About The Countess of Wessex
A full-time working member of the Royal Family, The Countess of Wessex splits her time between her work in support of The Queen and visits to a large number of her own charities and organisations. She has a wide range of interests which include supporting people with disabilities, the prevention of blindness in developing countries, agriculture and fashion.
Much of the day-to-day working life of The Countess of Wessex is taken up with her roles as Patron of over 70 charities and organisations. Each year, Her Royal Highness undertakes hundreds of visits to schools, universities, military bases and charity headquarters in order to learn more about their work, and to highlight it to the wider world.
Young people and children
The Countess of Wessex has a strong personal interest in the provisions for people with disabilities and embracing opportunities for young people, championing both local initiatives such as Disability Initiative in Surrey as well as national charities such as the NSPCC.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex established their foundation The Wessex Youth Trust in 1999 with a focus to help, support and advance registered charities which provide opportunities specifically for children and young people.
In 2019, the Wessex Youth Trust was renamed The Earl and Countess of Wessex Trust. Having met the charity’s original objective – supporting and advancing organisations which provide opportunities for children and young people - the Trust will now broaden its charitable endeavours beyond youth focused initiatives and will focus on developing strong relationships with a selected group of charities.
The Earl and Countess of Wessex founded The Wessex Youth Trust Shortly before their marriage in 1999. It offered grants and support to charities helping young people. The Trust benefited a broad cross-section of youth oriented causes, including hospitals and hospices, child protection and drug-prevention schemes, inner city drop-in centres, sex education initiatives, special educational needs libraries, sports facilities and arts groups. The Wessex Youth Trust distributed over £2.5 million to over 180 causes during its two successful decades.
In support of The Earl of Wessex, Her Royal Highness is also involved with The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and chairs the Women in Business Group which works to promote the Award.
In 2016 The Countess completed her challenge to cycle 445 miles from the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh to Buckingham Palace, as part of her Duke of Edinburgh's Award Diamond Challenge.
During her challenge, The Countess wrote a blog on her experiences as she took part in the challenge to mark the 60th Anniversary of The Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
The Countess has also been the President of Girl Guiding UK since 2003.
In recent years, The Countess of Wessex has become involved in the world of agriculture and held the position of Show President of the Royal Bath and West Show in 2010 before becoming Vice Patron in 2011. Her Royal Highness is also Patron of the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations (ASAO) and has been Patron of The Border Union Agricultural Society for its bicentennial year 2013.
The Countess also works to support the ‘Campaign for Wool’ which was set up by The Prince of Wales and aims to promote the use of British wool.
The Countess is passionate about eradicating avoidable blindness and, as Patron of Vision 2020: The Right to Sight and Global Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, has seen first-hand the difference organisations with the right knowledge, experience and funding can make on a global scale.
The Countess has been a Global Ambassador for the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) since 2003.
In 2013, this role took Her Royal Highness to the Orbis flying hospital programme in India and Qatar where she saw first-hand the many global issues around preventable blindness. Following The Countess' visit to India and Qatar, Her Royal Highness wrote an article for The Telegraph to coincide with World Sight Day.
In India, Bangladesh and Nepal the sight-saving organisations are focusing on Childhood blindness. In Sudan, Pakistan and Egypt the organisations are focusing on the Trachoma Elimination Programme.
Her Royal Highness has drawn much attention to these on-going projects through her visits to the regions and has helped drive the plans forward through working closely with the organisations, and many youth and community events.
London College of Fashion
In 2013 The Countess became the first ever Patron of London College of Fashion, part of the University of the Arts London. Throughout the patronage The Countess will continue to champion the College's commitment to 'Better Lives' where fashion is used to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve wellbeing.
One of the key areas of work within 'Better Lives' is the 'Fashion Education in Prison Project' – through which LCF works in partnership with HM Prison Service on projects working towards the rehabilitation of women offenders. The aim is to equip women with skills they can further develop during their time in prison and then use, upon release, to aid employment or education opportunities. The first of these is at HMP Holloway, which was visited by Her Royal Highness in June 2014.
In 2007, The Countess became Royal Colonel of 5th Battalion The Rifles following the reorganisation of the Infantry. Her Royal Highness regularly visits the Battalion at their base in Germany and has visited them on several occasions while on operational duties, including in Afghanistan in December 2011.
The Countess of Wessex is also Colonel-in-Chief of the Corps of Army Music and of Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps and meets service personnel and their families whenever possible. In 2015, Her Royal Highness invited medical staff from the QARANC to Buckingham Palace to thank them for their work in response to the Ebola epidemic.
In 2006 Her Royal Highness was appointed Sponsor of HMS Daring and, in 2008, Honorary Air Commodore of Royal Air Force Wittering.
The Countess holds two military positions in Canada: Colonel in-Chief of The South Alberta Light Horse and Colonel-in-Chief of the Lincoln and Well and Regiment.
The Women, Peace and Security Agenda and the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative
On International Women’s Day 2019, The Countess publicly announced her commitment to champion the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), at a reception for Women Peacebuilders at Buckingham Palace. WPS both recognises the disproportionate impact of conflict on women and girls and the positive role women play in building peace and stability.
