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How Duchess Sophie's charm and easy manner has made her one of the royal family's most valued members

The Duchess of Edinburgh wearing a white dress and smiling at Hampton Court Flower Show
Emily Nash
Emily Nash - London
Royal EditorLondon
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With her daughter Lady Louise Windsor now settled at the University of St Andrews and son the Earl of Wessex midway through his teenage years, the Duchess of Edinburgh has reached a time where she can focus more on her passions and interests. 

Sophie, who turned 59 on Saturday 20 January, has been a loyal and hard-working member of the royal family for nearly a quarter of a century. 

Last year, she carried out 179 engagements in the UK and across the globe to support her brother-in-law the King and the more than 70 charities and organisations of which she is patron. 

HELLO! also understands that this year, the Duchess is looking forward to working more with her patronages, meeting communities across the country and recognising those who support people with disabilities and promote opportunities for young people. 

Her birthday week itself saw her visiting Katherine Low Settlement in Battersea, London, which works to reduce poverty and isolation and is celebrating its centenary. 

Meanwhile, in June, she will celebrate 25 years of marriage to the Duke, who himself turns 60 on 10 March, giving the couple a great deal to look forward to. 

But what is it that makes her such a stalwart of the royal family? Like the Princess of Wales, with whom she can often be seen sharing a joke at family and sporting events, Sophie is widely admired for her caring, down-to-earth personality and easy ability to connect with others. 

She was also close to Elizabeth II, who, with her dedication to duty, was her ultimate royal role model. And she is fully committed to her royal work, even if it doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. 

Duchess of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II in 2015© Getty
Sophie was close to her late mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II

Royal photographer Tim Rooke, who has travelled overseas with the Duchess since 2000, tells HELLO!: "She's great to work with and she understands the value to her charities of a nice photograph of her, but she gives her full attention to the people she’s visiting or working with. 

"She's very warm – there's a lot of hugging and it's all very genuine. You can see from the way she physically reacts to things she hears that she finds it moving and emotional. For the people she meets, having a VIP take an interest means a lot. She makes sure everyone feels they’ve had their moment with her.” 

Sophie Duchess of Edinburgh attends reception at the Four Seasons Hotel, Toronto, Canada - 07 Nov 2023© Tim Rooke/Shutterstock
Royal photographer Tim Rooke describe Sophie as 'warm' and 'genuine'

It’s an approach that has made the Duchess a firm favourite with her charities. Telling HELLO! how Sophie "greets everyone with compassion, kindness and love", Karen Sugarman of Shooting Star Children’s Hospices, of which Sophie has been patron since 2002, says: "She embraces every single person she meets with such warmth, rolls up her sleeves and helps with various activities with the children. She is truly cherished by us all and we feel incredibly honoured that she has remained part of our charity’s family for the past 22 years."

Lady Louise Windsor walks beside the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh as she enters Westminster Abbey© Getty
The Edinburghs at the coronation

It’s a similar story at Debra, which supports sufferers of the rare skin condition epidermolysis bullosa – "butterfly skin" – and of which Sophie has been patron for many years. "She's so incredibly warm," Lindsey Puddifant, Debra’s head of PR, tells us. 

"She's down to earth and approachable. She's lovely with members – adult members or children – of the charity, and just very happy to chat. She's very kind and very considerate and she knows loads of stuff about the condition. You know she's not putting on a façade, she’s not putting on a front. The warmth that comes from her is clearly natural and authentic."

Another one of Duchess' longstanding patronages is learning disability charity Mencap, with Sophie running part of the virtual London Marathon in 2020 in support. Jackie O'Sullivan, acting CEO for Mencap described the Duchess as a "committed and supportive patron" adding that her "ongoing support makes a huge difference". 

Watch Sophie's marathon moment in the clip below...

WATCH: Duchess Sophie runs first 1.5 miles of the virtual London Marathon

And the Scar Free Foundation was one of Sophie's first patronages when she became a full-time working royal in 2002. Describing the Duchess as a "wonderful patron," Jenni Herd, Communications Manager at The Scar Free Foundation, tells us: "Sophie's commitment to our mission has not only made more people aware of scarring as an issue, but has driven meaningful change. Her advocacy has opened doors so we can fund the right people and right research at the right time. 

"She speaks up for our ambassadors, amplifies their voices, and encourages people to see the story behind the scars. We're now closer than ever to scar free healing. We are so grateful for Her Royal Highness' warmth and compassion over the last two decades."

Sophie has also travelled the world with the sight-saving charity Orbis, a cause particularly close to her heart – Louise was born with esotropia and had two operations to correct her vision – and has several military patronages. So what is she like as a person?

"She’s lovely, fresh, down to earth, she has a big heart, she’s very intelligent," says designer Sophie Habsburg, Archduchess of Austria, whose handbags are often carried by the Duchess. What you see is what you get. There's no hidden agenda in any kind of way."

Duchess of Edinbugh wearing green coat and tan bag at Katherine Low Settlement© Getty
The Duchess carried a Sophie Habsburg clutch bag at the Katherine Low Settlement earlier this week

Sophie is also refreshingly relatable for a member of the royal family and won plaudits in 2021 for candidly sharing her experience of going through the menopause. 

"You suddenly can't remember what on earth it was you were talking about," she said. "Try being on an engagement when that happens!" 

Sophie has long championed gender equality and founded the Women's Network Forum, which  promotes women in the workplace, in 2014. But since 2019, she has taken on a fascinating new area with the Government's Preventing Sexual Conflict in Violence Initiative and the United Nations' Women, Peace and Security agenda. 

It's a gritty subject, but Sophie is clearly passionate about it – she is expected to travel overseas this year to champion the rights of women and girls and highlight the appalling impact of sexual violence in conflict around the world. As she enters her 60th year, the Duchess can be proud of her work to date – but clearly believes there's still much more to do. 

LISTEN: Why King Charles is the ‘happiest’ he has been despite royal dramas

 

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