The Stunning Transformation Of Prince Edward

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At 58 years old, Prince Edward straddles two generations of the British monarchy: the more reserved and traditional generation of his mother, Queen Elizabeth, and the younger, more modern generation of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The youngest of Queen Elizabeth's four children, he has mostly been able to avoid the spotlight — at least as much as any royal can. He weathered the storm of the royal family's turbulent decades of the '80s and '90s by staying under the radar, working professionally instead of working as a member of the royal family.

But that changed when he married Sophie Rhys-Jones, and they both left their careers to become working royals. These days, Prince Edward works full time for the crown, making trips abroad and serving as the patron of several organizations. While he has made a few PR blunders along the way, Prince Edward has now positioned himself as a fairly down-to-earth, low-key member of the royal family, and his popularity has steadily increased over the last few years as his role in the royal family has grown. Continue reading to follow the stunning transformation of Prince Edward.

Prince Edward is the queen's youngest son

Prince Edward was born on March 10, 1964. He is the youngest of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip's children, and was born 16 years after his oldest brother, Prince Charles. Royal biographer Ingrid Seward reported that Prince Philip was in the room when Edward was born, which was the first time he had been at the birth of any of his children. Husbands and partners weren't typically invited into the delivery room in the 1940s and 1950s, but times were changing. In "My Husband and I," Seward wrote, "The Queen, by then aged 37, had asked him to be there; she'd been keenly reading women's magazines that stressed the importance of involving fathers in childbirth and had become fascinated by the idea. Thus Philip became the first royal father in modern history to witness the arrival of one of his children" (via Hello! Magazine).

Third in line to the crown when he was born, Prince Edward's childhood was obviously privileged and unique — for example, he got to meet the first men to walk on the moon when the Apollo 11 astronauts visited Buckingham Palace in 1969. He went to Heatherdown Preparatory School as a child, and as a teenager attended Gordonstoun School in Scotland. This was a family tradition: both his father, Prince Philip, and his brothers, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, attended the school. Prince Edward did well there, and was named Head Boy in 1982 (per the Daily Mail).

He studied at Cambridge -- with some controversy

After his time at Gordonstoun, Prince Edward took a gap year abroad in New Zealand, where he tutored at Wanganui Collegiate School. Then, Prince Edward was accepted to study history at Cambridge, but his grades weren't quite up to the standards for the other admitted students that year.

First, a quick primer for non-British readers: A-levels are exams that graduating students take in order to gain admission to universities. Typically, students study for two years, and take two levels, the AS level and A2 level. They're subject-based, which makes them similar to AP tests in the United States, or the International Baccalaureate program. Most Cambridge students are accepted with three A-levels, with scores of A or A*. Prince Edward achieved three A-levels in History, English Literature, and Economic and Political Studies — but his grades were reported to be a C and two Ds (via Tatler). Regardless, he was admitted to Jesus College, Cambridge.

He studied history, and graduated in 1986 with a lower second class honors.

Prince Edward joined the Royal Marines for a very short time

After graduating from Cambridge, he followed in his father and older brother's military footsteps and joined the Royal Marines in September 1983. The men in the British royal family have all traditionally served in the military. Prince Philip served in the Royal Navy during World War II. Prince Charles and Prince Andrew served in the Navy as well, and Prince Andrew fought in the 1982 Falklands War. The tradition continues to this day, perhaps most famously with Prince Harry serving two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

But after 4 months of training in the Royal Marines, Prince Edward knew that the military wasn't the right career path for him, and decided to leave rather than finish out the year-long commando training. On January 12, 1987, Buckingham Palace released a formal announcement that said, "Prince Edward has decided to resign from the Marines. Edward leaves the Marines with great regret but has concluded that he does not wish to make the service his long-term career" (via the New York Times).

Prince Edward got a lot of flack in the press for not finishing his training, but the Associated Press reported at the time that a poll had concluded that 81% of British people felt for Edward and believed he should do what was right for his own life.

Prince Edward began pusing a career in the arts, and it got off to a rocky start

After stepping down from the Royal Marines, Prince Edward pivoted and started building a career in the entertainment industry. He had always loved theater, and participated in plays in college, so deciding to pursue this was a natural fit. However, his first foray as a producer did not go as planned.

"It's a Knockout" was a popular BBC competition game show in which two different teams dressed up in silly costumes and played games against each other. Prince Edward had the idea to include the royal family in a special edition of the program, "It's A Royal Knockout," to raise money for charity. Prince Edward, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson each coached a different team of celebrities, a wide and varied list which included John Travolta, Jane Seymour, and Meatloaf. The teams competed against each other and raised money for four different charities. In total, the event raised 1.5 million pounds, and 18 million people watched (The Independent).

So while that sounds like a massive success, the press was not kind about the show. David Roseman wrote for the Independent that while the event was "all good clean fun...the young royals inadvertently mocked the real costumes and ceremonies of their own House of Windsor." The public was not used to seeing the royal family goof around, even if it was for a good cause, and the consensus was that the show had demeaned the monarchy.

