The Earl and Countess of Wessex have given in an exclusive interview to The Telegraph Magazine, discussing a range of topics from life during lockdown, the death of The Duke of Edinburgh, to The Duke of Sussex.
It is the couple’s first major interview since they married in 1999.
Prince Edward and Sophie spoke in great detail about The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral which was ‘done beautifully’ with ‘minimum fuss’ and is ‘what he would have wanted’ the Countess said.
‘We are still a family no matter what'
In their first major interview together, The Earl and Countess of Wessex discuss grieving for ‘Grandpa’ and the Duke's enduring legacy.
Read more: https://t.co/TbCvUyqTyb
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) June 4, 2021
Sophie continued: “It was when the order was given to the soldiers to invert their weaponry,” she says, referring to the moment when military personnel on the Quadrangle at Windsor Castle bowed their heads upon the arrival of the Duke’s customised Land Rover hearse.
She commented how seeing Edward walking behind Philip’s coffin was also ‘a real, ‘Oh my goodness’ moment,’ she added. “I think the fact that there were so few of us only served to raise the intensity of it.”
The Earl shared his own personal emotions he faced at his father’s funeral stating: “I was extraordinarily odd walking into St George’s Chapel and finding the nave completely empty. Coronavirus guidelines limiting the guest list to just 30 people meant The Queen was forced to sit two metres from her family – and well-wishers, banned from paying their respects in person, had no choice but to watch on television.
“It’s always difficult with these kinds of things because you’re in the middle of it, so you’ve got no idea what it necessarily looks like from the outside.”
Although the Countess added: “To see Her Majesty on her own; it was very poignant.”
Edward and Sophie added it was only when they watched the service back they realised the connection felt by ‘many other families who have had to bury loved ones, with only very few people’ and how they felt like ordinary people experiencing the same as everyone else who had to bury loved ones during the pandemic.
Sophie’s eyes prick with tears as she tells @CamillaTominey of the exact moment during Prince Philip’s funeral ‘when everything stopped’
‘Everything went still…I think the fact that there were so few of us only served to raise the intensity of it’https://t.co/TbCvUyqTyb
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) June 4, 2021
Prior to the funeral, The Earl and Countess of Wessex and Lady Louise paid a visit to St George’s Chapel to view tributes left by members of the public in memory of The Duke of Edinburgh.
The Countess of Wessex commented how ‘nice’ it was to speak to The Duke of Sussex following his and the Duchess’ move to LA. Prince Harry flew back to the UK to attend his grandfather’s funeral.
When asked the couple if they had watched The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Earl replied: “Oprah who?”
Sophie chuckled replying: “Yes, what interview?”
Speaking about a story of the Archbishop of Canterbury not knowing who Oprah was, the Countess added: “You know, if you’re not into chat shows, there’s no reason why you should know who she is. Certainly not in this country, anyway.”
The couple spoke about their close relationship with The Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh, as well as the precious moments their children shared with their grandfather.
Sophie said how her children, Lady Louise, 17, and James, 13, come home from school and keep saying they expect their ‘Grandpa’ to pick them up from school in his green Land Rover Freelander, as Bagshot is only 15 minutes away from Windsor Castle.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex spoke about the intention to carry on the legacy of The Duke of Edinburgh both in their personal lives as well as the work they carry out as what would have been the Duke’s 100th birthday approaches.
Sophie explained how their daughter has taken up a hobby that Prince Philip shared. “Louise went out training the other day and I was standing there, expecting the Duke to turn up and give her a few tips or just ask her how things were going.”
The couple commented on the Duke’s life saying how he had a ‘rough start in life’ and technically came to this country as a ‘refugee’.
“I think that’s where people look at Gordonstoun and his military career and suddenly go, ‘Oh, now that makes sense’,” Edward said. “People didn’t know the tragedy that had happened in those early days. So much of what happens later and the values that he demonstrated suddenly begin to slot into place.”
The couple recalled the moment when the Duke of Edinburgh came round to ask his youngest son if he would be willing to become the next Duke of Edinburgh. “We sat there slightly stunned. He literally came straight in and said: ‘Right. I’d like it very much if you would consider that.'”
The Earl admitted how the title should ‘theoretically’ go to the Duke of York but commented that the ‘it’s a very bittersweet role to take on because the only way the title can come to me is after both my parents have actually passed away.’
He continued: ‘My father was very keen that the title should continue, but he didn’t quite move quickly enough with Andrew, so it was us who he eventually had the conversation with. It was a lovely idea; a lovely thought.’
Edward and Sophie spoke of life during lockdown, with Sophie saying: “I’m no good at sitting still and doing nothing – I’m useless.”
According to the couple, the family of four used to visit The Queen and Prince Philip at Windsor Castle in between lockdowns: “We used to see them stand on the balcony, which was about 20 feet up in the air,” explained the Countess. “We’d see them waving. We’d shout at them and they’d shout back at us. It always seemed to be windy, so we could barely hear each other.”
The Countess of Wessex commented how the outdoors has been a blessing during lockdown stating: “We are very fortunate and we can’t complain.” She added there and there haven’t been any family arguments during the pandemic.
“If things were kicking off inside, right from the year dot, I’d say: ‘Right… outside!’ You come back in again and the mood is entirely different.
“Louise would take herself off on her bike, and James is very self-motivated to get out, so actually, it was never a struggle.
“There were certainly moments when I think we all felt a bit low. But then you have to sit there and go, hang on – look at our wonderful surroundings, we are very, very lucky, and so many other people are not in that situation.”
The main focus for Prince Edward and Sophie is set to become the running of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award after Prince Philip stepped back in 2017 when he retired from official duties. They said how Louise will be completing her gold-award expedition next summer, when she has finished her A levels at St Mary’s School in Ascot, whilst James will embark on his bronze award next year after he turns 14 this December.
‘It’s just broadened her horizons. I think she’s probably got a little focused on, especially at the school she is at, just on the academics but…’ Edward said.
The Countess jumped in saying: ‘She’s loved it, it’s really pushed her into doing things that she’s had to schedule into her routine. She’s quite a committed person anyway. This is the kind of thing that really ticks the boxes for her. But in terms of confidence, it’s given her a huge amount. She’s taken up fencing again as her skill, which she has really loved.’
The Earl of Wessex completed his gold Duke of Edinburgh award in 1986, while the Countess of Wessex in 2016 by cycled 445 miles from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to Buckingham Palace.
Sophie commented on the closeness between the Wessex family with Her Majesty and Philip saying: ‘The poor Queen has had to put up with us staying on much longer than anybody else in Scotland and Norfolk.’
She added: ‘Proximity certainly helped. Windsor is 15 minutes down the road for us, so it’s not difficult, and of course because the children were interested in ponies and things – it was a natural draw for us to be there.’
Speaking about the photograph that was released shortly after the Duke’s death of him and The Queen in Scotland taken by the Countess, Sophie said: “It was while holidaying in the Scottish Highlands in 2003 that she took a remarkable photograph of the Queen and the Duke, relaxing on the grass at the Coyles of Muick, a beauty spot near the town of Ballater in Aberdeenshire, which was published on the morning of his funeral.”
“I remember both the place and the time,’ says the Earl, roaring with laughter as his wife admits, “I think I must have been the only photographer that His Royal Highness didn’t tell to get a bloody move on!”
Concluding the interview and reflecting one a difficult year for the family, The Countess simply said: “We are still a family no matter what happens, we always will be.”