No Longer the Forgotten Man: Long Live the Earl of Wessex!

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The sons and daughters of Queen Elizabeth II have, by and large, had the existence one might imagine from persons of such high breeding. Prince Charles, perhaps the most prominent, enjoyed a glamorous youth dating actresses, before his doomed relationship to Diana; Princess Anne was daring and headstrong and had her share of youthful drama; Prince Andrew was an active military man with a tumultuous relationship to Fergie, and then… well, then there was Edward.

It would be unfair to say he was the forgotten man, but his life does read with a kind of forgettable absurdity, such that one might think he has been deliberately suppressed, rather than just overlooked. Here we take a look back at his highs and lows, and some of his stranger life choices in pursuit of happiness…

Military man

Who can call themselves a true Royal without military service? Like his father, Prince Philip, who had graduated from the Royal Navy as top cadet in his class, Edward wanted to follow him into the military. He chose the Royal Marines, presumably because of their reputation as a tough and manly unit of elite soldiers, and not just because they agreed to pay his bursary to study at Cambridge university.

Edward embraced the experience, and embarked on the commando training course, although he quickly withdrew, initially because of a bad case of the flu, and then, it turned out, because he found it was actually rather difficult and he didn’t like it. He had reportedly endured a broken nose, a sprained ankle, and some other fairly standard
injuries in his fourteen week stay at Lympstone. The salt in the wound was that he was allegedly reduced to tears by his father following the decision, leaving him somewhat emasculated, and the first royal in history to fail to complete military training.

The Biz

What next for the crest-fallen Royal Prince? Why, show business of course. That’s right, in a bizarre next move Edward became involved in the legitimate theatre, commissioning the musical Cricket in 1986 from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber for the Queen’s 60th Birthday. This ultimately led to a job working for Webber’s production company, by all accounts as a glorified tea boy.

Edward’s first productions came soon. He was responsible for It’s a Royal Knockout, the slightly odd celebrity slapstick game show that was half theme park and half garden fete. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t well received by the Queen and the Royal Family, and despite advice against making them, they were, indisputably, made.

Edward went on to create his production company Ardent, which was known for its collection of slightly fey productions which seemed to hark back to an older time of innocence that no longer existed, perfectly fitting for Edward. His back catalogue was brilliantly described in The Guardian as ‘a strange kingdom where every man in Britain still wears a tie, and where pieces to camera are done in cricket jumpers.’

Further controversy came when a camera crew employed by Ardent were caught filming Prince William while on campus at St Andrews, a practice strictly prohibited to protect young Royals, and ironically something Edward himself had once complained about in a conversation with a friend. After dropping out of the Marines he himself wondered what it was like to ‘just go to the shop unrecognised’. Well, following the incident with Prince William he apologised to the Queen and vowed to stop making “Royal Films”. Needless to say, after such escapades, Edward’s status in the entertainment industry was far from guaranteed.

The Earl of Wessex

Prince Edward valiantly battled back against the frequent allusions to his sexuality (couched typically in terms of his ‘sensitivity’) by marrying a woman. Specifically, he married Sophie Helen Rhys-Jones. Not of the typical marriage stock for royalty, Sophie was from relatively humble beginnings – her father a tyre salesman. She herself embarked on a career in PR before meeting Edward while working at Capital One radio station. The two married and, in a departure from recent tradition, Edward wasn’t given the title of Duke, but rather made Earl of Wessex, meaning his wife Sophie became Countess of Wessex, and their children, when they arrived in 2003 and 2007 respectively, became Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn.

Their marriage has been a happy one by and large, but Sophie herself has been not without controversy. In a similar ‘media sting’ to the one that caught out Fergie, Sophie was set up by the press and was heard to insult various members of the Royal Family and the political establishment, famously referring to Cherie Blair as ‘horrid’ and the queen as an ‘old dear,’ and there was even a suggestion that she had questioned Edward’s sexuality, although the exact words she used were not revealed. Sensitive, presumably.

Sophie was further criticised in 2011 for accepting gifts of jewels from the Royal Family of Bahrain on an official trip. Sophie was given two separate sets of jewels while Edward received a silk rug. Critics were vocal following this gift-giving, saying that it was inappropriate to accept gifts from a country with such a poor human rights record, and that’s hard to argue with. Harder still is the choice of a silk rug to a man already battling off accusations of being, well, sensitive.

In any case, the Earl of Wessex has been known throughout his life as charming and pleasant, qualities that can’t always be associated with royalty. If you’re not impressed with his several bumbling career attempts, then grab yourself a Royal title and see if you can do better – with you can actually purchase a legitimate title, and have it added to your passport, driving licence and other documents to enjoy a taste of how the other half live. And remember, there’s no shame in being an Earl.

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