How Quietest Royal Couple Became Real Power Behind Throne

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Reuters
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Reuters

Lined out on the Buckingham Palace balcony on Saturday to mark King Charles’ birthday, Prince Edward and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, were earning their keep as totems of stability in the British royal family.

So far so predictable.

But the optics told a more intriguing story. Sophie stood next to King Charles on his left; and as they walked back into the palace, Sophie gave Prince William a barely discernible pat on the back.

It was a tiny gesture, but one that speaks volumes about the extent to which Sophie has become, much as she was for the late Queen Elizabeth, a trusted confidante and friend for the next king and queen. At 59 and 60 respectively, Sophie and Edward bridge the generations and will be part of King William’s reign. Their prominence is reflected in The Daily Beast’s “royal power list,” which we will publish tomorrow.

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As Edward and Sophie mark a quarter century together, their stock has never been higher. Against the odds, the couple have become a powerful force, central to the workings of King Charles’ royal family, not least because the disappearance of Prince Andrew and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from the scene has reduced the number of full time working royals to seven (the other five are Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Anne).

But it’s not just a question of numbers; Edward’s uncomplaining dedication to duty and and Sophie’s friendly and empathetic manner are exactly what, Charles knows, the royal family needs more of as it squares up to a testing decade ahead.

Edward married Sophie, the daughter of a car tyre dealer and a receptionist, 25 years ago, on June 19, 1999, at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

He is the only one of the late queen’s children to have never been divorced, and the durability of the marriage, despite some early scandal and turmoil, has seen the couple become a model of royal propriety, steadfastness, and dedication to duty.

Edward and Sophie will be toasting their anniversary this week with their two children, Lady Louise Windsor, 20, who appeared on the balcony with her parents, suggesting she may be in line for a “working royal” role, and James, Viscount Severn, 16.

They were due to attend Royal Ascot on the day of their anniversary (Wednesday), although The Daily Beast has been told by a friend that any celebrations will be discreet and held at their home, Bagshot Park in Surrey, a residence that allows them a degree of privacy and normalcy.

For Edward, the anniversary is a chance to reflect on perhaps one of the most comprehensive reinventions in recent royal history.

He spent his early adulthood being mocked mercilessly, either for his short-lived stint with the Royal Marines (he quit after just three months and his father, Prince Philip, was said to have berated Edward so heartily that he reduced his son to tears) or his much-criticized “It’s a Royal Knockout” TV show, or his TV production company, Ardent, which specialized in making films about his family.

In 2001, just two days after William began his four-year degree in art history at St Andrews University in Scotland, an Ardent TV crew were caught secretly filming William. The event burnished Edward’s reputation for arrogance and stupidity because the ink had barely dried on a media deal to respect William’s privacy at university in exchange for regular photo-ops.

Ardent closed down soon afterwards, and Edward announced another career change—to full time working royal.

This is a role in which, dull as it can sometimes be, he has flourished.

Sophie, too, has weathered some storms, most notably a tabloid sting in 2001 which saw her filmed making indiscreet comments about “the old dear”—aka Her Majesty the Queen.

King Charles, Queen Camilla, Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, Duke of Edinburgh, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, June 15, 2024.

King Charles, Queen Camilla, Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, Duke of Edinburgh, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, June 15, 2024.

Hollie Adams/Reuters

Friends of the couple say the marriage is one of equals, its success fuelled by mutual support.

One said: “Edward is quite reserved, slightly awkward, but Sophie is very gregarious, one of those people who can just put you at your ease. It’s a united front—they are a great double act.”

Sophie became a close confidante of Queen Elizabeth II, a bond which was highlighted by the fact that she was one of the few non-blood relations summoned to Balmoral Castle when Her Majesty was on her death bed. A friend of the late queen’s told The Daily Beast: “Elizabeth was an astute judge of character, and her endorsement of Sophie still carries a lot of weight. Sophie exemplifies the qualities she valued: duty, loyalty, service, discretion.”

Edward himself has said of his wife: “You need a really good supportive network...and family is incredibly important. I am just very, very lucky that Sophie is a brilliant, brilliant person in her own right.”

Her background in public relations has helped make her a trusted advisor within the family, particularly during periods of crisis.

Her influence has continued to grow under King Charles III’s reign, with Edward and Sophie being granted the title of Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh. It’s an incredibly significant honor as the previous holder of the title was Prince Philip.

Edward, one source said, is “relaxed” about his wife’s high profile, and being known to millions of people around the world as “Sophie’s husband.”

But friends of the family defend him heartily against suggestions of irrelevance.

One, for example, previously told The Daily Beast: “He has dedicated much of his life to public service and charitable work. He has always been very clear about his role which is to support the monarchy. Previously that meant doing what his mother asked, now it means doing what his brother asks. He has always been loyal and Charles likes him enormously and is very grateful to him.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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