After the debacle, he took an entry-level job

Recovering from the bad press from "It's A Royal Knockout," Prince Edward decided to take an entry level job at a production company so he could learn from the ground up. In 1988, he was hired as a production assistant with Andrew Lloyd Webber's theater company, Really Useful. As a production assistant, he did small, menial jobs around the office, which the BBC reported included making tea.

This wasn't the first time that Prince Edward had met and worked with Andrew Lloyd Weber. Two years earlier in 1986, he commissioned a short musical called "Cricket" from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice as a birthday present for the Queen. It was performed at Windsor Castle, and featured an impressive cast and crew of theater artists, including director Trevor Nunn and actors Ian Charleson, Sarah Payne, and John Savident. The show has only been performed twice since then, although Lloyd Weber did adapt several songs from the musical into his other work.

In 1993, Prince Edward formed his own production company

Prince Edward spent two years working at Really Useful, and then left to form his own theater production company with a few friends. But, the theater business proved difficult, and the company closed in debt. So, in 1993, Prince Edward decided to pivot into television, and founded Ardent Productions (Guardian).

Ardent Productions did not have a specific production focus. Instead, they produced everything from soap operas to documentaries. Their first project was the documentary "Real Tennis," about the old racquet game from which modern day tennis is derived. They also produced "Annie's Bar," a soapy drama set in the House of Commons that only was on the air for 6 episodes (per BBC). The most successful project that Ardent made was a documentary about Edward VIII, the former king of England who married Wallis Simpson and abdicated the crown in 1938. That film, "Edward on Edward," sold worldwide and was quite popular in the United States (BBC). Ardent Productions continued to produce a wide variety of television shows and specials throughout the 1990s.

That same year, he met his future wife

Not only was 1993 a pivotal year in Prince Edward's professional life, but also it was fundamental in his personal life: He met and began dating his future wife, Sophie Rhys-Jones. While Prince Edward was a professional and not a working member of the royal family, he did have some philanthropic royal duties, which included the Prince Edward Summer Challenge for charity. The challenge was to play Prince Edward's favorite sport, real tennis, for as long as possible.

Rhys-Jones was working with MacLaurin Communications and Media at the time as a young public relations professional, and was helping out with a promotional shoot for the event. She stepped in to pose with Prince Edward for pictures during the shoot, and the couple quickly hit it off. They started dating soon after.

Of course, there was a media frenzy when the press discovered that Sophie and Prince Edward were dating. In December of that year, Prince Edward sent a formal letter to the press begging for their privacy: "I am taking this unusual step of writing to you directly in the hope of stopping your reporters and photographers from destroying that part of my life that I am entitled to regard as private, and more importantly Sophie's life ... please will you call an end to your harassment of both Sophie and me and allow us to try to carry on our lives as normal" (via New York Times).

In 1999, Prince Edward married Sophie Rhys-Jones

Prince Edward proposed to Sophie Rhys-Jones in December 1998 on a vacation in the Bahamas, after the couple had been together for 5 years. Acknowledging that the couple had been together for a long time, author of "Edward and Sophie: A Royal Wedding" Judy Parkinson recounted that Prince Edward said, "It's impossible 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 she would have said yes" (via Vanity Fair).

The couple opted for a simple wedding, by royal standards. They got married in St. George's Chapel, the venue in Windsor where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle would get married in 2018, instead of the larger Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's Cathedral. The ceremony took place at 5:00 pm, and the dress code was relaxed, clarifying that the guests did not need to wear hats. 550 guests attended the ceremony and reception, including Prince Andrew's former boss Andrew Lloyd Weber. Rhys-Jones wore a long sleeved ivory dress designed by Stephanie Shaw, and a diamond tiara lent to her by the Queen.

He received the unusual title of Earl

When he and Sophie Rhys-Jones married, Prince Edward received the official title Earl of Wessex, and Sophie became Countess of Wessex. This was a bit strange for two reasons: His brothers had all been styled Dukes when they married, and the title Earl of Wessex had been out of use for a little over 900 years.

The explanation for the unusual title was a sentimental and simple one: as Prince Edward was quite close with his father, Prince Philip, the palace announced that the plan was for him to eventually inherit the title of Duke of Edinburgh. The palace explained at the time: "The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales have also agreed that the Prince Edward should be given the Dukedom of Edinburgh in due course, when the present title now held by the Prince Philip eventually reverts to the Crown" (via Vanity Fair). Prince Philip passed away last year, but the title will not revert to the Crown until Prince Charles becomes king.

Another rumored explanation for the title is that Prince Edward requested it because he very much liked Colin Firth's character Lord Wessex in the film "Shakespeare in Love."