The PSVI aims to prevent conflict-related sexual violence as well as responding to the needs of survivors, tackling stigma and strengthening justice and accountability. As a central pillar of The Countess’s work, HRH has spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in New York, and attended a Foreign Office conference on PSVI with survivors, government and NGO representatives. The Countess also continues to highlight international efforts towards women’s role in peacebuilding - in India, for example, HRH learnt about the country’s contribution to UN Peacekeeping and heard from women peacekeepers on active deployment.
In 2019 The Countess of Wessex visited Kosovo to highlight the trauma and stigma faced by survivors of sexual violence in conflict during the Kosovo War in 1998-1999, and the efforts underway to tackle this. During the visit Her Royal Highness met with survivors, charity works, advocates, religious leaders and members of the Judiciary system, as part of her commitment to supporting the UK’s efforts in the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI).
The Countess of Wessex was born Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones on 20 January 1965 in Oxford.
Her Royal Highness is the second child and first daughter of Christopher Bournes Rhys-Jones and the late Mary Rhys-Jones. She has an elder brother David.
Miss Rhys-Jones’s family moved to Kent when she was still young and she began her education at Dulwich College Preparatory School in Cranbrook and attended Kent College School for Girls, Pembury, before completing her education at West Kent College.
After leaving school, Miss Rhys-Jones embarked on a career in public relations working for a variety of firms, before opening her own public relations agency, which she co-ran for five years.
Miss Rhys-Jones met Prince Edward at a real tennis event in the summer of 1993.
The couple announced their engagement in January 1999, and the wedding ceremony took place at St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, on 19 June 1999.
On the day of the wedding, it was announced that The Queen had conferred the titles of The Earl of Wessex and Viscount Severn upon Prince Edward. Upon her marriage, Miss Rhys-Jones became known as Her Royal Highness The Countess of Wessex.
Their Royal Highnesses have two children, Lady Louise, who was born on 8 November 2003 and James, Viscount Severn who was born on 17 December 2007.
Supporting The Queen
The Countess of Wessex supports The Queen in her role as Head of State by representing Her Majesty at events in the UK and abroad, as well as attending state and ceremonial occasions alongside other members of the Royal Family. Her Royal Highness also accompanies her husband The Earl of Wessex on visits and to official events in support of his charities and interests.
The Countess attends a number of important Royal occasions each year, such as Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph in central London. Her Royal Highness accompanied The Earl of Wessex to Canada in July 2000 – her first overseas visit representing The Queen, where she and The Earl attended the official opening of the 39th annual Canadian Branch Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on Prince Edward Island.
Since then, The Countess of Wessex has undertaken many overseas tours both in support of The Queen and relating to her charitable initiatives. In 2012, The Earl and Countess of Wessex visited Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Gibraltar, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago as part of the Diamond Jubilee tour which saw members of the Royal Family visit every Realm as well as undertaking visits to Commonwealth countries, Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories. Her Royal Highness occasionally represents Her Majesty at funerals and weddings of national and international significance, most recently at the marriage of Prince Carl Philip of Sweden and Miss Sofia Hellqvist in Stockholm. The Countess also attends Garden Parties and presents honours such as The Queen’s Award from Voluntary Service on Her Majesty’s behalf.
Her Royal Highness visited military personnel based in Afghanistan in 2011 and has developed strong links with Regiments of the Armed Services. In December 2014, The Countess, in her role as Royal Colonel of 5th Battalion, The Rifle, flew to Paderborn, Germany to present Campaign Medals to around 400 soldiers who were among the last to leave Afghanistan. The Countess is often asked to represent The Queen at occasions of national significance such as the unveiling of a memorial to the Bevin Boys at the National Memorial Arboretum in May 2013 and at the unveiling of the Women’s Land Army Statue in October 2014. Her Royal Highness also attends National Services of Commemoration, such as the Battle of Britain 75th anniversary events in 2015.
Charities and Patronages
Wessex HeartbeatWebsite: www.heartbeat.co.uk
Regional charity supporting the work of the Wessex Cardiac Centre in Southampton General Hospital.Region: UK (England)Members of the Royal Family:The Countess of Wessex, Patron
Women in Business Committee, The Duke of Edinburgh's Award
Promoting The Duke of Edinburgh's AwardRegion: UK-wideMembers of the Royal Family:The Countess of Wessex, Chair
Women of the Future Programme
A portfolio of events and projects that support and celebrate the successes of young womenRegion: InternationalMembers of the Royal Family:The Countess of Wessex, Ambassador
Women's Institute, Bagshot.Website: www.womens-institute.co.uk
Women's organisationRegion: UK (England)Members of the Royal Family:The Countess of Wessex, Member
Women's Network Forum
The Women's Network Forum (WNF) is a unique network of cross-industry Leaders whose goal is the advancement of gender balance and equality by influencing business leaders, inspiring the next generation and sharing best practice.Region: UK-wideMembers of the Royal Family:The Countess of Wessex, Chairman