Sophie praises her ‘best friend’ Prince Edward ahead of his 60th birthday

The Duchess brought tears to her husband's eyes

On the eve of Prince Edward’s 60th birthday weekend, Sophie paid tribute to her ‘best friend’ and ‘the best of fathers’ during a visit to Leeds earlier this week.

During the visit, the couple watched rugby trials and attended the Community Sport and Recreation Awards at Headingley Stadium, which sought to recognise the volunteers of grass root sport.

Prince Edward and Sophie at Leeds Headingley Stadium for the Sport and Recreation Alliance awards (Royal Family)

On the pitch, both Edward and Sophie were given Leeds Rhinos shirts, with the Duke’s featuring a number 60 on the back.

Speaking at the Awards reception, The Duchess of Edinburgh opened her speech by noting how her husband would be ‘horrified’ that she gave a speech during the event, expecting the Duke to be ‘sitting back with slightly narrowed eyes, possibly with his arms folded, or one arm stretched out across the table and to all intents and purposes looking identical to his father’.

Sophie stated how Edward is like his late father in that he never likes ‘anyone to pay him compliments, believing that it was the organisations he supported that were important – not him’.

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Highlighting how her husband is best known for his support for The Duke of Edinburgh Award, Sophie noted how he spends a great deal of time working behind the scenes to chair committees, writing strategies that ‘guide and shape the current activities and future of the charity in the UK and across the world’.

The King’s sister-in-law added that Prince Edward ‘challenges those who lead it, encourages others who work within it or support it, and loves meeting and chatting with those who benefit from it’.

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The Duchess then spoke about the ‘array of other charities and organisations’ which are passionately supported by the Duke, ‘whether it be focussing on the sporting endeavours from athletes around the Commonwealth both able and disabled; encouraging organisations offering opportunities for people to gain access to sport and activities; working throughout the arts with young talented musicians, or seasoned professionals who enrich our society, or visiting and encouraging the wonderful Central Caribbean Marine Institute which does so much to protect and enhance our unseen and vital underwater world’.

‘I encourage you to take a walk through his CV of affiliations and marvel at the breadth of them,’ the Royal commented, ‘each doing their part to make our world a better place and to understand that he is not just a name on a piece of paper, but that he commits of himself to them all and cares deeply for each of them.’

She added: ‘He takes undoubted pride in his military affiliations too. Not only do I think that he wears a uniform extremely well, he takes an enormous interest in their vital work and loves nothing better than to go offline and spend happy hours talking one-to-one with those who do so much to serve our country.’

The speech then moved further into the personal, which made the Duke visibly well up.

‘He has been my guide and shown me the way over the years. He has given me much help and advice (not always taken I admit), and his knowledge and instincts that have been honed over decades of service are invaluable – so we share speech notes (not this one, sorry darling!), chat through issues our patronages may be tackling, and together I think we make quite a good team.

‘Like an iceberg, what is seen above the water or in public is only a small proportion of what goes on behind the scenes. What is never seen or can ever be quantified is the effort spent on ensuring good governance for his patronages, encouraging people to support worthwhile causes, chairing committees, meeting chief executives and think tanks, writing papers, speeches, forewords, introductions, the list goes on.’

‘But whatever he is doing he gives 150% of himself, and if all else fails he gives any energy he has left out to our exhausted dogs or laying waste to the garden.’

Speaking about Edward’s personality, Sophie commented how her husband, like Prince Philip, was aware of others’ admiration for him. When ‘acknowledgment has come his way it has always been a total surprise to him’, which is why the Duchess was grateful to be able to ‘publicly celebrate and compliment him’.

She added how Edward ‘was so happy and humbled’ when the late Queen made him a Knight of the Garter in 2006 and was equally delighted and moved the day His Majesty The King – who we are both incredibly proud to support – made him Duke of Edinburgh. Both he deserves in equal measure and I am so proud of the man he is’.

Sophie concluded her speech by stating that Edward ‘is the best of fathers, the most loving of husbands’ and after almost 25 years of marriage, her ‘best friend’.

During the event, Prince Edward was also presented with a birthday cake, featuring models of the couple.

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