Sophie & Edward’s Engagement Announcement: January 6, 1999

Just for fun, let’s take a step back in time.

17 years ago today, on January 6 1999, the press was notified on the Queen’s behalf that Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones were engaged. Later that morning, a photo call was held in the St. James’s Palace. The couple emerged to greet the waiting press for pictures and a look at the ring.

Sophie & Edward (source)
It must have been a warm January! Sophie & Edward at St. James’s Palace January 6, 1999 (source)

During the photo call, Prince Edward revealed that when he proposed, “I managed to take her completely by surprise, she had no idea it was coming.” He was also pretty thrilled with the ring and told the journalists “If it catches the sun, you’ll all be blinded.” One of our first posts when we launched the blog in 2011 covered Sophie’s engagement ring here.

On that day in January 1999, Prince Edward was 34 to Sophie’s 33 years of age and they had been dating for a solid five years. To answer why the wait was so long, Edward said  “It’s impossible for anyone else to understand why it has taken me this long but I don’t think it would have been right before and I don’t think Sophie would have said yes if I had said before. Hopefully, by the fact that she did say yes, I must have got the timing right.” (source). You can check out a video of the photo call here here.

We went into detail on their chance royal meeting in a previous post. In a nutshell, they met thanks to a charity event that the company Sophie worked for had helped to put on. She first met him at a preliminary meeting in 1992 and then things really got rolling at the event itself when Sophie asked him to play a round of tennis with her. A rather gossipy article with more on that can be found here if you are in the mood for more.

A First Photo, September 1993 (source)
A First Photo, September 1993 (source)

Fun fact: Television presenter Sue Barker was also on the invite list for the event that day, however she was unable to take a promotional photograph with Prince Edward, so Sophie was asked to step in and the results are above. When the couple sat down to a pre-wedding interview a few days before the wedding, Sue was the journalist asked to do the honors.

A good chunk of the interview is included in the footage below. It took place on the grounds of Bagshot Park, the stately home that Prince Edward had begun to lease two years before the engagement (and, really, the house and grounds deserve their own lengthy post so will add that to the list). The interview begins at 27:30 and a detailed transcript can be found here.

It’s been reported that Prince Edward proposed to Sophie while they were on vacation before Christmas. They spoke to their parents over the holidays and made the announcement when everyone was getting back to work in the New Year which gave them some time to decide a few things. For example, they shared with the press that they would like to have a smaller wedding than Edward’s siblings had had and would instead have their wedding ceremony at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. Both Princess Anne and Prince Andrew had chosen Westminster Abbey for their weddings and Prince Charles of course famously married Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

They also shared their intention to continue their careers after the wedding instead of taking on full time royal duties. This AP video has some interesting snippets including a quote from Sophie’s business partner saying that “it’s business as usual…the intention always was that we’d sent the company up and after the engagement she’d continue to work.” Interesting that Sophie was that candid in expecting the engagement, right?

Sophie outside her office after her engagement was announced, protection officer in tow. (Getty Images)
Sophie outside her office after her engagement was announced, protection officer in tow. (Getty Images)

A former boyfriend is also interviewed in the video. His soundbite is quite something. He says, “She’s a capable girl and I always think she had her eye on the main chance. I think that although she went out with the likes of me I think that weekends are very much spent in the country homes of Lord This and Lady That and I think that that is what she always felt was the kind of area that she would want to move into…and good luck to her…I think she’ll be a breath of fresh air.” Cue the screech of the record stopping on Lord This and Lady That. Sheesh- she can’t have been too thrilled with that interview!

The wedding went off on June 19, 1999 with just a few small glitches like the sound of airplanes en route to Heathrow drowning out the vows and Edward struggled to get Sophie’s ring on. They will celebrate their 17th wedding anniversary this year and while they did go back to work after the wedding it proved to be too difficult to continue indefinitely what with Edward’s production company ignoring a media ban when William started at St. Andrew’s University and Sophie’s being taken in by a fake sheikh. They announced in December 20o1 that they would be wrapping up their careers in order to focus full time with royal duties and supporting the Queen.

The new Earl and Countess of Wessex (source)
The new Earl and Countess of Wessex (source)

It seems to me that they’ve been fulfilled their promise and are actively involved with a number of charities and interests so it must be mildly frustrating that the press glosses over them for features on more glamorous royals. Sophie is a favorite of mine, she seems quite down to earth and hardworking despite all the crazy around her. What do you think?

