Emily on Duchess Sophie's second act
Why the Duchess of Edinburgh has plenty to celebrate in 2024
Hello Royal Clubbers!
It’s birthday season for two of our most senior royals as the Princess of Wales turned 42 yesterday, while the Duchess of Edinburgh will turn 59 on January 20.
Both Kate and Sophie are hugely admired for their fashion sense and dedication to brilliant charities and organisations and they share a close bond - they can regularly be seen sharing a joke together.
But the Duchess’s work doesn’t always receive the attention it deserves.
She’s been a loyal member of the royal family for nearly a quarter of a century now and travels the world and the UK to support her patronages, largely without fanfare.
I’ve watched her at work in a variety of situations, from heartrending visits to children’s hospices, receptions with senior foreign leaders and even presenting prizes at muddy agricultural shows and I can you that she is a natural. With her background in business and PR she understands the value of a good picture to promote the issues she cares about, but her interest and empathy are genuine. She’s always happy to don combat fatigues or surgical scrubs and get fully involved in whatever is going on.
Over the past few years there’s been a shift in her focus as she has taken on work to support the Preventing Sexual Conflict in Violence Initiative and the Women Peace and Security agenda, alongside the multitude of organisations she already works with.
Sophie has long championed gender equality – she founded the Women’s Network Forum, which promotes women in the workplace, back in 2014.
But I think her efforts to highlight the survivors of gender-based violence in conflict is some of her most meaningful work yet and it seems to have sparked a real passion in her as well as taking her to some of the most war-ravaged regions on Earth.
Maybe it’s come at a time in her life when she can focus more on her work. Her eldest daughter Lady Louise is now in Scotland, studying at the University of St Andrews, while at 16, her son James, Earl of Wessex, is not far behind, so she is able to travel for longer.
The Duchess will enter her seventh decade next year, despite her youthful appearance, and for me the term “second act” springs to mind - a chance to redirect her focus now her children are older. I think we will see her doing some fascinating work in future.
She certainly has the ability to connect with people in spades.
Veteran royal photographer Tim Rooke, who has joined her on overseas trips since 2000 tells me, “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 takes a lot of time with people. When we were in Canada recently (as Colonel-in-Chief of the Lincoln and Welland Regiment), she spent a lot of time speaking to the military people, but also to the children. She makes sure that everyone feels like they’ve had their moment with her.”
So what is she like as a person?