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Prince Edward and Duchess Sophie's royal evolution from PR blunders to unsung heroes

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh have been married 25 years this June

Edward and Sophie in 2002 and in 2024
Danielle Stacey
Online Royal CorrespondentLondon
9 March 2024
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It's set to be a year of milestones for the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, starting with Prince Edward's 60th birthday on Sunday 10 March.

In June, Edward and Sophie will mark their 25th wedding anniversary and in December, their daughter, Lady Louise Windsor, turns 21.

While the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh are lauded for their commitment to their royal duties, quietly travelling all over the country and overseas, the pair have gone through their own evolution.

Often referred to as the unsung heroes of the royal family, it hasn't always been plain sailing for Edward and Sophie.

The then 22-year-old prince's decision to drop out of his military training with the Royal Marines in 1987, having completed one-third of the 12-month training, was reportedly met with disappointment. But despite reports that Prince Philip, Captain General of the Marines, was displeased, Edward said that his father had not put pressure on him to change his mind.

Edward went on to pursue his passion for the arts, having enjoyed amateur dramatics at Cambridge University. He worked as a theatre production assistant at the Really Useful Theatre Company before assisting in television production. However Edward’s first foray into his entertainment career was dubbed as a disaster by the press at the time.

Prince Edward Starts Work At Ardent Television© Getty
Prince Edward on his first day at Ardent Productions

The Prince came up with The Grand Knockout Tournament, better known as It's A Royal Knockout, which was televised in June 1987. It saw the likes of Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York dress up for a medieval tournament with a host of celebrities. Despite the event raising over a £1.5 million for charity, it was later reported that the late Queen had disapproved of the event and all of her courtiers had advised against it.

Next came Edward's production company, Ardent, set up in 1993 to produce documentaries and films on royal history. While a programme about the Prince's great-uncle Edward VIII, who famously abdicated to marry American divorcee, Wallis Simpson, was well received, Ardent Productions was considered a "sad joke" to those in the industry, according to The Guardian in 2002.

An Ardent film crew later allegedly invaded the privacy of Edward's nephew, Prince William, while he was a student at the University of St Andrews in 2001, which reportedly angered then Prince Charles. A year later, Edward stepped down from his role at the company to carry out royal duties full-time and support the late Queen. Ardent Productions was voluntarily dissolved in June 2009, with assets reduced to just £40.

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Edward met PR consultant Sophie Rhys Jones in 1993 and after a long-term relationship, the Prince proposed during a holiday in the Bahamas in December 1998. The couple tied the knot in a low-key ceremony at St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle on 19 June 1999.

Sophie's first experiences of marrying into the royal family were not easy either. Like her husband, she struggled to combine her business with royal duties. She chaired her own public relations firm R-JH but in 2001, she was secretly taped by a tabloid reporter posing as a sheikh, who tried to obtain information from her about the government and her family. Stricter guidelines on royal business activities were introduced as a result.

Edward and Sophie at Shallowford farm© Getty
The couple were made the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in March 2023

Since then, Edward's interest in the arts and sports has served him well through his public duties. He took on many of his late father Prince Philip's patronages as he retired in 2017 and has long been involved with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, of which he became patron in March 2022 following being conferred with his new royal title.

Meanwhile, former PR guru Sophie admitted the transition from her career to become a full-time working royal was a transition, telling The Sunday Times in 2020: "Certainly it took me a while to find my feet. The frustration was I had to reduce my expectations of what I could actually do.

"I couldn’t turn up at a charity and go, right, I think you should be doing this, because that’s what I was used to doing in my working life. I had to take a really big step back and go, OK, they want you to be the icing on the cake, the person to come in to thank their volunteers and funders, not necessarily to tell them how to run their communications plan."

Sophie and Edward share a joke at the Right Stuff Amateur Boxing Club© Getty
Edward and Sophie carry out hundreds of engagements every year

Sophie, who shared a close bond with the late Queen, is dedicated to over 70 charities, focusing on supporting young people and children, as well as supporting people with disabilities and working towards gender equality.

Royal photographer Tim Rooke, who has travelled overseas with the Duchess since 2000, previously told 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."


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