PS Here’s a look at the tiaras Sophie has worn so far if you feel like looking at more sparkly things!

What a Thing to Say To The Queen Book Review

Happy New Year, Royal Posters! I hope you’ve enjoyed a happy holiday season. It’s hard to believe that we started this blog in 2011 so are already into our 6th year.

To kick off this New Year on The Royal Post, I’d like to share some snippets from a delightful book on the British Royals. Just published in November of 2015, it’s called What a Thing To Say to The Queen: A Collection of Royal Anecdotes from the House of Windsor by Thomas Blaikie. Lucky me – I was given a copy for Christmas.

Perfect to read with a cup of tea (source)
Perfect to read with a cup of tea (source)

Mr. Blaikie has compiled a fun collection of witty quips and (very) short stories, many never published, that give insight into the goings on of the Royal Family.   It’s not too saccharine and is the perfect book to pick up and read snippets of here and there. It also has accompanying illustrations that give it some extra flavor.

Here are a few of my favorites to give you a taste.

In a chapter titled “No Airs and Graces’:

At Highclere, better knows as Downton Abbey, a farm worker was wedged under a broken-down trailer when he heard a familiar voice asking, “Can I help?’ It was the Queen, in a headscarf, out walking with a dog. She is on of those guests who wants to make a contribution.

The Queen at a polo match at Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey (source)
The Queen at a polo match at Highclere Castle aka Downton Abbey (source)

The Queen had an adventure getting to a private party in London recently. ‘We were coming across the Park’, she told friends, ‘when a policemen stepped in front of the car and made us wait while a big procession of vehicles passed by with blue flashing lights. It must have been a very important ruler.’

In the Chapter titled Staff:

While Prince Charles and Lady Diana were announcing their engagement to the world’s press on the lawn of Buckingham Palace on 24 February 1981, two people were twitching their curtains, hoping not to be seen, in the windows behind them: the Prince’s valet and the Queen.

Charles & Diana on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (Source). Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images
Charles & Diana on the grounds of Buckingham Palace (Source). Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images

The Queen granted fifteen sittings to the artist Lucian Freud between May 2000 and December 200, not in the usual grand palace drawing room but in an art restoration studios in St. James’s Palace. He wanted the Queen in the royal diadem but with a blue day suit, not the usual state dress. The finished portrait was disliked by many who were unfamiliar with the artist’s approach. Because of the value of the diadem, protection officers had to be present, but Freud found them distracting and the Queen asked them to go outside. One of the men, the Queen said, she knew quite well. While picking up birds at a shoot on a friend’s estate, a cock pheasant had hurtled out of a hedge and knocked her over. There was blood. The officer rushed up and, hurling himself upon her, began administering the kiss of life. He thought she had been shot. The Queen was impressed and engaged him in her own protection squad. 

Lucian Freud portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (source; The Royal Collection)
Lucian Freud portrait of Queen Elizabeth II (source: The Royal Collection)

In the Chapter titled Our Eye for Details:

The Queen annotated the program for a state visit of the King and Queen go Thailand in the 1960’s. ‘Tell the band leader under no circumstances to play excerpts from the King and I.’

HM Queen Elizabeth II with HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in 1960 (source)
HM Queen Elizabeth II with HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand in 1960 (source)

In the Chapter titled Mother:

The Queen Mother wished to name her second daughter Anne, but George VI wouldn’t have it. She had to settle for Margaret, the King’s preference, which she considered a maid’s name. Curious that when her time came, the present Queen called her first daughter Anne. 

Margaret, Elizabeth, & Anne (source)
Margaret, Elizabeth, & Anne (source)

In a chapter titled Wild Side:

The Queen was greatly excited about Ginny Airlie’s  70th birthday party at Annabel’s in February 2003. She hadn’t been to a nightclub, she said, since she was first married. On an engagement the following day at St. Alban’s Abbey in Hertfordshire, the Dean asked her if she knew Robert Salisbury, also present. ‘Oh yes’, she said, ‘Robert and I were in a nightclub last night until half past one.’ 

There are plenty more anecdotes in the book and I highly recommend picking up a copy!

All best wishes for a happy 2016.