World·Royal Fascinator

Not so much fuss: Why this royal 'just gets on with it'

There hasn’t been much fanfare around Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, as she's been helping in support of those working in the battle against COVID-19. But then again, when she does her royal business, that’s the way it tends to be.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, carries out duties quietly and has close relationship with Queen

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, has gained a reputation as a hardworking member of the Royal Family who quietly takes on her duties with little fuss or fanfare. (Victoria Jones/Reuters)

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She's been packing groceries in recent days, volunteering at a kitchen and talking to paramedics.

There hasn't been much fanfare around her actions in support of those working in the battle against COVID-19 — but then again, when Sophie, Countess of Wessex, does her royal business, that's the way it tends to be.

"Sophie does everything very quietly, partly because the media don't follow her obsessively as they do with William and Catherine and partly because the things she does aren't necessarily very glamorous," said Ingrid Seward, editor in chief of Majesty magazine, via email.

That's exactly what the Royal Family needs, Seward said. "Someone who just gets on with things regardless of the attention they receive."

Seward likens Sophie, who joined the Royal Family when she married the Queen's youngest son, Prince Edward, in 1999, to her sister-in-law, Princess Anne.

Seward said given that Anne is nearly 70, she thinks Sophie "will take over from her as being the hardest-working royal. [Sophie] approaches her role in an unfussy way and just gets on with it."

That low-key approach has not gone unnoticed by her mother-in-law.

Sophie "goes about her duty diligently, quietly and without a great deal of fuss, and for that the Queen adores her," said Katie Nicholl, Vanity Fair's royal correspondent.

"They are very close and spend a lot of time together when they are in Windsor, and the Queen loves riding with her grandchildren, James and Louise."

It's a closeness observers say goes back years.

Sophie's arrival in the family came in the wake — and in some ways the shadow — of Diana, wife of Prince Charles, Edward's older brother. Some saw Sophie as a new Diana, Seward said, "which of course she wasn't."

"She hated the comparison as she knew she never would or should try to live up to it." 

Sophie talks to Asmaa, right, and her daughters, Sidra, centre right, and Nisrine, on a visit to an informal tented settlement in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on June 12, 2019. (Victoria Jones/Getty Images)

Louise's birth in November 2003 was difficult, as Sophie almost died as a result of blood loss.

"People saw how much the Queen cared about her, visiting her in hospital, which is unheard of," Seward said.

"Gradually and without being pushy, she became the Queen's closest companion — they share a love of military history and a wicked sense of humour."

That's not to say it's all been smooth sailing for Sophie. 

After her marriage, she continued in her career, but quit as head of a public relations company in 2001 after embarrassing comments she made were secretly recorded by a tabloid reporter posing as an Arab sheik and published in the News of the World

Seward said the Queen was supportive of her daughter-in-law, and ultimately decided it would be better if Sophie and Edward worked as full-time royals.

Prince Edward and Sophie leave in a carriage after the Order of the Garter service at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, on June 18, 2018. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

"Ever since then, Sophie has appeared looking glamorous when needed and workmanlike when needed."

She has visited Canada several times, sometimes with Prince Edward and sometimes on her own. The last visit came last fall, with two low-profile days in Toronto. Much of the time was spent at Toronto Western and Toronto General hospitals.

She talked with critically ill patients and showed a "great warmth" and a "real, genuine skill in listening," Kevin Smith, president and CEO of the University Health Network, said at the time.

With turmoil and uncertainty in the upper echelons of the Royal Family these days —  Prince Harry and Meghan stepping back to seek their independence, Prince Andrew stepping back over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — questions have arisen over just how the House of Windsor will approach the future. 

Some suggest Sophie will find herself in a more prominent role.

"We are already seeing Edward and Sophie doing more to support the royals, and I think that's going to be the case moving forward," Nicholl said.

Harry and Meghan and the media — again

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, leaves the annual Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Prince Harry and Meghan may be looking for a new life in Los Angeles, but some old issues appear to remain top of mind for them.

The couple, who stepped back a month ago, caught observers somewhat off guard the other day when they sent out a message saying they would no longer be co-operating with four British tabloid newspapers.

It prompted some to wonder about the timing of the announcement, coming as it did during the pandemic, when such an issue might take a back seat to concerns over how to battle the coronavirus.

Harry, in particular, has had a raucous relationship with the media, and the couple has also taken their battle into the courts.

Tabloid wins 1st round

A few days ago, the first court hearing in a privacy case brought by Meghan against a tabloid for printing part of a letter to her father began at the High Court in London. On Friday, the Mail on Sunday won the first round, when a judge agreed to strike out part of her claim. Meghan's lawyers said the decision did not alter "the core elements of this case."

