She has kept her emotions in check while in the public eye, but the redness around her eyes speaks volumes about how the Countess of Wessex has been deeply affected by the loss of her mother-in-law.
For Sophie, 57, the Queen’s death means not only a step up in the royal hierarchy, but also the sudden absence of the mother figure she spoke to most mornings.
Sophie’s memories of being with the Queen this summer are particularly fresh.
She and her husband Prince Edward took their daughter Lady Louise Windsor, 18, and son James Viscount Severn, 14, to Balmoral.
They enjoyed all the usual Highland pursuits with, says a friend, “not a shadow of what was about to happen a few weeks after they parted with the Queen”.
The sudden death of the monarch has hit Sophie hard. Her boyfriend says she, along with the rest of the family, “thought they had plenty of time.”
They “fully expected” to see the Queen in Windsor, where she was expected to return normally in October.
Windsor formed the basis of Sophie’s relationship with the Queen.
Most Saturday afternoons, Sophie drove the 10 miles from her home in Bagshot Park to the castle, where the Queen would wait for a good catch up over tea.
This was followed by a session of war films and historical documentaries, which the couple loved to watch together – a source of their closeness.
“They’ve watched countless movies together,” said a royal source.
“When a particular event or battle caught their fancy, the Queen would sometimes arrange for the Royal Archives – kept in Windsor – to be opened so that the two could delve into relevant documents.
“Sophie is very interested in history, she takes great pride in her knowledge of military campaigns, and she and the Queen could argue for hours about whether this general or that admiral made the right move in some battle.”
These hours spent in the Queen’s sitting-room at Windsor strengthened the bond between the monarch and her daughter-in-law.
The two began spending more time together shortly after the Queen lost her sister Princess Margaret, followed by her mother just seven weeks later in 2002.
Three years later, Sophie mourned the death of her mother Mary, who died of cancer at the age of 71.
Not only did the Queen enjoy Sophie’s company, but remarkably, she was considered by Her Majesty to be the safest hand of the Royal Family for someone who had it so bad when she was first married to Edward.
She also has a reputation for being a peacemaker – last week she was seen leaning forward to exchange words with Meghan Markle as the royal family awaited the arrival of the Queen’s coffin at Westminster Hall.
The Duchess of Sussex seemed visibly more relaxed after the altercation as the couple shared in their grief.
Given Sophie’s seemingly unassailable position as the Sovereign’s favourite, she was well placed to teach the latest female member of The Firm.
A member of the Wessex Circle tells me, “Sophie was one of the first to invite Meghan to Bagshot for tea on her own.”
However, they add: “They got along very well, but Sophie felt that they would never be the best of friends.
“Let’s just say Meghan seemed to have her own agenda and was not in the market for words of advice, however well-intentioned.”
The calm, astute, confident and thoughtful countess we see today is a far cry from the clumsy figure who ran her own PR consultancy early in her marriage.
She created a ‘royals for hire’ storm when she posed next to a Rover 75 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, after landing a $425,000 contract to publicize it.
When Sophie finally gave up her PR business and devoted herself to a life of royal duties, there was doubt she could ever erase the memory of such indiscretions.
“What helped allay that doubt,” says one royal observer, “was that the Queen had long recognized certain qualities in Sophie as a royal consort — probably before her youngest son did.”
The Queen would have been annoyed at the time Edward took with the romance – it was six years, and Sophie was 34 by the time she came down the aisle of St George’s Chapel in Windsor.
As such, Her Majesty had uniquely arranged for Sophie to have her own pass to enter Buckingham Palace so that she could stay overnight in the royal chambers, where Edward had his suite of rooms, whenever she wished.
Sophie herself has admitted that the Queen thought she was “different” because she had known a different life in trade before marrying her prince.
She said in a speech: “I am rare because I am one of the few ladies in the British Royal Family who has had a professional business career and her own business.”
Embraced royal life
Sophie was not born in a stately home. She grew up in the Kent commuter belt, where her father Christopher Rhys-Jones worked as a director of a tire company.
But she has embraced the rural pursuits beloved by the royals.
A friend, who knew her before her royal wedding, notes: “In her early days of marriage, Sophie set herself a series of tasks – she is as driven and focused as that – to learn how to drive well, how to fish, how to shoot and, more recently, carriage rides.”
Her friend adds: “She became like Her Majesty’s daughter, they were so close.
“It was a view shared by Prince Philip, who admired Sophie for the way she clung to her duties.
“Sophie not only thrived as a devoted member of the royal family, she also raised two well-balanced teenagers.
The Queen was also aware that Sophie’s marriage has survived where her other children’s relationships have failed – and she knew that was in large part due to Sophie’s dedication.
The Queen was aware that Sophie’s marriage has survived where her other children’s relationships have failed – and she knew that was in large part due to Sophie’s dedication
“She is aware, as Edward’s mother, what a troublesome creature he can be.”
An example of Sophie’s close relationship with the Queen came from Sandringham, where the staff on duty enjoyed themselves on Sundays by placing bets on who would accompany the Sovereign in the Rolls Royce to the morning service at St Mary Magdalene Church.
No money was exchanged in this match under the stairs, because nine times out of ten they knew exactly who would have the best position on the cream leather comfort of the Rolls back seat.
“If Sophie were staying at Sandringham, you can be pretty sure the Queen would ask her – usually the latter on a Saturday night – if she wanted ‘a lift’ to church,” said a former royal equerry.
“And the same thing happened to Balmoral. The Queen liked to be perfectly calm in front of the church, and she found Sophie’s presence soothing.”
‘Safe pair of hands’
Sophie is now confident and relaxed when interacting with the audience – evidenced by the sensitive way she answered questions from a crowd the day after Philip died.
Watched by her somewhat startled husband, she told them that his passing was “so gentle, like someone took his hand, and then he left. Very peaceful, that’s what you want for someone, isn’t it?”
It was Sophie’s second time publicly speaking about her father-in-law’s death.
The day before, she had answered a question about how the Queen was coping, revealing that she was “thinking about others than herself – she’s wonderful”.
Now that the Queen has passed away, the public has already witnessed more of Sophie’s qualities that HM noticed so early on.
Sophie, who is already affiliated with some 70 charities and organizations, will reportedly take on a host of patronage from the Queen, including the Women’s Institute and the Dogs Trust.
And when King Charles announces, as is expected to happen in the coming weeks, that Edward will become the Duke of Edinburgh – in accordance with Prince Philip’s wishes – Sophie becomes a royal duchess.
A well deserved promotion.
This story originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished here with permission.