He quit the entertainment industry to become a full-time working royal

Ardent Productions continued to make documentaries and television shows throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, but never had a big hit. The company failed to ever turn a profit, and in 2002, Prince Edward decided to step down. Sophie had left her public relations job a year earlier, after a scandal in which she said several disparaging things about a variety of British politicians and royals while she was unknowingly recorded by a News of the World reporter pretending to be a sheik.

No longer working professionals, Prince Edward and Sophie then began their careers as working royals. 2002 was the year of the Queen's Golden Jubilee — the 50th anniversary of her coronation — so there were many public events and ceremonies for them to attend. Prince Edward began also sponsoring a wide variety of charities and working as a patron for several organizations, including the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the Commonwealth Games Foundation.

In 2003, Prince Edward's first child was born

Prince Edward and Sophie's first daughter, Louise, was born on November 8, 2003. Prince Edward actually missed her birth — he was on an official royal trip to Mauritius at the time, and Sophie went into labor a month early. Louise was only 4 pounds, 9 ounces when she was born, and she was also born with the eye condition esotropia, but fortunately, everything turned out all right (via BBC).

Prince Edward and Sophie chose not to give the title Her Royal Highness to Louise, or His Royal Highness to her younger brother James, who joined the family in 2007. Louise is titled Lady Louise Windsor, and James is titled James, Viscount Severn. Nevertheless, the siblings' 18th birthdays allow them a second chance to accept HRH titles from the Queen, and the responsibilities that come with them. However, Edward and Sophie's daughter appears to have remained Lady Louise after turning 18 in 2021, and it seems James will follow in his sister's footsteps once he becomes an adult. Ahead of Louise's birthday, Sophie herself told the Sunday Times that it would be "highly unlikely" for her children to ever use HRH titles (via People).

Prince Edward became an Earl again in 2019

For his 55th birthday, the Queen gave Prince Edward a unique birthday present: the title of Earl of Forfar. Forfar is a small town north of Edinburgh, and Prince Edward uses the title Earl of Forfar in place of Earl of Wessex when he visits Scotland. As part of his royal duties, Prince Edward currently serves as the patron of several Scottish organizations, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The title Earl of Forfar has familial significance for Prince Edward: His grandmother, The Queen Mother, grew up close to Forfar, and was baptized in St. John's Episcopal Church in town. Sophie was also given the title Countess of Forfar.

In July of 2019, the couple made their first visit to Forfar with their new titles. They received a Forfar tartan, met with local residents, and even made a visit to the Glenfiddich Distillery, where they tasted a 15-year-old Solera whiskey.

Prince Edward made changes to his charitable trust in 2019

Prince Edward and Sophie established the Wessex Youth Trust when they got married in 1999. The initial funding for the trust was financed by the profit, royalties, and income from the pictures and television broadcast of their wedding. The Wessex Youth Trust focused on supporting young people and various youth charities, and donated over 2.5 million pounds to that cause. During the twenty years of the trust's operation, they donated to over 270 different charities.

In 2019, the couple renamed the trust the Earl and Countess of Wessex Trust, and decided to expand the trust's focus beyond just youth-based initiatives. Making the announcement, the palace wrote, "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."

Prince Edward has been a friend to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle decided to step down as senior working royals and move to California, it was the beginning of simmering tensions that came to the forefront during their bombshell interview with Oprah in March 2021. But, whatever tensions may still exist in the royal family, Prince Edward has repeatedly spoken about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's situation with empathy. He told CNN, "​​We've all been there before. We've all had excessive intrusion and attention in our lives and we've all dealt with it in very different ways. We wish them the very best of luck."

In the same CNN interview, he reacted happily to the news of their daughter Lilibet's birth: "Fantastic news about the baby. That's great. I hope they'll be very happy ..." When pressed to speak further about Meghan and Harry in an interview with the BBC, Edward said with a smile, "I stay way out of it. It's much the safest place to be."

After the death of his father Prince Philip, Prince Edward is expected to carry out more royal duties

Prince Edward was very close with his father Prince Philip, who passed away on April 9, 2021, at the age of 99. Prince Edward has been heavily involved in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which Prince Philip himself founded in 1956. In a heartfelt interview with CNN after his father's death, Prince Edward reflected on the importance of the award, saying that the Duke of Edinburgh "will go down as someone who has helped millions of young adults transform themselves and develop into better people and aware citizens."

Due to COVID restrictions, only 30 people could attend Prince Philip's funeral. After the ceremony, Prince Edward told CNN, "It was an experience that so many other families have had to go through during this past year or 18 months and so in that sense, it was particularly poignant."

Prince Edward's role as a down-to-earth, reserved spokesman for the royal family is expected to continue, as there are now only 7 working members of the royal family. Royal writer and journalist Penny Junor speculated to The Guardian about Prince Edward and Sophie's future as the potential faces of the British monarchy: "Edward and Sophie are a very unroyal royal couple. They have no airs and graces. They are very low key. And they don't have a sense of entitlement. So, maybe we will see more of them. The public, I think, like them."