Papers submitted in court in connection with the case included details of text messages Harry sent to Meghan's father.

The whole media swirl prompted Jonny Dymond, the BBC's royal correspondent, to ask, "So will the real Duke and Duchess of Sussex please stand up?

"There is the couple who provoke such sympathy in the court papers published today," Dymond wrote recently

"And there's the couple who think now is the right time to exercise their quarrels with the bestselling papers of the nation that they have departed from."

Royal birthdays — pandemic-style

Princess Charlotte, who turned five on Saturday, helps to deliver food packages for isolated pensioners in the local area along with her family on the Sandringham Estate in King's Lynn, England. (Duchess of Cambridge/Kensington Palace via AP)

In any family, birthdays can come in bunches. For the Royal Family, there's a real run of them in late April and early May.

And this year, the pandemic has been reflected as some members of the family marked their annual milestones in recent days.

Queen Elizabeth's 94th birthday was acknowledged more quietly than usual. The gun salutes that normally sound on April 21 were called off, with the Queen feeling they would not be appropriate at this time

Photos were released to mark Prince Louis's second birthday on April 23 and Princess Charlotte's fifth birthday on Saturday. In both cases, as usual, the pictures were taken by their mother, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Charlotte was helping deliver meals to isolated seniors near their home in Norfolk, northeast of London, and Louis was all smiles showing off the happy, colourful and messy aftermath of fingerpainting rainbows in support of the National Health Service.

Prince Louis shows off his preparation for fingerpainting rainbows to celebrate the work of the National Health Service in this photo taken by his mother, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, to mark his second birthday on April 23. (The Duchess of Cambridge/Kensington Palace via AP)

Another birthday comes up next week, when their cousin, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, turns one on May 6.

Royals in Canada

Princess Anne mingles with the crowd of about 1,000 in attendance on May 4, 1971, as she officially opens the new Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island. (Bill Croke/The Canadian Press)

Princess Anne has been having something of a moment over the past few months — or maybe several moments. One came late last fall, prompted by the feisty portrayal of her in Season 3 of the Netflix drama, The Crown. And right now, the all-business, no-nonsense only daughter of the Queen and Prince Philip is the cover story for Vanity Fair.

But rewind 49 years, and Anne had her share of moments, too, some of them coming in Canada.

Much media attention was focused on the 20-year-old when she arrived with her parents to mark the 100th anniversary of British Columbia's entry into Confederation.

WATCH | Princess Anne helps B.C. celebrate 100th anniversary of its entry into Confederation:

A royal visit to Prince Rupert

52 years ago
Duration 2:14
Princess Anne slices a giant birthday cake for B.C.'s centennial.

As much as Anne was the focus of anticipation and attention during that trip in early May 1971, her royal duties were rather routine, even a bit mundane.

"Princess Anne made no official statement at the unveiling," the Globe and Mail reported on May 5, after she officially opened Canada's newest national park, Pacific Rim on Vancouver Island. "Her only function was to pull the cord that removed the flag from the rock face to unveil the plaque."

Later, the Globe reported that Anne told the park superintendent "she was much impressed by the beauty and the picturesqueness of the park region."

Our friends at CBC Archives have taken an in-depth look at the tour that took the royal visitors to Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Vernon, Penticton, Williams Lake and Comox.

Royally quotable

Prince Philip leaves the King Edward VII hospital in London on Dec. 24, 2019. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

"As we approach World Immunization Week, I wanted to recognize the vital and urgent work being done by so many to tackle the pandemic; by those in the medical and scientific professions, at universities and research institutions, all united in working to protect us from COVID-19. On behalf of those of us who remain safe and at home, I also wanted to thank all key workers who ensure the infrastructure of our life continues; the staff and volunteers working on food production and distribution, those keeping postal and delivery services going and those ensuring the rubbish continues to be collected."

— The pandemic prompted Prince Philip to make a rare public statement on April 20. The 98-year-old Duke of Edinburgh, who has had a keen interest in science, has rarely been seen in public since he retired from public duties in the summer of 2017.

Royal reads

  1. Prince Harry has told friends he misses his life in the Armed Forces. [Daily Telegraph]

  2. Harry has also looked back on his time as a child, recording a special message to celebrate the 75th anniversary of a book he and others loved in their younger years: Thomas the Tank Engine. [CBC]

  3. King Henry VIII might not be the first person you think of as inspiration for how to live in self-isolation, but maybe he could offer some lessons on how to find comfort in quarantine. [The Guardian]

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Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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