girls Maud, four, and Isabella, two, is an accomplished actress, having starred in a number of well-loved shows in the UK and the US, including Peep Show, Two and a Half Men, The Palace and Danny Boyle drama Trust, which she was filming when the accident took place. She was travelling from the set in Cambridgeshire, on 23 November 2017, when the car she was riding in was hit by another and dramatically thrown up into the air before crashing down and causing her life-threatening injuries.
Sophie was involved in a terrifying car crash in November 2017
"I was being driven back to London soon after 4pm on 23 November to go to dinner with some friends, excited and happy. I had dared to feel that morning that maybe I could breathe out again, that life was good; I was healthy and I had this great job. I was finally feeling properly better after falling ill a couple of years ago, soon after Isabella was born [in January 2016]," she said. "I was being driven home from Audley End House in one of the production company's cars, going down a little A-road outside Cambridge. A woman was coming the other way and a big stag ran into the road and she swerved straight into us to avoid it. Both cars were doing about 45mph and ours flew up into the air with the impact."
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Sophie recalled: "It's very strange, when something huge happens to your body, a big trauma, you don't immediately feel the pain. I felt a striking warmth and a strange kind of serenity, even though the driver was yelling his head off and it was clear something life-changing had happened. I was there in the back of the car, lucid, thinking something very big had happened. I could feel my backbones jiggling around and I thought: 'I really hope this doesn't mean anything paralysing,' because I couldn't feel my legs. I remember being able to use my left arm somehow and squeezing and pinching my legs hoping to feel something – but I couldn't. I thought: 'Crumbs.'"
The full interview was published in HELLO! five months after the accident
"It wasn't searing pain at that point, I just remember the heat and sensations," she added. "There was blood slugging gently all over my lap, the front seat had come off and was settling into my left foot, it was all very visceral; just warm blood and yelling from the driver saying: 'Get me out of here!' and the woman in the other car screaming her head off. I couldn't say anything at that point. We had paramedics and roadside doctors and police with us about 20 minutes later – about 50 people apparently, the whole road was cordoned off. I remember the paramedics cutting the driver out of the car and I couldn't say: 'Hi guys,' because I didn't have any projection; I didn't have the power to speak. They got the driver out first and sent him to hospital, then the paramedics came to me. It was much more of a tricky mess; it took them about 30 minutes to cut me carefully out of the car, then they laid me out in the road while waiting for another ambulance to arrive.
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"I became curiously detached from the car and the scene. And then I thought about my girls, my mother and my father and poor Freddie. I thought if I die right now I must make sure my prayers are practical, like, 'Please let Freddie find a nice lady to be very sweet to the girls, please make my mum and dad's health okay so they can be very involved in the girls' lives,' things like that. But then gradually the strange aura became less and less, and I was suddenly lying outside on the road as a man talked to me and I then thought I might survive."
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Sophie attends HELLO!'s 30th birthday party
It was an agonising three days later in Addenbrooks Hospital, before Sophie began to regain feeling in her legs. "I had been a couple of millimetres away from paralysis," she reveals. After two weeks Sophie was transferred to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, where she finally walked again, and remained until Christmas Eve. Sophie's family rushed to hospital to see her, with the actress recalling: "Seeing my mother’s beautiful, brave smile on her totally ashen face when she came to see me at Addenbrooke’s was hard. And we had to pretend to my children that I was still working and the job was keeping me away for two weeks. That is a long time to be away from your toddlers. It was very difficult. Freddie left work as early as he could each day so he could be with them and try to make it a fun adventure, which he did brilliantly."
Sophie returned home on Christmas Eve, after begging to be discharged although admitting it was too soon. "It was definitely too soon, as I couldn’t really move, but I thought it would have been awful not to be home for the children at Christmas. I just about managed it with tons of painkillers – really a whole sweetshop every day."
Sophie and Frederick have two children together
Sophie told of the overwhelming kindness and compassion she was shown by senior members of the royal family, including the "magnificently practical" gift from the Prince of Wales. "Prince Charles sensed correctly that everything would be chaos at home, so he asked his cook, instead of taking care of him, to take care of us. So, our lunches and dinners were cooked at Clarence House then delivered for weeks on end while I was in hospital and then still disabled at home. It saved our bacon, literally, because my darling husband – well, he’s good at fry-ups but that’s about it. The children would have had cholesterol coming out of their ears had their diet been left to him. It was a magnificent way to help.
"Sophie Wessex came to visit me in hospital and was so helpful and lovely, and the Cambridges sent some wonderful flowers. I know William rang up Addenbrooke’s for me because one of his very good friends is the air ambulance guy there. So when he heard about it, William called and said: ‘Sophie is my cousin, please take good care of her,’ which was very lovely. I heard from pretty much every member of Freddie’s family, I was spoiled to bits by them."
William called the hospital and said: 'Sophie is my cousin, please take good care of her'
When asked whether her young children were aware of the situation, the mother-of-two said: "Maud is a sensitive little soul and I think for your mum to vanish for a while and then come back in a clearly altered state is hard for a child, but I hope she is gaining the confidence that I’m getting back to my normal self. Isabella is very little still so it hasn’t really affected her, I don’t think – she’s a very happy-go-lucky influence on us all. Maud’s school [Thomas’s Battersea, at which Prince George is also a pupil] were very supportive and kind to her, distracting her and keeping things as normal as possible while all this was going on. I can’t speak more highly of them."
Of the possibility of expanding their brood, Sophie admitted: "A very loud, deafening, no! I found one child astoundingly difficult. You’re in charge of a life – it can’t get bigger than that! Two small people blew my mind simply because of the maths of it – if one’s fine the other one’s probably just eaten a pencil sharpener – you simply never get a break."
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