The Countess of Wessex is often seen as one of the most unsung members of the royal family, having quietly gone about her charity work since marrying Prince Edward in 1999. Sophie, 55, is patron of over 70 charities and organisations and in 2019 alone, she carried out 236 official engagements.
READ: The Countess of Wessex makes surprise visit to local Surrey pub
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In March, Sophie also made a historic visit to South Sudan, the first member of the royal family to do so, to promote the rights of women and girls, which coincided with International Women’s Day.
The Countess also gave a rare interview to The Sunday Times last month in which she spoke about her transition from PR girl to full-time royal and how her children Lady Louise Windsor, 16, and James, Viscount Severn, 12, will work for a living when they’re older.
The Countess during her recent visit to the Half Moon pub in Windlesham
Throughout the coronavirus lockdown, the Queen's daughter-in-law has been lauded for her hands-on approach, volunteering at catering companies to prepare meals for our NHS workers, helping to deliver care packages to those in need and assisting at the St John Ambulance hub in Gosport.
Sophie even revealed that she drives to local engagements when she popped into a local Surrey pub. It's no wonder then that the spotlight has intensified on the Countess in recent months. HELLO! speaks to a royal photographer, some of Sophie's patronages and her favourite fashion designers to find out more.
Photographing the Countess
One person who has had the privilege of covering Sophie's engagements and tours since her marriage to Prince Edward is Shutterstock's royal photographer Tim Rooke. In fact, he was present for one of the Earl and Countess' last public visits to Essex in March before lockdown was imposed.
"It's always more relaxed covering the Earl and the Countess than it is covering other members of the royal family because there's fewer people around and you're sort of part of the party. It's very different than going with 60 or 70 members of the media," Tim tells HELLO!
"The Countess is incredibly professional, and she realises that it's extremely important to have her work covered. She's always aware of us, if you haven't quite got a picture, she'll go out of her way to make sure you get it."
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Sophie and Edward pictured outside the Treetops Hotel (Tim Rooke/Shutterstock)
Tim, who has travelled with the royal family and has photographed a number of royal weddings and momentous occasions over the past two decades, shared with HELLO! some of his favourite images he's taken of the Countess to date.
Among them is a poignant snap of the Earl and Countess at the Treetops Hotel in Aberdare National Park in Kenya in 2002 – famously known for being the location that the then Princess Elizabeth was staying at the night she heard that her father King George VI had died and discovered she was now Queen.
"It's quite a significant royal picture," Tim tells HELLO!
Sophie's emotional visit to Frimley Park Hospital in 2014 (Tim Rooke/Shutterstock)
The royal photographer was also present for another one of Sophie's moving engagements in 2014. "The Countess went to Frimley Park hospital to open the new Neonatal ward and she's actually crying as she hugs the midwife who was in charge when she was in the hospital," Tim explains.
The Countess' eldest child Lady Louise Windsor was born prematurely and delivered by emergency caesarean in November 2003 when Sophie was admitted to the Surrey hospital after becoming unwell.
MORE: Inside Prince Edward and Sophie's royal residence, Bagshot Park
The couple used Tim's photo for one of their Christmas card (Tim Rooke/Shutterstock)
Edward and Sophie even used one of Tim's images of the couple at the Sultan of Brunei's Golden Jubilee (above) for their Christmas card photo in December 2017. He adds: "It's always nice when the royals use your own picture."
The Countess' patronages and charity work
As a full-time working member of the royal family, the Countess' interests are wide, but they include supporting people with disabilities, the prevention of blindness in developing countries, agriculture and fashion.
During lockdown, Sophie has continued meetings with her various patronages remotely, by video calls and telephone. As restrictions have begun to ease, the Countess has once again shown she's not afraid of getting stuck in and in June, she spent the day at one of Shooting Star Children's Hospices' charity shops in Weybridge, as it reopened to the public for the first time.
The royal family's social media accounts shared some photos of the Countess steaming children's clothes before putting them out on display. The charity cares for babies, children and young people with life-limiting conditions.
Karen Sugarman, Executive Vice-President of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, tells HELLO!: "We feel extremely lucky to have HRH The Countess of Wessex as our Royal Patron. From officially opening our Guildford hospice, Christopher’s back in 2002, the Countess has continued to generously give her support to Shooting Star Children’s Hospices.
The Countess steaming clothes at a Shooting Star Children's Hospices charity shop
"The Countess has given her time to meet supported children and their families, whilst helping to raise much needed awareness to ensure we can continue to provide vital care to families across Surrey and London, who are facing the most unimaginable circumstances.”
The Countess also received quite the reaction when she recently surprised ambassadors from another of her patronages, the Scar Free Foundation, during a virtual event. The medical research charity has a 15-year track record of raising and investing funds in wound healing, burns and cleft research and Sophie has been its patron since 2003.
Brenden Eley, Chief Executive of the Scar Free Foundation, tells HELLO!: "We are so blessed to have the support and friendship of the Countess, in our mission to a scar free future. She appreciates the importance of our work, understands much of the scientific and research work we do and knows exactly what it would mean for someone to live scar free.
"The most frequent thing I hear from people who meet her in the course of our work, is how warm she is, relaxed, friendly and engaged; and she is. Our goal is to change the world and with people like the Countess on our side, we genuinely believe we can."
As well as supporting the UK's COVID-19 relief effort, Sophie has also continued her commitment to tackling conflict related sexual violence and supporting survivors. The Countess spoke at a virtual UN event last month about the impact of the pandemic and its restrictions imposed on survivors.
The Countess' style
As well as her diligent work ethic and commitment to The Firm, the Countess of Wessex is renowned for her elegant style, favouring British-based labels, such as Suzannah, Victoria Beckham and Jane Taylor.
Sophie wearing a Jane Taylor hat the royal wedding in 2011
Sophie's go-to milliner is Jane Taylor, whose hats she has been wearing exclusively since 2009. The Countess famously wore a rose ecru headpiece from the designer at Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding in 2011.
Jane tells HELLO!: "Working with HRH has been a privilege and a real delight over the years. Her sense of classic formal style with a modern edge has given me the opportunity to have real fun with her headwear. HRH loves wearing British brands and supporting independent designers, which in this climate is so important. HRH wearing my pieces at momentous occasions such as the Diamond Jubilee, Royal weddings and state visits has been such an honour."
Designer Suzannah Crabb also spoke with HELLO!'s editor-in-chief Rosie Nixon during our recent Instagram Live session about one of her favourite looks on the Countess – a bold green fit and flare dress that Sophie wore to the Order of the Garter service back in 2015, and to Trooping the Colour in 2019.
MORE: Best photos from Prince Edward and Sophie's royal wedding
Sophie wearing a green Suzannah dress at the Order of the Garter ceremony in 2015
Suzannah told Rosie: "She's worn it four, five, maybe six times. It's definitely her favourite. It's a really good standout [look]… very 1950s, kind of Kelly green, I would say!"
And speaking of the bold colour, she also revealed that Sophie originally had to step out of her comfort zone to choose the bright green hue, since she is usually much happier in softer shades.
"She loves neutrals," Suzannah said. "She's got a very soft complexion, a very pretty English rose - and looks amazing in neutrals. So to go with the bright green was a real change… but she absolutely embraced the green, it was her idea - and then since then, we made a bright coral skirt with exactly the same pleats as that dress, which she wears with a cream top to various events. It's definitely her silhouette."
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