Sophie has quietly and unobtrusively become one of the unsung treasures of the Royal Family 

Studying the wreath and loving messages on her heels, eyes red-rimmed, the Countess of Wessex appeared lost in thought.

Her deep sorrow was evident in her and every other image she saw in the days following the queen’s death.

And this should come as no surprise. Sophie and her mother-in-law were so close that she had become like the ‘second daughter’.

In fact, after losing her mother Mary Rice-Jones to stomach cancer in 2005 at the age of just 71, she affectionately referred to the Queen as ‘Mama’.

They spent a lot of time together. Sophie and her husband Prince Edward, the Queen’s youngest son, live with their two children just off Windsor Castle in Bugshot Park. Walking their dogs together was a favorite pastime. He also shared a love for military history, spending hours poring over ancient documents at the Royal Archives in Windsor.

Studying the wreath and loving messages her heels, eyes red-rimmed, the Countess of Wessex appeared lost in thought

The seeds of their lovely relationship were sown in 2002 when the Queen lost first her sister, Princess Margaret, then her beloved mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, within weeks. It was such a comfort to have another female member of the family in his life.

The shattered death of her beloved Philip last year brought the Queen and Sophie even closer, with the monarch often inviting her to take her late husband’s place in the back of the car.

This deep affection and respect explains why, while the Queen’s closest and dearest gathered in Scotland last week to mourn her sudden demise, Sophie was the only non-blood relative – from Princess Anne’s husband, Sir Tim Lawrence. Separate – which was the front and center of the intimate family group.

For 57-year-old Sophie, quietly and unobtrusively has become one of the royal family’s unheard treasures. ‘Sophie was not born into the aristocracy. She always works for a living.

‘As the countess goes, she’s pretty grounded. And the royal family needs it,’ says a royal insider.

There’s even rubbish that Sophie and Edward – who are set to be made Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in line with Philip’s wishes – could be ‘promoted’ to second in command of William and Kate. How far have they both come after the worst start ever. In some ways, Sophie and Edward were the Harry and Meghan of their time.

After losing his mother Mary Rice-Jones to colon cancer in 2005, at just 71 years old, he fondly called the Queen 'Mama'.

After losing his mother Mary Rice-Jones to colon cancer in 2005, at just 71 years old, he fondly called the Queen ‘Mama’.

Like the Sussexes, he insisted on breaking the mold and trying to build a lucrative commercial career – that in PR and that in TV production – in tandem with his royal duties.

Sophie was then embroiled in a humiliating ‘sting’ operation created by the News of the World after sensationally posing as a potential client with a ‘fake sheikh’. His taped indiscretions about senior politicians were extremely shameful.

For his part, Edward was reprimanded for trying to capitalize on his royal ties in his commercial ventures. Unlike the Sussexes, Sophie and Edward closed their businesses and lost their duties as royals, rebuilding their prestige within the royal family.

The Countess is now the second hardest working female royal after Anne, and has won praise for her choice of working on the issue of preventable blindness and sexual violence in war.

A senior source in Whitehall told me that their support for the cause has been ‘invaluable’.

“She is not afraid to shy away from the questions that should be asked of the people in charge and sets her feet on fire,” he says.

Baroness Stedman-Scott OBE, Under Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, speaking to me personally, has known Sophie for 18 years through a charity that has long been helping the unemployed. ‘When she first came to visit us she didn’t want any fuss or fanfare and I just asked her to make sure the place was clean and the toilets were clean. She got up on her own and sat down to talk. It’s so natural,’ she exclaims.

There's even rubbish that Sophie and Edward - who are set to be made Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh according to Philip's wishes - could be 'promoted' to William and Kate's second in command

There’s even rubbish that Sophie and Edward – who are set to be made Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh according to Philip’s wishes – could be ‘promoted’ to William and Kate’s second in command

‘His sense of humour is also very good. We attended an award ceremony together and just as we were walking some wolf whistle [at her], She just turned to me and said, “Was that for you?”

Sophie’s image has also changed over the years. The short-skirts and ill-fitting suits of the high street that he adored as a young PR executive had long since faded away. Over the past decade she has lost weight after hitting the gym and cycling, and has upped her game in the fashion bets.

She’s enlisted the help of stylist Pandora Delevingne (model and actress Cara’s mother) and now endorses collections by Susanna London and Emilia Wickstead to flatter her body and English rose hue.

Indeed, Sophie, a privately educated from a solid middle-class family in Kent (her father is a retired tire salesman) has become the real royal deal and the Queen is considered one of the safest pair of hands in ‘The Firm’.

Penny Mountbatten, the ex-wife of Lord Ivar Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin, told me: ‘She fell into her role so brilliantly and has been dedicated to making everything right.’ ‘As well as performing all her royal duties, she is a one-handed mother [to Lady Louise, now 18, and James, Viscount Severn, 14] And the most loyal and supportive friend you could ever hope for. Finding the timing and balance to get it all right is actually quite genius. I think he is just remarkable.’

Sophie, she insists, has a core group of girlfriends from her pre-royal days. ‘She keeps them all very close. She is the godmother of some children and they all feel the same way, that she is someone they can call on at any time for advice or guidance,’ she adds.

‘Being the queen’s daughter-in-law, and one who has a particularly close relationship with her, she could have changed him, but this did not happen. She has never forgotten her roots.

Another friend, jewelry designer Belinda Scott, whose daughter, Camilla Haden, was a bridesmaid for Sophie and Edward when they married in 1999, agrees. He’s told me before, ‘He’s a staunchly loyal friend who will drop everything to help.

‘You can sit with her and she will focus and sort everything out with you. And that is quite practical and logical.

Sophie is devoted to and fiercely protective of her children, having suffered serious medical complications during Louise’s birth and an ectopic pregnancy.

‘She’s done so much for her family and she and Edward have never relied on a nanny. It’s always been a rule that, while working, one of them should be at home with the kids as far as possible, says Penny Mountbatten.

And because the Queen lived nearby, when they were growing up, they had to spend a lot of time with Lewis and James, often watching Mr. Tumble on CBBz when they were younger.

Former England cricket captain Sir Andrew Strauss got to know Sophie through his sons while running the school.

Privately educated from a solid middle-class family in Kent, Sophie (her father is a retired tire salesman) has become the real royal deal and the Queen is regarded as one of the safest pair of hands in 'The Firm'.

Privately educated from a solid middle-class family in Kent, Sophie (her father is a retired tire salesman) has become the real royal deal and the Queen is regarded as one of the safest pair of hands in ‘The Firm’.

He says, ‘Sophie is completely attached to all the parents’ WhatsApp groups.’ ‘It must be such a difficult thing when you’re just another parent involved in school stuff, but on the other hand, you’re a member of the royal family. You get the impression that they are determined to give their children as normal upbringing as possible.’

Royal sources tell me that Sophie has become a confidante to the new Princess of Wales, who sees Sophie admire the way she is balancing royal duties with motherhood. And Sophie also has William’s seal.

‘The next few years are going to be incredibly important for this country,’ Mark Foster-Brown, a close family friend and chairman of the Wessex Youth Trust, told me in an interview before the Queen’s death. Sophie has never sought the limelight, but as we move into the next phase of the monarchy, it will be absolutely crucial for the country. [then] The Duchess of Cambridge will have a women’s sounding board.

‘And she couldn’t have been better than someone like Sophie.’

Some will disagree.

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