The Royals who shop in Co-op: As Edward and Sophie celebrate 25 years together, REBECCA ENGLISH reveals the key to their barrier-breaking success

When Sophie and Edward tied the knot on June 19, 1999, they had already broken several major royal barriers.

After dating Edward for six years, the then Sophie Rhys-Jones became the first ever royal friend to be allowed to stay overnight at Buckingham Palace as an unmarried woman – still a shocking proposition at the time.

Moreover, as the daughter of a Kent tire salesman, she was, to use criminally old-fashioned language, a ‘common man’ (let us not forget that Edward was, by comparison, third in line to the throne at his birth). ).

And the couple’s insistence on not giving up their day jobs – she in PR and he in television production – was equally unheard of in royal circles.

But perhaps most notable was the fact that they embarked on married life with optimism at a time when Edward’s three siblings – Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne – had all just seen their first marriages sadly end in divorce.

The Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping the Color this weekend

And yet Sophie and Edward – who were created Earl and Countess of Wessex at their wedding, but have since been ‘promoted’ by the King to Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh – will celebrate their silver wedding anniversary tomorrow.

In royal circles they are known as a universally happy couple who have hardly (certainly not since the infamous ‘Fake Sheikh’ scandal of the late 1990s, in which Sophie was tricked by an undercover reporter into making indiscreet comments about the then Prince Charles, Tony Blair) and William Haag, and subsequently chose to give up her PR activities) took a step on the wrong foot.

They have two children: James, now Earl of Wessex, who is currently doing his finals, and Lady Louise, an English Literature student at St Andrews University who, family friends tell me, is turning into a confident young woman.

They plan to celebrate 25 years of marriage in typically subdued style, I can reveal, with a group of close friends at Royal Ascot (and not even in the royal carriage procession).

It is this careful balance between their positions as full-time working royals with a strong sense of duty, along with their lives as partners and parents, that is the secret to their success, friends say.

Prince Edward hugs Sophie after she gave a speech on International Women's Day

Prince Edward hugs Sophie after she gave a speech on International Women’s Day

“They are a real team,” a lifelong friend of the couple tells me. ‘There is a balance in the relationship, one is not jealous of the other. In fact, they are very proud of the other’s achievements.

‘When Sophie took on a 450-mile cycling challenge from Edinburgh to London a few years ago, there was no one more proud than the Prince, let me tell you.’

According to 59-year-old Sophie, who paid a remarkable public tribute to her husband on his 60th birthday in March, this is also due to the fact that he is ‘the best of fathers and the most loving of husbands’.

She lovingly described Edward as her ‘best friend’ – and admitted without hesitation that she still likes him in uniform.

As for Edward, in an exclusive interview with me on the occasion of his historic birthday, he came alive when discussing his wife.

‘Well, you need a really good support network in this and family is incredibly important. I’m just very lucky that Sophie is a brilliant, brilliant person in her own right,” he told me, smiling from ear to ear.

Friends say the prince never took for granted what Sophie assumed when she married him, after they first met at a “real tennis” tournament she was doing PR for and in which he was competing.

The couple attend a D-Day memorial service for veterans in Alrewas, Staffordshire

The couple attend a D-Day memorial service for veterans in Alrewas, Staffordshire

Prince Edward waves to the crowd on the day of his wedding to Sophie on June 19, 1999

Prince Edward waves to the crowd on the day of his wedding to Sophie on June 19, 1999

Their good friend, Mark Foster-Brown, who has known Edward since their days at Cambridge University (and was also a guest at the tournament when they first met), agrees, adding: ‘I just the feeling that there is a special pride in what she does and how she does it. That creates a very close bond, that applies to every marriage, and that certainly applies to theirs as well.’

Sophie has become an acclaimed campaigner for men and women affected by sexual violence in war and recently became the first British royal to travel to Ukraine to highlight this untold story of the current conflict.

Edward, meanwhile, has taken up his late father’s mantle, not just in name, but in many of the public roles he once undertook, most notably with the Duke of Edinburgh Awards programme.

Although the couple insist they aren’t doing anything particularly different these days – it’s just that people have started to notice it more in a downsized monarchy – there’s little doubt that their star is on the rise.

Outside of work they are both real country people, fond of their dogs, walking and horse riding.

They are both also avid skiers. Edward in particular is ‘irritatingly good’ and completely ‘fearless’, says a friend. Sophie spent a season on the slopes after leaving school and is not far behind.

The couple are also known for enjoying family holidays in places like the Isles of Scilly.

A family friend who is on holiday with them recalls that a member of the public once came up to Edward to tell him he was a ‘dead ringer’ for the Queen’s youngest son – he clearly didn’t think so second that the man was queuing to get supplies at the Co-op he might once have been there.

Above all, Sophie and Edward laugh a lot.

“There’s always something to giggle about,” says a friend.

Prince William, Princess Charlotte, King Charles, Queen Camilla, Prince Edward and Sophie watch the RAF flight pass in 2023

Prince William, Princess Charlotte, King Charles, Queen Camilla, Prince Edward and Sophie watch the RAF flight pass in 2023

Unsurprisingly for many in royal circles, they have become role models for the Prince and Princess of Wales, who greatly admire the way they have raised their children away from the public spotlight (at one point 16th in line for the throne). (Trone Louise even had a job in a local garden center for £6.83 an hour).

Sophie in particular has become a reliable ‘sounding board’ for Kate and their relationship has gone from strength to strength, while William has an easy relationship with his uncle (which cannot be said of his interactions with Andrew).

On Monday, William was paired with Edward at the Order of the Garter service, while Sophie gave him a reassuring pat on the back after the family’s moving appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony on Saturday, Kate’s first public appearance since her cancer diagnosis. Sophie was also seen laughing with the princess and her children at Horse Guards.

It is expected that the foursome will only support each other more in the coming years as the youngest working members of the royal family.

Certainly, the way Edward and Sophie have supported each other since their wedding at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, two and a half decades ago, is a testament to the strength of their union.

As their friend, Mr. Foster Brown, tells me, “The day of their wedding was the most extraordinary experience. For all of us at that moment, it felt like it was something wonderful to be a part of. Here we are now, 25 years later, and all the hopes and expectations we had on that day have been fulfilled.

‘And that’s quite something, because let’s be honest, not everyone can say that.’