A busy working royal who serves as Patron for more than 70 charities and organisations, the Countess of Wessex is among the most admired Royal Family members. In a candid interview this week, Prince Edward’s wife spoke touchingly about her late father-in-law, the Duke of Edinburgh, as well as her experiences during the pandemic and her work in advocating for survivors of sexual violence in warfare.
The new interview was given by the Countess to Naga Munchetty on BBC Radio 5 Live, recorded two months on from Prince Philip’s death, who passed away at Windsor Castle on 9 April, aged 99. In a video clip of the conversation released by the BBC, presenter Munchetty expressed her condolences, before asking the Countess how the family has been ‘adjusting to life without the Duke of Edinburgh’.
Sophie replies: ‘Well, he’s left a giant-sized hole in our lives. I think, unfortunately, the pandemic has slightly skewed things in as much as it’s hard to spend as much time with the Queen than we would like to. We’ve been trying to, but of course it’s still not that easy.’ She goes on to explain that in light of ongoing coronavirus restrictions, ‘of course the normal way of things isn’t normal yet,’ so, she relates, ‘I think the whole grieving process is probably likely for us to take a lot longer… Because if you’re not living with somebody 24/7 the immediate loss isn’t necessarily felt in the same way… it’s only when you would do the normal things that you would have done with them and you suddenly realise that they are not there, that you really start to have a “Oh my goodness” moment.’
The Countess then grows visibly emotional, tearing up as she tells Munchetty: ‘We were lucky enough to go to Scotland for half term, and I don’t know if you remember the photograph that I took?’ – alluding to an image of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh that was released to the Royal Family’s social media accounts in the wake of Philip’s death. Sophie reveals that she took the photo when she was pregnant with her daughter, Lady Louise Windsor, and that on returning to Scotland recently: ‘Just to be there, in that place, was an “Oh my God” moment.’
She notes that she thinks such moments will ‘come and go’, recalling: ‘I had the same when I lost my mother. I’d be fine, absolutely fine, fine, fine, and something happened or you’d hear a piece of music or you’d do something, and suddenly you would… get taken off at the knees. So there will be lots of moments like that. But it’s good to remember.’
The conversation took place to shine a light on the Countess’s work raising awareness around rape in warfare, in advance of the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict on 19 June. On International Women’s Day back in 2019, Sophie pledged her support to the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda and the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), and continues to serve as an ardent champion for the cause.
Sophie told Munchetty that rape is one of the most pernicious weapons of war and that it must be addressed, particularly for victims who are silenced and left without justice, stating: ‘People have to atone for it and that has to start at the top.’
Even outside the context of warfare, sexual assault has been making headlines in the UK in recent weeks, after multitudes of anonymous school students reported their experiences of a climate of ‘rape culture’ in schools on the Everyone’s Invited website. The Countess said in the interview that she had spoken with her own teenage children, Lady Louise (aged 17), and James, Viscount Severn (aged 13) about issues like sexual consent, revealing that Louise has a ‘natural curiosity’ about her mother’s work with rape survivors and was keen to be educated further.
She admitted that it was ‘slightly harder’ to have such discussions with James as he reaches an age where he is ‘more aware of girls around him’, but added that he is ‘quite conscious of this whole issue of inappropriate behaviour between girls and boys,’ concluding: ‘I think it’s about having honest, open conversations as a family, but also hopefully in school settings as well.’
The Countess also touched on her role in the Royal Family – one that has become more public facing since the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s departure from official royal life – with the Queen, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Edward and Sophie even having been described as the ‘Magnificent Seven’. The Countess stated: ‘There is increased interest in us as a family but, if it raises more awareness of the issues I care about, then that can only be a good thing.’
She also opened up about her experience of lockdown, revealing that she had the ‘odd wobble’, explaining: ‘I just couldn’t see an end to it – I couldn’t visualise how this was all going to pan out… Life, all the normal things that we could do… it was like sand through your hands.’ The Countess also disclosed that she – like so many of us – turned to the world of television for a little escapism, revealing her fondness for Line of Duty, and the fact that she even guessed H’s identity ahead of the big reveal.
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